|Why Can’t Americans Ditch Checks?|
In an era of smartphones, online banking, and Venmo transfers, the rest of the world has weaned itself off paper.
By Katie Robertson
July 26, 2017, 4:00 AM EDT
Attempts are being made in the U.S. to modernize the system, but a faster-payments task force the Fed convened in 2015 to investigate how to bring the U.S. banking system in line with the rest of the world has acknowledged formidable hurdles. “Given the breadth and complexity of the U.S. market,” it said in the first installment of its final report, “it is more challenging to implement improvements to the payments infrastructure in a coordinated way.” Last week, it released the second half of that report, setting a goal of implementing platforms to deliver real-time, secure electronic payments everywhere by 2020. That technology already exists—but as the report notes, unlike in other countries, any changes in the U.S. will be market-driven.
And they’ll be a long time coming. Americans haven’t seen any major improvements to checking since a 2003 federal law known as Check 21 first allowed banks to process checks electronically, without having to handle the actual paper checks. These days, practically no paper checks go through the banking system anymore, clearing times have come down to about a day—similar to electronic payments—and you can deposit checks from your phone.
Expats like Jane Searle, an Australian in New York, remain unimpressed. “People sometimes talk about this app that photographs checks and processes them, as if that’s innovative,” she said. “It’s just a bolt-on process to a practice that is shamefully backward.”