Thousands more people are turning to digital cheque scanning as banks encourage them to stay at home and not visit branches, new data suggests.
Figures from HSBC and Lloyds, two of Britain’s big four high street banks, revealed the numbers of cheques being digitally deposited using mobile banking apps has surged, while branch footfall has plummeted.
Lloyds, which is Britain’s largest bank account provider and also owns Halifax and Bank of Scotland, said around 125,000 cheques a week had been paid in digitally since the country went into lockdown a month ago.
This figure, which also includes business banking customers, is a rise of a fifth on pre-lockdown numbers and means roughly 20,000 more cheques a week are being deposited compared to before 24 March 2020.
Lloyds Bank said it had seen the number of cheques deposited digitally rise by a fifth since Britain went into lockdown a month ago
Meanwhile HSBC, which has around 14.5million customers of its own, said 30 per cent more cheques a day had been digitally cashed over the last four weeks.
Its previous average was around 4,500 a day, not including businesses, but it now said an average of 36,200 cheques were scanned each week over the last month – or more than 5,000 a day, as customers turn to the technology.
It added 7,000 had been scanned on 17 April, one of the highest daily totals it had ever seen outside of the Christmas period.
We previously revealed figures which showed 10,000 cheques a day were digitally cashed by HSBC customers over the festive period.
While bank branches have been allowed to stay open and the Bank of England recommended banks should keep them open where possible, many have reduced opening hours or even temporarily closed branches.
Lloyds has closed 157 branches and a further 99 Halifax branches, while those remaining open have had their opening hours reduced to 10am to 2pm.
HSBC, Barclays, Lloyds, Halifax and smartphone-only bank Starling let you deposit cheques by scanning them using your phone’s camera
In response, customers can now pay in cheques of up to £999 using the scanner, up from £500, and pay in £2,000 a day, double its previous limit.
HSBC has also reduced its opening hours to the same times but has kept 95 per cent of its branches open.
But its figures suggested customers were staying at home, even where branches were still open.
The number of cheques being deposited in-branch has fallen two-fifths since Britain went into lockdown, while there has been a three-fifths reduction in branch footfall.
While it is unlikely these figures represent a resurgence for the cheque, which for many years has been written off as an outdated way of paying, it does show they continue to fill a niche.
HSBC said the number of cheques being deposited in-branch has fallen two-fifths since Britain went into lockdown
Perhaps people are still being sent them as birthday presents, or older people without access to online banking are sending them to relatives to pay for their shopping.
Cheque usage fell almost three-quarters between 2008 and 2018 to 342million, according to figures from UK Finance, with the trade body expecting this to fall to 135million by 2028.
And the coronavirus crisis has forced banks, who for years have closed branches and encouraged people to pay by card or contactless, to reckon with elderly and vulnerable customers and help them access cash.
Different banks have come up with different solutions, including allowing someone else limited access to your bank account or offering a cash delivery service, which the Department for Work and Pensions and Post Office also launched last week for 27,000 people.
And there is also one last reason why cheque depositing may have increased.
It remains a common Christmas gift, and many people who buried ones they received in a drawer on Christmas morning may have rediscovered them if they are stuck at home and tidying the house as a result.
That might explain why HSBC reported a 500 per cent increase in people asking how long cheques are valid for.
They don’t actually expire, but banks don’t tend to accept them if they’re more than six months old.
Which means if you have just rediscovered one you were sent at Christmas; you’ve still got another two months to cash it in.