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Oh, for them good old cheque days


June 9th 2065

We just celebrated grandad's hundredth birthday.

He was a banker, and he recorded a speech for us to play to the family.

We decided to share his speech as it captures a moment of history that many of us might forget.

Hope you like it …

I cannot believe that I’m waking up today to celebrate my centennial birthday.


Just reached the grand old age of one zero zero years old.


Obviously I wouldn’t be here without Pfizer’s help so thank goodness for elongates.

No, nothing to do with your manhood – although Pfizer’s superpremium plus Viagra for seniors isn’t bad for that department – elongates is the drug they introduced in 2019 that allow almost anyone to defy the ageing process.

So here I am at the grand old age of 100 still able to have an active sex life and run marathons.  Admittedly, it takes me four days now – to run the marathon that is – but being relatively healthy and active is pretty good for a senior like me.

I like to regale my great grandchildren with funny stories about how everyone’s life expectancy was around fifty years just a couple of centuries ago.  Yes, back in 1889 when Bismarck introduced the pension, the average life expectancy of a German male was just 45.  No wonder they made the pension age 65!

Now the average human lives to 110 and, for the white collar boys like me, 120 plus is not unheard of.

So I’ve got a few years yet and yes, it has really messed up the old pension plan as they expected me to shuffle off this mortal coil back in 2050 or thereabouts.

And here I still am … just about fit enough to engage in most of life’s activities and enjoying talking about the past to my grandchildren and their children.

Nothing like the bedtimes when young Laptop – what do they call people these days? – asks me to tell her the one about cheques.

What, you haven’t heard it?

Ah well, here it is again.

Back in the twentieth century when people were transported around in things called cars and jetted around the world in things in the sky called planes – if you don’t know what these are, just ped it (ed: ped is the common lingo for any encyclopaedia style system, most of which are now built into clothing) – we used to have one very strange habit.

It was called “sending a cheque in the post” (this bit normally gets a laugh from the older members of the family, who remember such things as ‘post’).

The process would begin with writing a letter.

Now how did that work?

What we would do first is get a piece of paper.

Paper was everywhere in those days, and it was used to communicate.

The way it would work is that you would use this paper – and normally at this point I would hold up an example of one of my classic letters and pass it around – and then you would write a message on it.

Writing was performed using an instrument called a pen, which was a long thin instrument with fluid inside.  The fluid would appear on the paper and then dry, and would be our way of writing words to each other.

This was done so that you could send a message to someone who would receive this information, and that someone could then read what was on the paper and respond accordingly.

We would actually write with our hands, holding this pen instrument, and the words would appear like magic on the paper – a bit like they do today on the illuminator.

So we would write these words on a piece of paper and often you would do this to pay a bill.

Now a bill was something you owed to someone for something.

OK, OK, I know that you would now deal with this by using gimmee.

Oh, and I should say how proud I am of my son’s grandson, Volkswagen – who would have thought? – who has just gained his diploma in gimmee economic theory and practice  (ed: gimmee is the global and interplanetary currency of the future, that allows anything to be transacted in any form as long as it has a value that can be measured according to the Goognet Corporation).

Anyways, back then there was no such thing as gimmee.  We only had three ways to exchange goods and services using things called cash, cards and cheques.

Cash was the most pervasive form of value exchange and you can still see many examples of cash today but, in the olden days, it was used far more extensively,

Cards you don’t see at all now of course, but these were plastic cards with your name and a unique number written on them.  You can see those in the Museum of Money or the Smithsonian if you’re that interested.

But no, the weirdest one by far was the thing called ‘cheque’.

A cheque was a piece of paper – yes, another piece of paper – but this paper was given to you by a financial intermediary called a bank.

Banks were these amazing places that controlled all the value in the world, but many of them disappeared during the early part of the century as they didn’t adapt to the networked economy we live in today.

That’s how Goognet got to takeover with gimmee, but then you know that story don’t you.

So back to writing a letter and putting a cheque in the post.

