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Paper transactions checking out

Check writing

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Kai Ryssdal: Two firms that make banking software got together today. Fiserve said it's buying Checkfree for $4.2 billion. Chances are Fiserve won't be paying by check. And in fact, this merger may speed up the death of the personal check altogether. Our New York bureau chief Jill Barshay reports.


Jill Barshay: You may not know Fiserve or Checkfree, but your bank does.

Fiserve makes the software for bank tellers, ATMs and back-room check processing. CheckFree's software operates the Internet bill-pay sites of major banks. Checkfree is also the biggest processor of electronic payments, like the direct deposit of your salary.

Jeffrey Yabuki, chief executive of Fiserve. He says this acquisition means more paperless banking.

Jeffrey Yabuki: The capabilities that we're giving our clients are those that allow people go to the equivalent of a virtual branch online.

Yabuki says paper checks are disappearing at the rate of 5 to 7 percent a year.

Maggie Scarborough is a research manager at IDC Financial Insights. She doesn't think the merger will make the paper check disappear any faster.

Maggie Scarborough: I don't know how quickly it will accelerate it. It will certainly make it more available. It always boils down to the consumer and how fast they're willing to adopt.

Edmund Mierzwinski is a consumer banking advocate at the Public Interest Research Group. He thinks that paperless banking is more about bank profits than making life easier for the consumer.

Edmund Mierzwinski: The banks make more money, they process less paper, they get their money more quickly.

Mierzwinski says if customers have disputes, they have more legal rights if they have some kind of paper trail. He wants Congress to put new consumer protections in place as more banking goes online.

In New York, I'm Jill Barshay for Marketplace.

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