Chequebooks need respectful burial by banks

Posted at 11:42am Tuesday 03 Sep, 2019

Online banking means that chequebooks, once in everyday use, will eventually be consigned to history, with Kiwibank leading the charge.

Earlier this year, Kiwibank stopped opening new cheque accounts, and from February next year it will no longer handle cheques at all – refusing to cash them, or accept them for deposits.

The reason given is that the use of cheques is dropping significantly. Other banks agree that cheque use is steadily declining, but are prepared to keep offering that choice, with no timeline as yet for phasing them out.

A Kiwibank spokesperson says the bank has been supporting customers through the transition. “We've also been working with not for profits that bank with us to encourage donors to migrate to faster and more efficient ways of making donations. In addition, we've been in contact with our high-volume cheque using customers and we're providing face-to-face online banking training.”

“An example is an elderly Orewa customer who came in to try and pay a bill via internet banking,” the spokesperson says. “She usually pays this at NZ Post, which incurs a fee. Our staff helped her make the payment online and saved that payee for all her future bill payments. She was thrilled about how easy it was to do this.”

Kiwibank staff are also available to speak to community groups (enquire at the branch or email sustainability@kiwibank.co.nz).

Orewa accountant Merv Huxford says that the pace of change at Kiwibank has caught many of his older clients, and not-for profits that he works with, by surprise.

He says the banks need to be aware that a “one size fits all” approach will not work when dealing with a wide range of customers.

With older people in particular, he is concerned that cheques provided some security, while online banking could be open to abuse by anyone who obtains a person's login.

“The bank has no way of knowing who has logged in, whereas with a cheque they can make sure that the signature is correct,” Merv says. “Unfortunately this makes fraud more possible, and even within families that happens.”

He says it is important for older people to understand the potential risks of sharing their bank logins with others.

Charitable organisations that bank with Kiwibank may also face difficulties when cheques are no longer accepted, Merv says. He says most such organisations require two signatories when making payments by cheque, but under an online system both signatories have to log in within 24 hours to make a payment.

“These people are volunteers, so it's hard to organise that,” Merv says. “It's just another thing making it difficult for the not-for-profits.”

He says as the transition to a cheque-free future takes place, over time, more thought needs to be given to accommodate the needs of older people.

“Some customers may have been with the same bank all their lives, so you can't just close down that provision without making sure the alternatives are things they can actually access and use.”

He says if a longstanding bank customer is unhappy as cheques are phased out, rather than change banks immediately, they should take the matter up with their bank.

“There needs to be a respectful and flexible process. Not everyone wants to do online banking, but increasingly there is going to be a downside to that.”


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