Now what I’ve done is I’ve written this letter – the information I need to send to the person who will receive the letter, explaining what it is all about – and now I want to give the person some value.

As mentioned, that is normally for getting rid of some debt I owe them, such as a bill for how much electricity or water I used.  Sure, I know that’s ridiculous today but back then, it was the way it was.

Now, there’s lots of ways I could give them that value – as mentioned, there was cash and cards – but if you wanted to send a cheque, then you would take the paper issued by the bank.

That piece of paper was personalised with your bank number on there, so they knew it was you.  And because the paper was issued by the bank, they would accept it as real value rather than as just a piece of paper.

You would write on the piece of paper how much you wanted to send to the recipient of the letter, and you would put this in an envelope.

An envelope I hear you ask, is just a packet that would hold the two pieces of paper you were about to send.

You see, because the paper had to be physically moved from my house to the house or office of the person I wanted to exchange value with, it needed this wrapper.  That was the envelope.

I would write the name and location of the organisation or person I was sending the wrapper to on this envelope and then I would pop it into the post.

Oh, I know, I know.  So many things to learn, but I promise you this is one of the last bits of new information I will share with you today.

The post was the postal system.

Now today, you just think something to someone and it’s there, thanks to Goognet, but back then you had to send everything physically.

Nothing was electronic.

So you would put the cheque and the letter in the envelope, put a stamp on the envelope that covered the value required by the people who ran the post to physically take your envelope from your house to the location of the person you wanted to send it to.

About three to five days letter, the cheque would arrive with the person you wanted it sent to.

At this point, my great grandkids normally ask the obvious question: “and what happens with the cheque from there, great gramps?” and, as I know you’re just bursting to ask that question, I’ll finish the story for you.

You see, once the cheque has been physically taken from my house to theirs, they then have to take that piece of paper to their bank.

That may be a day or two later, so by now a week has probably passed since I sent them the cheque.

When they get to their bank – and yes, they do have to physically go there in their pod, people carrier or whatever it is they use – then they attach a slip to the cheque that tells the bank their number and name, and the bank then puts the value that I wrote on the cheque into their account.

Mind you, it does not go in straight away as it takes a few days.

Last time I told this story, Thingamajig – yes, that is their name and no, I haven’t got dementia and forgot it – asked why.

So I explained that their bank then has to send the details of what I wrote on the cheque along with their details to my bank.

Eventually, it all gets sorted out and they can then spend the value I wrote on the cheque.

So there you have it my friends.

The good old days of old, where value moves from my hand to yours through three pairs of others -the postal service, their bank and mine – and that is why it used to take us ten days to a month to get things paid.

That’s when the little ones eyes widen and Jedi Knight Pipsqueak – he prefers to be called JKP, as we named him after a major exposure to Star Wars fifty year celebrations and it’s now a little out-of-date – screamed: “but great gramps, gimmee works with just the wave of my hand”, which it does of course as he downloaded Toy Story 28 onto his watch in exchange for two hours gaming time.

“I know, I know JKP”, I sighed, “but things weren’t always this simple my boy.”

And so there you have it boys and girls.

The way we used to do things in the good old days.

Of course, we got rid of such antiquities early in the 21st century, but I still have a fondness for that old cheque process.

After all, back in them days, I could quite happily defer the exchange of value for weeks or months if I wanted to.  Not like now, where Goognet knows our every movement.

More on that later but, for now, night night boys and girls.

Oh, and thanks to my very old friend, and even older than I am now colleague, Brett King for a bit of the inspiration for recounting this tale.


About Chris M Skinner

Chris M Skinner
Chris Skinner is best known as an independent commentator on the financial markets through his blog, TheFinanser.com, as author of the bestselling book Digital Bank, and Chair of the European networking forum the Financial Services Club. He has been voted one of the most influential people in banking by The Financial Brand (as well as one of the best blogs), a FinTech Titan (Next Bank), one of the Fintech Leaders you need to follow (City AM, Deluxe and Jax Finance), as well as one of the Top 40 most influential people in financial technology by the Wall Street Journal’s Financial News. To learn more click here...

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