Paper checks… Remember those?

Marketplace Staff Dec 2, 2010

Paper checks… Remember those?

Marketplace Staff Dec 2, 2010


Kai Ryssdal: Paper is just so out. It’s been around in various forms for thousands of years. There’s nothing sparkly or shiny about it. Now, it’s Kindles and texting and online bill-pay that are the new new things. So is it time to say goodbye to letters, newspapers and paper checks? Maybe, but one company is fighting back.

Sally Herships has more.

Sally Herships: When I was young, you had to go to the bank to do your banking. Fax machines were still a big deal. Now, I do a lot of my transactions online, but I still use some paper checks.

I’m almost 40. Roseanne Malfucci is 29. She’s a DJ and lives in Brooklyn.

Roseanne Malfucci: I use checks only when I have to. I kind of hate using them and I think they’re antiquated.


Malfucci: It’s just an IOU that’s like, “Hey, I owe you $300. You’ll find out whether or not I have it later.”


Malfucci: The other thing that I really hate is that your account number’s on it.

Malfucci says that doesn’t seem very secure. But even if she did want to write a check, a lot of businesses won’t take them. Beth Fahey owns a specialty bakery outside Chicago. She designs cakes.

Beth Fahey: And sometimes some of our customers have champagne wishes and a Budweiser budget.

When the recession hit, Fahey’s bakery got six bad checks in one month. All told, the bakery lost $600.

Fahey: And if it’s a $40 check, it’s not worth it for you to spend half the day in small claims court. So you’re really stuck and you just have to eat it. No pun intended.

Checks are in trouble. Take Deluxe, the billion-dollar check printing company. Susan Eicke is VP of financial services marketing for Deluxe.

Susan Eicke: What we’ve seen is that there’s been about an 8 percent year-over-year decline in the processing and use of checks.

So Deluxe is fighting back. It’s set up a website called and posted videos on YouTube.

Meet Duncan Steele, “the man with Checks Appeal.”

Clerk: Next.

Duncan Steele: Uno beef jerky. That’s Spanish for “beef jerky.”

Clerk: You smell like pennies. Fifty-nine cents.

Steele: I hope you don’t mind if I pay by check.

Voiceover: Duncan Steele.

Eicke: Duncan Steele is a fictional character that we created to really go after the millennial market.

You know, people in their 20s and early 30s. But how can you convince them or anyone to use a product that’s becoming obsolete? Jonah Berger teaches marketing at Wharton. He researches how products become popular — and unpopular.

Jonah Berger: It’s really hard to stop consumers from moving that other direction. It’s just hard when you’ve got a better product that’s out there for people to want to stick with the old one.

And it doesn’t help Deluxe that the big banks aren’t that fond of checks either. Check fraud costs the banking industry around a billion dollars a year.

David Eads: Banks love to talk to almost anybody about mobile payments and moving forward with where are today, this pony express world, to the new mobile world.

David Eads is CEO of Mobile Strategy Partners. He helps banks get rid of checks by setting up mobile payment systems.

Eads: Of my clients, probably 12 of 13, bank clients, pay me with paper checks.

Herships: What?

Eads: Yeah, I was looking at it the other day and I thought this is crazy.

Eads says banks are slow to change. Beth Fahey, the bakery owner near Chicago, says in a perfect world, she’d still be able to take checks. Credit card fees take a bite out of her bakery’s profits. And hey, Marketplace, when you get around to paying me for this story, I’m fine with a check.

In New York, I’m Sally Herships for Marketplace.

There’s a lot happening in the world.  Through it all, Marketplace is here for you. 

You rely on Marketplace to break down the world’s events and tell you how it affects you in a fact-based, approachable way. We rely on your financial support to keep making that possible. 

Your donation today powers the independent journalism that you rely on. For just $5/month, you can help sustain Marketplace so we can keep reporting on the things that matter to you.