Tuesday, 4 February 2014

Checking up on things.

Our bank has sent us a cheque. It’s only a small cheque. We have our house insurance organised through the bank. This is the kind of thing banks do nowadays; they have learnt to multitask. House insurance I can understand, in a way, as our bank used to be a building society, the one we used to arrange our mortgage. So there is a kind of link. For a while, though, our daughter had her car insurance sorted through the bank. It was some kind of deal in, connection with the house insurance, where they promised to find her a better deal than the competition offered her. Fair enough but I still think there’s something a little too much like a monopoly when the bank does everything and gets its tentacles into all aspects of your life. 

Anyway, they sent us a cheque. Apparently they had overcharged us on the house insurance and were sending us a refund. Now, if they can take payments directly out of our account, why can’t the overpayment be put straight back into our account? This is what happens with a debit card payment if you return faulty goods to a shop. The shop doesn’t give you a cheque; the money goes back into your account via the debit card. The only explanation I can come up with is that if they sent the money straight back into our account, they would have to pay us interest on it, albeit a very small amount as the cheque is very small. Sending us a cheque, however, means that the money stays with them and earns them interest for a while longer while we get around to putting the cheque into our account and then it takes several days to clear the cheque. Which is another thing that is hard to comprehend since the cheque came originally from the same bank it’s being paid into! Another of life’s mysteries! 

I very rarely use cheques these days. The cultural wing of the Italian Consulate in Manchester, which organises the Italian conversation classes I attend, only accepts payment by cheque. It’s something complicated in their accounting system, or so they maintain. Offhand I can’t think of anyone else I pay by cheque. Consequently I am still using a very old cheque book which still has the old name of my bank before they were taken over by a bigger organisation. All the account numbers and branch numbers are the same as ever so the cheques work fine. It just seems odd and one day soon I must ask them to send me a new cheque book. 

I read somewhere that half of Britain's under-25s have never written or cashed a cheque. Online banking is the present as well as the future. And then I discovered an amusing list of six things you can only do with a cheque: 

"Sliding a payment over a desk 

In the classic movie scene, the guy in the sharp suit writes a cheque, folds it, and slides it over the desk. The guy in the less sharp suit peeks at it, looks impressed, and nods. How much less slick would the first guy look typing in the amount he was willing to transfer, sliding over the laptop, and urging the other guy to decide before it logs him out? 

Taking a pen out of your pocket authoritatively 

Tapping a coffee-stained keyboard and trying to remember your customer number will never look as cool as whipping out a pen and a cheque book. It just won't. 

Posing with massive cardboard cheques for charity 

No matter how worthy the cause, a massive printout of your transaction confirmation isn't going to make the local paper. 

Stopping a cheque just to spite someone 

A cheque takes up to five working days to clear. That means the person you've paid has to be nice to you for nearly a week, in case you change your mind and cancel it. Try it. 

Being handed a blank cheque 

Imagine the possibilities. A blank online transaction isn't nearly as exciting; it's just zero.

Postdating a cheque hundreds of years in the future 

This is especially funny as a birthday present for a bratty child."

Back in 2009, the banking industry announced that cheques were set to be phased out by October 2018, but the Treasury intervened in 2011, saying they remained popular with the public.  People who want to give money as a gift and need to send it by post still prefer to send cheques. (I wonder if anyone still sends postal orders. When I was a child that was the normal way for your grandparents to give you money as a birthday present.) So cheques look like being around a while longer.

Now, however, the banks want to speed up the processing of cheques and want to harness smartphone technology to do so. Just as you can print your own boarding cards for airline flights (in fact, you have to do for some budget airlines) and you have the option to print your own tickets when you book in advance for certain train journeys, so banks will accept photos of cheques for deposit, photos emailed to them or shown over the counter in the bank itself.
Apparently this has been around in the USA since 2010 but UK law still gives banks the right to demand to see the cheque itself and not just a photo. At the moment! This could all change soon! The system is becoming more computer and smartphone driven!

Clearly I need to pay our cheque into the bank account as soon as possible before they close down the branch and insist on everything being done electronically!

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