Some digital payment innovators still see value in checks

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Business-to-consumer payments are rapidly shifting to digital channels, replacing paper checks with a variety of instant-payment methods for gig work and corporate reimbursements.

While most of these solutions aim to completely replace slow, costly paper checks, certain providers recognize that some portions of the U.S. population remain wary of instant payments, especially for one-time payouts of refunds and insurance payouts.

A couple of these companies have found a way to bridge the gap by layering the familiar imagery of paper checks over digital payment platforms.

Longtime check-printing giant Deluxe is using this hybrid route in its own transition to digital payments with the Deluxe Payment Exchange. An email notifies recipients of available funds with instructions to access Deluxe's platform to print out a check for deposit, or accept a virtual account or ACH deposit directly to a bank or PayPal account.

San Mateo, Calif.-based Checkbook.io also leans heavily on paper check nomenclature and imagery, sending B2C payments via a text or email that opens to look like a check made out to the recipient.

“We’re getting rid of checks but we’re doing it in a way that retains the convenience of paper checks because that's what many people still know and trust,” said PJ Gupta, Checkbook.io's founder.

Whirlpool Corp. building
Companies like Whirlpool Corp. use Checkbook.io's services for mass payouts, according to Checkbook founder PJ Gupta.

Launched five years ago, Checkbook.io has gradually built a following with corporations doing mass disbursements, mostly for one-time refunds or class-action lawsuit payouts. Whirlpool Corp. has used Checkbook.io's services for mass payouts, Gupta said.

This month, Checkbook.io joined the Visa Fintech Fast Track program to speed up its development. As part of the move, Checkbook.io has added virtual cards to the list of payout options so recipients can opt to receive funds via ACH, check printout, virtual prepaid card or instant bank account deposit through Visa Direct.

Checkbook.io is taking a somewhat unique path in a sector that's bursting with competition and innovation, according to Sarah Grotta, director of debit and alternative products advisory at Mercator Advisory Group.

“There are many fintechs in the ‘mass pay’ arena offering platforms for B2C rebates, refunds, gig worker and payroll-like payments and a lot of banks are developing similar services within their cash management platforms,” Grotta said, noting that many platforms support cross-border B2C payments.

PNC recently launched Direct to Debit Card, a B2C solution targeting corporations for traditional payroll processing paying on demand and independent contractor payments.

In recent years, digitization of B2C payments has sharply reduced overall volume in the sector. B2C checks account for about 40% of total check volume, according to Federal Reserve data.

“The reality is that corporations doing mass payouts need to address all different types of customer preferences if they want to fully connect,” Gupta said.

The largest number of Checkbook.io's end users typically opt for ACH payouts because it’s familiar and trusted, while a smaller number actually choose to print out a check. But virtual card payouts are gaining rapid adoption, according to Gupta.

“We’re seeing an accelerated adoption curve for virtual cards as more customers look at all the choices and realize a digital card payment means they can get their funds right now,” he said.

Under Visa’s Fast Track program, Checkbook expects to expand its services to reach banks, insurance companies and new vertical industries interested in white-labeling the disbursement payouts in the form of a check, Gupta said.

“Digital checks aren't new, but we're building new and different features, such as a walletless system for push payments, to make B2C payments more effective," Gupta said.

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