/ Money, Technology

Embrace the cheque’s digital makeover

Digital cheque imaging

We know that lots of you still love using cheques. The question is, do they have a future? Could giving them a digital makeover be a great way of keeping them alive?

We are a step closer to being able to pay cheques into the bank using our smartphones, after the idea, known as cheque imaging, was strongly supported in a government consultation.

The new system will mean that banks can clear a cheque by presenting a digital photo of the document to the payer’s bank, rather than sending the original as at present. That could mean cheques clear in as little as two days, and opens up the possibility of paying in cheques simply by photographing them using a mobile banking application on a phone.

The technology has already been successfully used in other countries, including the US and France. To make it happen, the banks will have to overhaul their systems, and the laws regulating cheque clearing, some dating from 1882, will be updated.

Digital cheque imaging

Almost 75% of people in the UK own a smartphone, according to Deloitte, while ING found that 31% already use mobile banking apps. Digital imaging should breathe new life into the 300-year-old cheque, and will be especially handy for those who find it difficult to get to a bank branch. If banks get the technology right, it could also be more secure than sending a cheque by post.

Not everyone is comfortable with mobile banking, and the Government says that its legislation will force banks to continue to provide traditional methods for paying in cheques. It’s vital that this happens, so that the cheque system remains accessible to all.

Banks should offer the technology as a new option – and avoid the temptation to see it as another reason to strip back the face-to-face banking experience that so many customers still value.


Thought I do my best to avoid paying by cheque, I receive many of them as a volunteer working for a small charity.

I don’t relish handling cheques but I would like to know more about the security of mobile banking apps before using one. Many of us are very careful about security when using computers but I wonder how safe it is to use mobile phones for any financial transactions.

Another possible problem is that since cheques are not destroyed when they are photographed, banks will have to deal with the same cheque being paid-in twice. No doubt the system can handle such mistakes but how quickly would the user be informed that they had made a mistake.


I’m not sure what security concerns you have about smartphone apps for paying in cheques. What is the potential risk for an app used for depositing money? In any case, the banks already use security on browser-based and mobile banking apps that is thousands of times more secure than cheques themselves for example.

I believe that the banks already detect duplicate cheques (e.g. colour photocopies), given that each issued cheque has a cheque number. Therefore the procedure would be similar to that with a physical cheque deposit.


Tom has provided a link to a Which? article about mobile banking in his introduction. One of the measures it advises is:

“It also suggests that consumers make sure they have sufficient protection against the possibility of downloading malware or viruses on their smartphone.”

I’m not sure how to do that and having discussed this with other smartphone users, they have clearly not given it much thought either.

Obviously depositing money carries little risk and I recently deposited a bunch of cheques at an unfamiliar HSBC branch, knowing only the account number and sort code used by our charity. But a banking app could encourage us to engage in transactions where there is a genuine risk.

It would be good for us all to remember than banks denied that phantom withdrawals from cash dispensers were possible, until it was demonstrated that this was untrue. Let’s make sure that the security is in place first and then take advantage of what technology can do for us.

Grumpy ole man says:
2 August 2014

My wife has a self employed home hairdresser who has no idea how she would cope if cheques were abolished. Our window cleaner is the same. Unfortunately electronic technology would not work in this locality, as is there no mobile signal.

Banks should consider the convenience of their customers, not how to increase their profits by abolishing useful services.


My window cleaner encourages payment by direct transfer to his bank account details of which are sign-written on his van.


NFH states: “browser-based and mobile banking apps that is thousands of times more secure than cheques themselves”.

Is this an evidence-based assertion or merely rhetoric in an attempt to convert others to a deeply held belief? What are these security measures based upon anyway: number of transactionis? overall value of transactions?

In any case why are you so against people having the choice? If you want to go down that route then that’s fine for you, but do appreciate that we live in a diverse community, where others may have differing wants and needs.

Just for the record, I have worked in IT for five decades, so am hardly a luddite.


The main reason that the US has gone down the route of cheque imaging is because it has no high-volume low-value payment system (like the UK’s Faster Payments Service for example). Consequently the US economy relies heavily on cheques. If you use online banking to make payments in the US, a US bank will not ask you for the payee’s bank account number etc, but instead asks you for the payee’s postal address, and the bank will then send a cheque to the payee by post; I’m not joking. Although we in the UK might laugh at the US’s very archaic banking system, other countries elsewhere in Europe similarly laugh at the UK for still using cheques in the 21st century. Given that the UK has Faster Payments Service, I question why we need to retain cheques at all. What makes the UK different from many other European countries where cheques are now unheard of?

Nevertheless while cheques unfortunately remain in use, I welcome the introduction of cheque imaging, because depositing a cheque is currently a very onerous task for people who conduct all their banking online. If cheques are to have a future in the UK, then cheque imaging is essential.


NFH – I have explained in other conversations that cheques are the only practical alternative to cash cash payments for small charities. Try taking donations and payments out of doors as one of a group of volunteers and you will see one reason why we need cheques. Please try doing some charity work and you might understand the problem.