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We went shopping and tried to pay by cheque – all stores told us to get lost

| Innovation and technology

FNB recently stated that the use of cheques was rapidly declining in South Africa. The reason: customers are moving to digital payments, said the bank.

Digital payments offer more security over cheques, along with lower expenses and more efficient processes.

FNB added that banks have provided numerous incentives to encourage customers to use digital payment channels – as digital payments cost much less to process – which has sped up the demise of cheques.

The graph below from the Payments Association of South Africa shows how steeply cheque volumes have declined in the past 10 years.

Cheque volumes FNB


Cheques in action

To see if the use of cheques, or lack thereof, in South Africa had affected businesses, we set out to see if retailers would accept them as payment.

Our test started with an ominous conversation. I asked a fellow journalist when was the last time he saw someone write a cheque.

The mid-20s colleague replied: “I have never seen anyone write a cheque.”

Following this, we dusted off the company cheque book and head out to try our luck.

Our first stop was a laundromat in Centurion. After handing over the washing, we asked if we could pay by cheque upon collection. “No, we don’t take cheques,” was the reply.

Visits to a Woolworths Food store down the road to buy groceries and a nearby Steers to get burgers yielded similar results – no cheques were accepted at either business.

Our next stop was Mall of Africa to visit bigger stores, but this made no difference.

We visited a Dion Wired to look at TVs, Edgars for a pair of shoes, Cellini for suitcases, and Converse (again, for shoes) – all of which politely declined to accept a cheque as payment.

There were also no deliberations or double-checking by staff with managers or colleagues to confirm the no-cheque policy. The first employee we asked at each store confidently and quickly stated that they do not take cheques.

From the tests above, it is easy to see why cheques – which do not guarantee retailers immediate payment like cash or card swipe, and are less secure – are dropping in popularity.

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