Chequebook Enters Its Twilight Years

Popular mythology has it that the strangest cheque ever cashed was written on the side of a cow, and while the evidence to support this theory is slim, there is nothing in banking regulations to say it would be impossible.

A cheque, in its most basic form, is simply an instruction to a financial institution to pay a specific amount from a specified account. As long as all the relevant information was included on the cow, and signed, it would be down to the bank’s discretion to cash it or not: the original cash cow.

For those of us planning to test this theory, however, time is running out. Cheques written on cows, or the more portable versions in chequebooks – and which tend to be favoured – are accepted in fewer and fewer outlets.

The decline is driven in part by an increasing preference among consumers to pay by card – Selfridges in London for example sees more than 90% of its sales paid for in plastic – and by the banks and corporations themselves for whom the processing of cheques is as expensive business.

Anyone who has ever waited for a cheque to clear knows how frustrating it can be to see money sitting in your bank account to which you cannot gain access. In some parts of Europe, Germany and Austria for example, paper cheques have almost completely vanished to be replaced by the much faster and more straightforward direct bank transfer and electronic payment.

Here in the UK however, there is still a level of reliance on cheques by certain parts of the population – largely because cheques remain free to personal customers – but bank to bank transfers are gaining momentum.

Since 2001, businesses in the UK have made more electronic payments than cheque payments according to BACS – the automated clearing house – and the trend is becoming apparent on the high street.

Shell was one of the first major UK chains to announce it would no longer accept cheques in its petrol stations and has since been joined by Texaco, BP, Total and ASDA.

Now the trickle has turned into a tide and major chains including Boots, Debenhams, Curry’s and WH Smith have all announced that they will no longer accept cheques – in bovine or paper form – and the utility companies tend to charge higher prices to customers who choose to pay by cheque as they strive to encourage their customers to pay by another electronic method.

For the time being current accounts for the most part still come with a chequebook, as do some savings accounts, but it is not unlikely that these instruments will in future become a relatively niche tool used to pay friends, relatives and micro businesses who cannot support electronic payments such as small shops.

Sophie Neary, product director at, said: “Most of us have had a chequebook for as long as we’ve had a bank account but there will be few who’d mourn its passing, as modern banking techniques allow for much quicker and more effective money transfer.

“Whether you’re looking for business accounts, current accounts, savings accounts, ISA or individual savings accounts, or even looking to put your money offshore, you can find all the information you need to start making your decision on – and that goes for bank accounts with or without a chequebook.”

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