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Researchers explore the joy of cheques

Posted on 13 February 2012

A team of academics has designed an electronic cheque which eliminates the need for costly processing by banks but preserves the simplicity and ease of a traditional cheque book.

Drawing on the life experience and concerns of a group of 80-year-olds in the Newcastle area, the researchers from the University of York, as well as Newcastle and Northumbria universities, have come up with a novel way of making quick and easy electronic transfers. Crucially, the new system preserves the value of a paper cheque as something physical to be handed to the recipient.

The beauty of our design is that you not only have something physical to hand over to the recipient, you also have a cheque book stub as a record

Professor Andrew Monk

It uses a cheque book identical to those currently issued by banks except for the greyish background on each cheque which is in fact billions of tiny dots laid out in a specific pattern.

Using widely available digital pens, the account holder writes the cheque and as they do so a camera in the pen tracks the position on the paper, ‘reading’ the cheque as it is written.  Once complete, they tick a box – the only difference to a normal cheque – and the information is transmitted directly to the payee’s bank account.

The research, carried out at Newcastle University’s Culture Lab, is being presented today at the Computer Supported Co-operative Work (CSCW) conference in Seattle.

Project lead Professor Andrew Monk, a psychologist at the University of York, said it was the “clear understanding of the value of cheques” held by their 80-year-old volunteers that had been influential in developing the idea.

“Many of us still use cheques and in some cases the only alternative is to hand over cash which often really isn’t ideal,” he said.

“For the banks, it’s not only the time and cost of processing cheques but, at present, where you store them after they have been processed.

“But for the bank's customers – and particularly the older generation – cheques are seen as a vital part of their financial independence. They provide a permanent record which means they can easily keep track of what’s being spent. The people who worked with us also valued the experience of handing over a signed cheque to a named individual rather than the anonymity of online transactions.

“The beauty of our design is that you not only have something physical to hand over to the recipient, you also have a cheque book stub as a record.”

Cheque use has been falling in the UK since 1990.  So, while the number of cheques written each day is still high – around 3.5 million a day – this is down from 11 million in 1990.

However, a study by Age UK last year, The Way We Pay, revealed 73 per cent of people over 65 in the UK still frequently use cheques.

Michelle Mitchell, Charity Director-General of Age UK, said: “We’re delighted these researchers asked older people what they need and want in this critical part of daily life, paying bills and making payments.

“Hopefully banks will now see the potential and invest in this kind of innovative design which preserves what many people find invaluable about cheques but also makes the most of modern technology.”

The topic of cheques was suggested by the 80-year-olds in the research study group to address their concerns about the inaccessibility of banks and how they would manage their finances if cheques were phased out or banks started to charge for processing them.

Since starting the project, which is funded by Research Councils UK through the Digital Economy Theme, the team had quickly realised this was not just an ‘older’ issue.

Dr John Vines, who is now at Newcastle University but carried out the work while at Northumbria University, explained:  “Sending a cheque in a Christmas or Birthday card is something many people do – not just the older generation.  It’s easy and safe but it’s also personal. 

"The beauty of this system is that it is a safe and cheap electronic transaction for the banks but it’s a physical paper-based transaction for the customer."

Notes to editors:

  • The Joy of Cheques: Trust, Paper and Eighty Somethings. John Vines, Paul Dunphy, Mark Blythe, Stephen Lindsay, Andrew Monk, Patrick Olivier.  CSCW (Computer Supported Co-operative Work) Conference, Seattle. 13 to 15 February, 2012.
  • Project Lead, Professor Andrew Monk, Department of Psychology, University of York, is available on 07919 618306; Email:
  • For further information on the Department of Psychology, University of York, visit

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