Central Bank Governor John Rolle said yesterday that the bank is “very cognizant of the pain points that need to be addressed”, particularly surrounding electronic payments in lieu of checks.
He was responding to questions posed by Guardian Business regarding concerns of the private sector surrounding the elimination of checks.
Specifically, executives of Bahamas Cheque Services and Executive Cheque Printers recently said they and their clients are not prepared for the wholesale elimination of checks, noting that on average hundreds of thousands of checks are printed each month for law firms, real estate companies and businesses with high payroll and employee turnover.
“We published an initial consultation paper in December of 2021 and that paper is still out there and in publishing that document, we acknowledged a range of issues that need to be addressed in The Bahamas around any waning of the use of checks, including the efficiency of the electronic settlements and payments system, the ease of access that businesses have in getting banking accounts opened up so they can do transactions directly, as well as the access that ordinary citizens have to banking,” Rolle said yesterday during a quarterly media briefing.
“All of those issues are on our work agenda, insofar as having a continuously improved state of domestic payments. So we are very cognizant of the pain points that need to be addressed in getting the financial system to an improved state of operations insofar as checks and other forms of payments are concerned.”
Late last year, the Central Bank announced the elimination of Bahamian dollar checks by December 2024, with a universal cutoff date to eliminate all check cashing activities slated for sometime at the end of 2022, at which time only check deposits would be allowed until the complete elimination.
In addition to the costs associated with electronic baking with domestic institutions, stakeholders have lamented the onerous accounting challenges that come along with direct electronic payments for businesses. Rolle said that is being addressed.
“The banking system has for several years been engaged in an upgrade of the automated clearing house (ACH), which we use for retail payments, and a part of that focus is specifically to address the concerns that individuals have around reconciling who is the sender of funds that are passing through the system,” he said.
“The upgrade of that messaging format for the ACH is now complete and the banks will be taking on the responsibility of more public education around how individuals can more comfortably and knowledgeably send funds electronically.”
Stakeholders have also claimed that the Central Bank did not engage them on the push to eliminate checks, with at least one saying that the bank is threatening the livelihoods of businesses.
“To the issue of engaging stakeholder groups, our approach insofar as the public is concerned, is that we always put our initiatives in the public domain and the Central Bank is accessible for all stakeholders to raise whatever concerns. Once we put a document out for consultation and we say that it is for consultation, it comes with the invitation for all stakeholders to reach out to the Central Bank,” Rolle said.