Thursday, January 31, 2008

Check if I can make my own cheque

I needed to write a cheque but I left them at home so I stopped off at my bank's nearest branch hoping they can hook me up. Nope, TD Bank can't give me cheques. This customer service is not pleased as I stand there in silence. I should have walked away with my tail between my legs. But I'm intrigued. What is a cheque anyway? What are those funny numbers at the bottom? Do I command enough respect for answers? I give my best "maybe I'm a shabbily dressed millionaire" look and decide to go for broke. I ask "am I allowed to write my own cheque on a piece of paper?"Since my high school law teacher told me a cheque could be written on anything I was always interested to inquire.

"No," customer service responds, "definitely not." I can feel the anxiety in the room. We have ventured into unchartered questions territory. Customer service has decided to play it safe.
"Is there any information on a cheque that I cannot have to write on a piece of paper?"
"There's account information."
"Can I write down my account information?"
"There's numbers for the bank. It can't be done. Nope." Deny, deny, deny. I get the feeling I'm not leaving here with any cheques but I'm hoping for a more informed answer.
"Is there someone else I could speak to?"
"To get a more complete answer." Customer service turns to customer service 2.0 working behind them.
"Can someone write their cheque on a piece of paper?" CS-2.o pauses thoughtfully.
"No. There's the numbers at the bottom. It needs a serial number. Otherwise it would be an altered cheque, right?"

This is my least favourite customer service scenario. I'm dissatisfied because they're not experts, we've left the realm of their training and interests, and they're offering me no information. They're dissatisfied because I show no signs of leaving thus elevating the situation to DEFCON 2 and now they're focusing on coordinating a simple and consistent defense. "Nope. Impossible. Forbidden. Never been done. Can't happen." A united front. Wishing I had recorded the conversation I summarize for my listeners:
"So you're saying that I'm not allowed to write my own cheque?" Customer service fearlessly runs with the unequivocal by immediately responding:
"There has never been a time when that was possible."

There's lots of confusion about this issue on the web. Protest cheques (written on bricks or cows) are often mentioned. Bank cashiers, the frontline grunts, refuse to accept them and once the media buzz dies down the cheque probably ends up proudly on the creator's wall -so there's no helpful precedent-setting legal battle.

A cheque legally needs all of the information you would expect: account number, date, name. signature, etc. The numbers in bizzare font at the bottom are for the bank's machine processors and 'your security'.
The question is: does a cheque legally need the Magnetic Ink Character Recognition?

I'm confident that if you were willing to fight for a homemade cheque without magnetic ink then your bank would eventually accept it. But it would be an uphill battle and when you 'won' they would charge you a fee for processing a non-MICR cheque.

Did you know?
You're allowed to print your own cheques at home but you'll need Magnetic Ink and to conform to the new Canadian cheque writing standards. The new standards are locked in on September 2nd, 2008 -if cheques last that long; online banking hopes to save us all the trouble and will help all of our digital money vanish at once during the Great Collapse of 2033.


Lisa said...

I liked this post. I like pushing the rules, sometimes, just to push.

Anonymous said...

working for a charity, we sometimes take donations by cheque over the phone. that's right. someone can phone in their banking information (transit #, account # etc) and we write it on a piece of regular paper, with regular ink and send it to the bank for processing.


Nemo Dally said...

Wow, not even a signature? But I guess the bank trusts a registered charity.

Wish you had been there. Although I doubt it could shatter their safe and stable worldview.