The Right to Bear Checks

The Right to Bear Checks

Sujit Chakravorti and Timothy McHugh, in Economic Perspectives (2002: Third Qtr.), Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, 230 S. LaSalle St., Chicago, 111. 60604-1413. Every month in the United States, more than 15 checks per person are written. That's more than three times the number in Canada and at least 15 times the number in Italy and several other European countries. What happened to America's commitment to the brave new checkless world?Checks may be less efficient than elec- tronic payments, a...

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as those needed to run it." One exception is the case of William Hewlett and David Packard: Hewlett became the "heart" of their business machines firm, while Packard was "the hardnosed businessman."

Even Welch and Gates came to share power with others. In his two decades at the helm of General Electric, Welch had two or three vice chairmen ("elder statesmen") in his office to complement his own skills. At Microsoft, Gates turned over his CEO job to collaborator Steve Ballmer but remained chairman of the board and head of software research.

Dividing responsibilities may be the easy part. The bigger challenge, say the authors, is deciding how to split the credit. "Coleadership has worked at Intel and TIAA-CREF because executives... are able to share the credit, and it has failed at Disney and Citigroup because of the egos rampant in the executive suites."


The Right to Bear Checks

"Why Do We Use So Many Checks?" by Sujit Chakravorti and Timothy McHugh, in Economic Perspectives (2002: Third Qtr.), Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, 230 S. LaSalle St., Chicago, Ill. 60604–1413.


Every month in the United States, more than 15 checks per person are written. That’s more than three times the number in Canada and at least 15 times the number in Italy and several other European countries. What happened to America’s commitment to the brave new checkless world?

Checks may be less efficient than electronic payments, according to Chakravorti and McHugh, a senior economist and a senior analyst, respectively, at the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, but American consumers don’t see much individual benefit in quickly switching to the new format. While credit cards are now more popular than checks for point-of-sale transactions, total check volume went up in America during the 1990s, while it declined in most other industrialized countries. Of the nearly 50 billion checks written in the United States in 2000 (total value: $48 trillion), consumers wrote slightly more than half.

Consumers perceive each check as virtually free. Instead of per check transaction fees, most prefer bank accounts with fixed monthly fees, or minimum balance requirements and no fees. In any case, the costs are hidden.

Checks are easy to use, widely accepted, and provide more control over the timing of payments, permitting better budgeting.

With the rapid increase in the use of check verification systems, most merchants now have little reason to stop accepting checks. The systems cut the cost of accepting checks to 60 cents per $100 of sales, which is less than for any other form of payment, including credit cards ($1.80) and even cash (90 cents).

And check services are a big business for financial institutions. "On average, they charge customers 21 cents and merchants five cents to process each check." In 1995, they collected $8.1 billion in fees for bounced checks while losing only $400 million on bad checks. Even if banks wanted to discourage check usage by imposing a small fee for each check (as Norwegian banks did, thereby cutting check usage about 90 percent), competitive pressures might keep them from doing so. There are a few signs that consumers may be changing, but most seem to act as if the only way anybody will get their checkbooks away from them is by prying them from their cold, dead fingers.



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The charge was to explore, in the words America," or, in Harvard University socioloof Salmagundi (Winter–Spring 2002) gist Orlando Patterson’s more specific ones, editor Robert Boyers, "the situation of Afro-"the gender, family, and sexual problems of

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