The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

97 percent of small businesses still use paper checks to make and accept payments

Online and mobile payments are certainly growing in popularity – just not as fast some may think.  In all likelihood, you’ll still be hearing “the check’s in the mail” from many small businesses for at least the foreseeable future.

My business is in Philly. And here, most of my clients are small and family-owned companies located in industrial parks and corporate centers near airports and off the beaten path. They sell pipes, tubes, corrugated containers, metalized film, landscaping services, auto parts and all sorts of other things mostly to other businesses. They still do business old school and are slow to adopt new technologies. Don’t believe me?

Then believe the latest quarterly report on the SMB Technology Adoption Index, which was done in collaboration with software giant Sage. This report doesn’t surprise me.

For example, although we see and hear about mobile payment services like Apple Pay and Android Pay, only 20 percent of the small merchants that were surveyed are set up to accept this form of payment. But that’s not all. Even in this world of online banking, a whopping 97 percent of the companies surveyed said they still cut paper checks to their business vendors and receive checks from their business customers – only a one percent improvement from the first quarter.

Why do paper checks endure? You’d think it would be the float – it takes longer for a paper check to be cashed than an online payment. But only 1.8 percent of respondents in another survey released last week by online invoicing and payment firm Viewpost said that was the top reason. The main excuse? Forty-one percent said their own suppliers don’t accept electronic payment! Lack of hidden fees, familiarity and a paper trail were also reasons given.

The good news is that almost half of small merchants now accept the chip-enabled credit cards (a big increase from earlier in the year) and many small merchants are prepared to adopt new payment technologies when their customers want them to.