Concerns move to phase out cheques will have adverse effect on rural communities

Most major banks are phasing out cheques this year.
Most major banks are phasing out cheques this year. Photo credit: Getty

There are concerns rural communities will be unfairly disadvantaged as banks phase out the use of cheques.

According to a survey by Rural Women NZ, 61.3 percent of respondents said they were worried about the disappearance of cheques, while only 26.7 percent said they didn't feel as if it were a problem.

Now, the organisation is launching a campaign to try and prolong the use of cheques until they "naturally phase themselves out".

"The response was the highest we've ever had for a survey in three years. So it's clearly an issue for rural communities," Angela McLeod, Rural Women NZ's government relations manager, told Newshub.

Kiwibank stopped accepting cheques in February last year, with Inland Revenue and ACC doing the same in March. BNZ, ANZ and Westpac have also said they will phase out cheques this year.

ASB has said cheques account for less than 1 percent of its payments, and also signalled they would be phased out, though the bank has yet to give a specific time frame for when they would no longer be accepted.

For many New Zealanders the majority of banking is now done online. But online banking requires reliable internet - something not all Kiwis have.

Sharron Davie-Martin, Rural Women's South Island board member, says internet and cell phone coverage is "very patchy" in rural areas, and those living out of the country's main urban areas are often unfairly disadvantaged by their lack of connectivity.

"When we look at rural New Zealand that isn't covered by internet, how are they going to cope with not having cheques to be able to post?" Davie-Martin told Newshub.

She says the payment method remains "very popular" among those in rural New Zealand, and without them - and with no reliable internet - many people will have to drive "who knows how long" to get the closest town to do their banking.

According to the survey, the main use of cheques was paying monthly bills and purchasing farm supplies. It showed 42.5 percent of respondents said they still wrote out cheques for purchases and expenses, while 16.5 percent said they "maybe" did. Forty-one percent said they didn't use cheques.

Of those who did use cheques, 75.2 percent said they posted them to make their payments.

Davie-Martin said although the lack of connectivity was the main issue preventing those in rural communities from using online banking, cheques were also a lifeline for those people who just aren't internet savvy or who were too old to learn how to do it.

"[They] don't have the ability to use it fully because of old-fashioned ways that they've always done it," she said.

Although banks say they will help people make the transition to using their online platforms, Davie-Martin says she has concerns many older people may end up trusting others - such as friends or family - to help them with their online banking, potentially "opening themselves up to some security risks" if they share their personal information and passcodes.

Another worry she had was that it would be harder to pay for things like grocery deliveries or prescription drugs that arrived via rural post.

"I see some rural people, in particular seniors, drawing a lot more cash out and having cash in the house to pay things."

Davie-Martin said Rural Women NZ had drafted a letter that they intended to send to a number of ministers expressing their concern with the situation.

"We believe that this movement to a cheque-less New Zealand has come too soon for many," the letter states.

"Rural Women New Zealand is calling for a halt on the removal of cheques as a form of payment and ask that banks and other institutions remain accepting cheques until every rural household has access to reliable internet and has consistent cellular coverage."

Davie-Martin said the aim of the campaign was fight to "have even one bank that kept taking cheques until they naturally phase themselves out, which we truly believe will happen".

"But more than that if we could get connectivity to every rural place in New Zealand that would really make a huge difference - and connectivity that's good enough to do internet banking on, to pay your accounts, to pay Inland Revenue."