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Innovation, Magic, and Image-Based Cheque Clearing in the UK

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Good things come to those who wait, and the good news for those who have been waiting for the UK to roll out its image-based cheque clearing system is that the end – or more appropriately the beginning – is finally in sight.

The details can be found in this helpful article that outlines the UK’s intention to roll out the system this October. For those unaware of the back-and-forth of this topic, you’ve missed an interesting example of how societies move toward financial revolutions. The answer, it turns out, is “slower than you might expect”.

The effort initially started with an announcement that the UK would abolish cheques altogether, leading to a public backlash reminiscient of the barricade scenes in Les Misérables. The political and financial establishments quickly pivoted and instead set their sights upon something more relevant to real people: positioning the existing process of check deposit and settlement for the next several years.

The result is a clearing system where banks can exchange images rather than the physical items themselves as they settle. More importantly, this opens the door for the UK to leverage many of the learnings from the U.S., where mobile deposit is now used by over 5,500 banks and 80 million consumers.

I have been involved in the payment and interactive financial technology markets for a while – certainly since before the time when the term “fintech” was preceded by a hashtag. One insight I’ve developed over the years is the power of “innovation that matters” – a phrase that finds it’s way into a number of corporate mission statements.

The mobile payments market is growing, and will continue to do so. But I have noticed that the movement from physical payments (cheques, cash) to a…

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