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What Over 100 Years in the Check Business Looks Like … And Why These Payments are Still Relevant

While the idea of sitting down and writing a paper check may conjure up ideas of days gone by, checks predate even those years. In fact, checks have been around since the 15th century.

  • 1500s – 1600s – The concept of check payments takes hold in Holland and eventually spreads to England and beyond
  • 1762 – First printed checks traced to a British banker
  • 1781 – First U.S. bank, the Bank of North America, is chartered in Philadelphia
  • 1864 – President Lincoln signs the National Bank Act, forming a system of national banks and an agency to police those banks

The Harland Clarke Check Story

Ten years after President Lincoln signed the National Bank Act, Robert Clarke and Samuel Maverick formed the Maverick-Clarke Lithograph Company in San Antonio. They eventually expanded to sell office supplies and stationery in retail locations. Fifty-four years later, in 1928, John Harland, an Irish immigrant, founded the John H. Harland Company, a general printer and office supplier in Atlanta.

The two companies grew revenue, lines of business, and acquired other businesses in the check printing industry alongside one another for nearly 80 years – until 2007 when the two companies merged.

With a new name – Harland Clarke – our business doubled thanks to our commitment to enabling financial institutions to meet the challenges of the coming decades.

But checks aren’t just important to us because they’re the bulk of our history at Harland Clarke, they’re still relevant for consumers of all ages. Here’s why:

Preferred for Business-to-Business Payments

More than half of business-to-business payments are still made by check. There are better, faster, more convenient, less costly payment methods, but with them comes the technology adoption hurdle that a lot of companies can’t clear.

Additionally, some businesses prefer paper checks, such as insurance agents and companies, government offices, tradespeople, and organizations, such as churches and community groups. Even larger businesses and institutions prefer checks over credit cards, such as K-12 schools, medical offices and building contractors, which can demand large sums for tuition payments or home repairs.

The Paper Trail

When it’s important, account holders write checks. Unlike money orders, cashier’s checks, automatic bill pay systems or cash, checks are traceable, and when sent via a trackable mail service, allows the sender to document the mailing date of a payment — important with some types of payments, such as insurance premiums or taxes.

And once the check clears, the issuer can access a copy of the check through the bank. If paid with a money order, particularly a non-bank money order, tracing the payment can be costly and time-consuming.

Control over the Payment Process

Checks give consumers more control over the payment process. An automatic transfer might take place before the payer has had a chance to make sure there are sufficient funds, potentially resulting in an overdraft. There are also some bills that cannot be paid by automatic transfer, such as apartment rentals.

Even in an increasingly paperless society, plenty of consumers, regardless of age, still rely on checks for day-to-day transactions. The vast majority of consumers, 87 percent, still use checks.

Checks continue to serve a function because no payment system is perfect for every scenario.

The truth is – there is still no satisfactory equivalent for the paper check.

>>Struggling to acquire new accounts? Grab the “5 Ways to Acquire New Accounts to Meet Your Annual Goals” tip sheet for extra advice.

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Harland Clarke Corp. is a leading provider of best-in-class integrated payment solutions and marketing services, serving multiple industries including financial services, retail, healthcare, insurance, and telecommunications.

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