Treasury Backs 'Cheque Imaging', Fast Cheques by Smartphone

Back in November, I had written about Barclay’s plans to introduce a new service called ‘Cheque imaging’ in 2014. Customers in the UK will be able to simply photograph completed checks and send the image via e-mail, according to a new scheme being put forth by George Osborne (Chancellor).

The current system in UK requires all cheques to be verified by a bank staff member. This is prior to the money being credited into the user’s account. This method needs the user to either post the cheque or visit a bank branch to pay it. The time consuming process also carries with it risk of the document getting lost or stolen.

The new scheme would drastically cut Queues at banks according to the treasury. Users would however be guaranteed the right to pay in a cheque in the traditional way.

How does Cheque Imaging work:

  • Cheque imaging does not require the user to have a hard copy of the cheque present at every stage of the paying-in process.
  • Users are required to take a picture of the back and front of the cheque and send the image to the bank.
  • A computer system at the bank branch verifies the details of the cheque rather than by hand.
  • The image is then sent electronically to the bank that issued the cheque to verify the signature and other details.
  • The introduction of cheque-imaging could reduce clearing times from six days to two according to the treasury.

This Government is determined to create a banking sector that works for consumers and serves businesses, said Sajid Javid, Financial Secretary to the Treasury. We want to see more innovation so that customers see the benefits of new technologies. That is why we’re creating a new payments regulator and why we are going to consult on speeding up the cheque clearing process.

The new scheme would drastically cut Queues at banks according to the treasury. Users would however be guaranteed the right to pay in a cheque in the traditional way. It’s essential that the new processing systems are secure and the option of paying in face to face at a bank or post office remains available to anyone who prefers to bank that way, said Caroline Abrahams.

Two years ago, the Payments Council had proposed the phasing out of cheques by 2018. This caused an outcry from charities, small businesses and pensioner groups that said the needs of millions of people were being ignored. Almost $1148 Bn (£840 billion) worth of cheques were processed last year. Although a number of payment enabling technologies gained recognition and momentum in 2012, cheques accounted for 10% of all payments made by individuals.

Although the process is already widely in use in France, U.S and Asia, Barclays hopes to be the first bank in Britain to offer Cheque Imaging. Earlier in 2010, JP Morgan Chase had introduced in USA a similar service which was followed by Bank of America and CitiBank. 'This is just the beginning of how we want to transform the 'cheque clearing cycle' for our customers driving down the six days it currently takes a cheque to clear. We are planning to test the cheque imaging technology early in the New Year with a range of customers,' said Managing Director of Barclays, Steven Roberts.

Barclay’s has been quite busy in the payments space. They had launched a mobile banking app before the 2012 Olympic Games. In the 18 months since, the app has acquired 2.5 Mn users. Barclay’s also achieved phenomenal success with its Pingit app (available for non Barclays users too), which enables individuals to make payments utilizing phone numbers. According to the bank, nearly $1.36 Mn (£1) worth of payments are made via Pingit per day.