The Cheque: Still Alive & Stifling Business In France

France is one of the most innovative countries in the world – it’s leading the way globally in technology research and IT, ranking way above the UK in a recent study. They’ve invented new online systems used in other countries to make payments easier and boost economies by facilitating trade – which is why it’s so baffling that the nation is still using cheques as its main method of doing business. Yes, CHEQUES!

In England we phased them out long ago as outdated, unnecessarily faffy, time consuming and completely inefficient. Most tills have the card reader and keypad, and even the most stubborn, technology-phobic elderly person has been won over by their ease of use. Bank accounts are online and payments for everything from household bills to holidays are made easily and immediately via online banking. Offices are going paperless – when your payments are made by card it’s automatically there on your statement, recorded and easy to access at the click of a button, instantly. Writing out a cheque, sending it by unreliable snail mail, filling out cheque stubs and keeping them in a paper documents folder seems so last century. But, unbelievably and totally unnecessarily, that’s where France still finds itself.

When I first moved here I was amazed to realise that what was holding up the queue in the supermarket was a woman slowly, precisely and carefully filling out a cheque as payment for her weekly shop! They still have those cheque stampers at all the tills and to give an idea of how common the use of cheques is, there’s one in pretty much every supermarket queue I’ve been in!

When I started a business here last year I had no idea that faffing about with cheques would take up the majority of my admin time. People in France are generally set in their ways and hard to sway, especially people in the mountains, hours away from any city. Many of my clients insisted on payment by cheque despite my desperate pleas – some had never even heard of a bank transfer. I was tearing my hair out by the time one client had posted a cheque to me – weeks later I received it (the postal service in the mountains is very erratic to say the least), but the bank refused to process it because a date was missing. The missing date made no odds at all, but this being France the cheques have to be filled in exactly right or somebody paid to check the cheques and ruin people’s days by refusing them would be out of a job. I then learned that people in France will insist on you posting their cancelled cheque back to them and receiving it before they’ll send you out another. Several more weeks waiting for the post. WHY?! Payments can be done instantly! I know France lagged behind on the internet while it fiddled about with Minitel, but can someone please tell them about online banking?

To be fair, the banks here don’t make it easy. They’re not linked in the way banks are in England – you join a branch and that’s your bank, you’re expected to use the personnel and facilities at that particular building exclusively. Our account was set up in SW France, so when we moved to the Alps and started getting payment in cheques, we couldn’t just take them into our nearest branch. Oh no, we had to POST the cheques (which had just taken weeks to arrive to us in the post) down to the bank branch in the SW. All this paper flying around the country, taking up air miles, necessitating extra vehicles on the road and increasing our carbon footprint, for no reason.

For the sake of trade and the economy, the environment and my own sanity, I really hope France listens to its own innovators and gets the hang of card payments and online banking soon.

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