Last year, a Federal Reserve Board study found that debit card use eclipsed check-writing for the first time. And the federal government is phasing out the use of paper checks for benefit payments, relying on direct deposit and debit cards instead. The paper check seemed destined soon to be, like the manual typewriter and the cassette player, a casualty of our increasingly electronic age.
But it seems that even the most tech-savvy among us simply can’t live with paper checks: ING Direct, the online bank that was recently acquired by Capital One, announced that for the first time it would make checkbooks available to account holders.
Prior to this, ING customers could fill out a form online and have a paper check sent to a recipient of their choice; of course, this required advance planning and waiting on snail mail — not exactly the quick, convenient type of transaction online banking customers prize. For a while, the bank also let customers order checks on their own through warehouse club Costco, but discontinued this a couple of years ago.
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Accountholders vented their frustration on ING customer forums and blogs. It seemed that even people who were tech-savvy enough to be comfortable doing most of their banking online still wanted the fallback of a paper checkbook on hand. Maybe someone from ING was reading its customers’ gripes, because the online bank announced it would offer paper checks this year to its Electric Orange accountholders.
ING Direct customers can now go online and pay $5 for a book of 50 paper checks. (The other big player in the online bank space, Ally Financial, already offers checks and doesn’t charge for them.)
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In an article in American Banker magazine, ING’s head of product strategy said there was still too much of a demand for paper checks for the bank to not offer them:
“It’s not something that our customers want; it’s really something they need. … Customers begrudgingly feel that they need to have paper checks until the rest of the world catches up.”
It’s a counterintuitive move, but it could be one that benefits ING Direct and new owner Capital One. Paper checks are a hassle, but sometimes it can be an even bigger hassle not to have access to them. If ING manages to eliminate one of the drawbacks to its online checking, it could draw more customers who are ambivalent about a traditional banking relationship but don’t want to give up any conveniences.