Followed a link I saw in my Twitter feed yesterday to a site called Stand Up For Your Right To Write Checks. According to the site, it’s a “consumer advocacy campaign designed to help you defend your right to pay your way.” The site’s About page says:
“According to a recent Ipsos survey of consumers across the country, three-quarters of Americans believe they should have the freedom to pay at stores or restaurants with whatever method of payment they prefer. And for millions of consumers, that preferred method is the reliable standby, the check.
Yet, it seems, retailers are hanging “no checks” signs on their windows and at their checkouts. This reliance on only cash and credit forms of payment severely limits consumer-spending power and creates problems for those who wish to carry checks.”
There’s a link to Facebook, which as best as I can tell simply redirects you back to the http://righttowritechecks.com URL. There’s a YouTube page for the campaign with a single 47-second video, and a Twitter handle, MrChecksAppeal, whose bio states:
“Duncan Steele is a man’s man, and a ladies man. He is fiscally responsible, and filled with checks appeal. Yes, he knows what it takes.”
(I couldn’t find any Duncan Steele on LinkedIn that fit the bill here, although — ironically, as you’ll see — there was a Duncan Steele who is the Coordinator, Ethics & Diversity Services at Fraser Health Authority in Canada).
There’s a page with “checks gear”, namely t-shirts with pro-check slogans, but the links to CafePress.com are all broken.
And then on the For Retailers page, you get a glimpse of who’s really behind this. The page tells about a Check-In and Win Sweepstakes where retailers (and their customers) can win something for participating. I’m willing to bet that legally the site had to specify who sponsored the sweepstakes, because that was the only mention of Deluxe Corporation (a manufacturer of checks) on the entire site.
On the Consumer Tools page, there is a list of people who have signed the petition to “stand up for their right to write checks.” I’ve determined, by the way, that at least 8 of the first ten names listed are all associated with a single Minnesota-based PR firm (Deluxe is based in MN, btw), and found a few other names that match up to Deluxe employees.
Bottom line: This is anything BUT a “consumer advocacy” campaign. It’s a marketing campaign on the part of a perfectly respectable and reputable firm. But the lack of transparency here is particularly offensive.
Furthermore, let’s get something else straight: Writing checks is not a “right” that consumers have. It’s a convenience that banks provide. And, if we’re going to argue about “rights” — I can’t believe I’m actually going to say this — don’t retailers and merchants have the “right” to accept the forms of payment that are most convenient and profitable to them? It should be their decision to refuse forms of payments that their customers do or don’t want to use.
From the bank perspective, however, the time has come to kill checks.
Will people (or, as described above, companies masquerading as “consumer advocates”) complain? Absolutely. But there’s precedent here.
Thirtyish years ago, gas stations told customers they had to get out of their cars and pump their own gas. People whined, moaned, and complained. But did it. And got over it. And found that — except for when it’s really cold or raining — it’s actually a faster and better experience.
Same thing with checks. People will complain about the death of checks. But the infrastructure in place to process checks is a drag on bank profitability. And even though overall check volume is declining, the reality is that banks can’t dismantle this infrastructure. In other words, the fixed cost is high, and the variable cost is low. The only answer is to kill checks.
If the current volume of checks were to move to debit cards, banks would recoup some of the lost interchange revenue they’re facing. And if they can do that, and create synergies for marketing with retailers/merchants (i.e., what BillShrink or Cardlytics do), then further benefits can be passed on to consumers. And the last time I checked, by the way, consumers have never received rewards for writing checks.
Last point: I’m betting that somebody is going to cite SUFYRTWC as a great case study of a multi-channel campaign, because it utilizes a web site, contest, Facebook, Twitter, and videos. But if the campaign doesn’t reverse the trend away from check writing, then don’t buy into this line of reasoning.
Sounds like a classic astroturf campaign. How obnoxious!
FWIW, the tiny drive-up burger joint at the end of my block has never taken cards, and only takes checks with high numbers. Last summer they put in a shed with an ATM, which I can only imagine manages to *make* them money, instead of costing. And their drive-up line is always huge at lunch/dinnertime in any case.
I love that the Google Adwords for this post were all links to check vendors.
I was alerted to your post on our Right to Write Checks campaign, and in the spirit of complete transparency, felt this was the most appropriate channel to respond.
We’re glad that you noted in your post that “It’s a marketing campaign on the part of a perfectly respectable and reputable firm.” That is precisely what it was. We chose to execute it with some tongue-in-cheek humor, but it was based upon real data (http://www.deluxe.com/miscfiles/pdf/checkawarenesswp.pdf).
When we rolled out this campaign last October it was part of a multi-channel approach. We launched the website, Facebook page, YouTube channel and Twitter account along with a major press release, and pitches to traditional and electronic media. In all of those materials, Deluxe was clearly identified as the sponsor. The media showed interest, and our efforts did result in a number of articles both online and offline. Additionally, both NPR and CNN radio ran interviews with our spokesperson, a VP of marketing here at Deluxe.
Six months have elapsed since we introduced the campaign — a lifetime in the social media world. We can see how it would not be easy to connect the campaign elements at this point, but when all this originally went live, we were quite proud to brand it with our name and our logo.
Your blog demonstrates one of the great things about social media — it can spark engagement and conversation. I would love to chat about the campaign, its implementation and effectiveness if you are interested. Feel free to email at email@example.com or call me at 651-787-1173.
We appreciate that you are looking out for the financial services community, and are a fan of Aite Group’s blog. Many of your followers are our partners and customers.
– Terri Shapiro
Executive Director, Brand & Media Relations
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Humor aside – checks are in the death throws. I look at stuff like Remote Deposit Capture and wonder if the teams behind these efforts seriously believe they will stem the tide against an outdated, outmoded payment methodology.
Let’s see just how quickly NFC and P2P payments put the nail in the coffin…