Defeating The Tyranny Of the Paper Check

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Who needs a check when you have a computer?

About six weeks ago I got a message from our accounting department. One of the writers for this blog, an upstanding young man of modest means with two small children, had not cashed the checks for posts he had written more than 18 months ago. Could I please see what I could do about it?

This is far from the usual run of events for an editor. A writer not getting paid, yes. Those communications travel at the speed of light. But getting paid and not cashing the checks? Hmmmm.

I happened to run into this writer shortly after the missive from accounting, so I told him in my best admonishing-editor tone, “Hey, man, you really ought to cash those checks.”

“Yeah, I will, I will – sorry,” he replied in his best humbled-writer voice. And that was that – only he didn’t cash the checks. Still hasn’t.

Now, these checks were hardly $1,000 windfalls; this is a blog, after all. But each one represented a nice night out for the writer and his wife – or more to the point, a pallet of Luvs.

The problem was that the checks were paper checks – printed, stuck in an envelope, mailed, opened, left on a counter, buried under a pile of Domino’s Pizza circulars, lost, forgotten, and overlooked.

That’s how it goes with paper checks, which is why so much of the financial world has abandoned them as a preferred form of transferring funds from one person to another.

So why do travel-insurance companies insist on paying claims with paper checks?

At this point, it’s mostly tradition. Insurance claims have traditionally been paid via check when they’re paid directly to a claimant – the person who filed the claim. Checks are used much less frequently when claims are paid to a third party, like a doctor’s office. Electronic payments have predominated there for nearly a decade.

The fact that payments to claimants are usually made via paper checks and payments to large third parties are made electronically should give you pause. So if electronic payments are secure enough to be used for million-dollar insurance transactions, why aren’t they good enough for a $500 travel-insurance claim?

Then there’s the whole time issue. A paper check takes time – time to authorize and print and be put into an envelope, run through the postage meter, set out for the mail carrier, sent through the postal system, and delivered to your house or apartment.

And that just gets the check to your door. You still have the challenges of opening it, putting it into your purse or briefcase, and getting it to a financial institution for cashing or deposit.

That’s a lot of effort on the parts of a lot of different people. Wouldn’t it be easier if everything were done electronically?

BHTP certainly thinks so.

We built our system from the ground up to do things electronically -- you know, with computers.
We built our system from the ground up to do things electronically — you know, with computers.

We built our system from the ground up two years ago to do things differently – and not just differently for the sake of doing things differently. We did things differently to do things better. Doing things better in this case means no paper checks … unless you really want paper checks.

BHTP believes travelers ought to be paid at least as quickly and efficiently as doctors or lawyers. Our BHTP Burst™ program gives travelers a full range of payment options, from the traditional paper check to instant payments via a debit card into a specified account. Travelers can also choose to be paid via Electronic Funds Transfer (usually in a couple of days) or into a PayPal account (a matter of hours).

And travelers can quickly change payment preferences as soon as they set up a BHTP account. For instance, if a traveler knows they’re going on a trip, they can set up their account for instant payments, so their travel-insurance claims payment can travel with them, at their speed.

“There’s no reason why a traveler should have to settle for a payment method that was outdated a decade ago,” said Dean Sivley, president of Berkshire Hathaway Travel Protection. We couldn’t agree more. And we’re guessing the writer with the two uncashed checks would, too.

Author: Kit Kiefer

As content engineer for Berkshire Hathaway Travel Protection, I have one of the world's great jobs. Not only do I get to write about travel, but I get to edit the work of fantastically talented contributors from around the world. Plus I get all the maple syrup I can drink.