The use of cheques to make payments in Australia is declining at a faster rate than other developed economies and the rate of decline will only quicken in coming years.
In a speech to the Payments Innovation 2016 Conference in Sydney on Wednesday, Tony Richards, head of the payments policy department at the Reserve Bank of Australia, said cheque usage in Australia is currently declining at a rate of approximately 16% per annum.
This compares to a rate of 13.5% in the five-year period between 2010 and 2015, and a rate of 10% in the five-year period before that.
In the mid-1990s, Richards said the number of cheques written in Australia was around 50 per capita per year. In 2015, that figure had dropped to just six cheques per capita.
The figures cited by Richards refer to all types of cheques, including those issued by banks and financial institutions, individuals, businesses and government bodies.
While Richards says the decline in cheque usage is a “global phenomenon”, with many OECD countries witnessing declines of 45% or more per capita between 2000 and 2014, the decline is larger in Australia than the overall rate for the OECD.
“By early 2018 another two years will have passed and there will no doubt have been a significant further decline – based on current trends, a further 30 percent or so – in cheque usage,” he said.
Richards said many sectors have already replaced cheques with different payments methods, providing the example of the superannuation industry and the replacement of cheques with electronic payments under the SuperStream scheme.
There has also been a shift away from using bank cheques for property settlements, said Richards.
Are SMEs still using cheques?
SME banking adviser and founder of theBankDoctor.org Neil Slonim told SmartCompany this morning the trend of declining cheque usage among SMEs is “very much the same as for individuals and for all the same reasons”.
“It takes time for cheques to clear, there can be concerns about cheques bouncing,” he says.
“A lot of companies, I think, do what some individuals do – when they get a cheque, they stick in a drawer.”
While Slonim says there once was a time when small businesses would visit their local bank branch almost daily, this is no longer the case.
“Using cheques is not good for cashflow,” Slonim says.
“You are much better off using the new easier and quicker payment options.”
Slonim believes the declining use of cheques is similar to the declining use of postage stamps and there could be a time when banks begin to charge more for cheques to be issued.