What is an eCheque? What they are and how to accept them as payment

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  1. Introduction
  2. How do eCheques work?
  3. Benefits of accepting eCheques for businesses
  4. Challenges of accepting eCheques
  5. Best practices for accepting eCheques
    1. Stricter authentication processes
    2. Advanced security configurations
    3. Transaction and security audits
    4. Customer education
    5. Process and tool refinement
  6. Which Stripe products enable eCheque payments?
  7. How to accept eCheques using Stripe

An electronic cheque, commonly referred to as an "eCheque" and also known as an "ACH Direct Debit", is a digital version of a traditional paper cheque. When you use an eCheque, the funds are transferred electronically from the payer's current account to the payee's account via an ACH payment. This is similar to the process that takes place with a paper cheque, but is much faster and does not have the physical element to it.

Nacha, the system that governs ACH payments, reported handling 30 billion transactions worth US$76.7 trillion in 2022. The number of transactions and their total amount has grown consistently over the past decade.

Below, we'll talk about what you need to know to accept eCheques from customers as securely, reliably and efficiently as possible – no matter which channel you're using.

What's in this article?

  • How do eCheques work?
  • Benefits of accepting eCheques for businesses
  • Challenges of accepting eCheques
  • Best practices for accepting eCheques
  • Which Stripe products enable eCheque payments?
  • How to accept eCheques using Stripe

How do eCheques work?

eCheques transfer funds from one bank account to another. The digital nature of an eCheque payment speeds up the process and is more convenient and secure than paper cheques. Here's an overview of the typical process:

  • Authorisation: First, the payer must give explicit permission for the funds to be withdrawn from their bank account. They can authorise the transaction via a secure online form, a phone call or a signed document.

  • Collection of bank details: After obtaining authorisation, the payee collects the necessary banking information from the payer. This usually includes the bank's sort code number and the payer's account number.

  • Submission for processing: With the authorisation and bank details in hand, the payee submits this information via a specialised payment gateway or other software. The submission triggers an electronic process to initiate the transfer of funds.

  • Initiation of the ACH transaction: The automated clearing house (ACH) network facilitates the movement of money and information between the banks involved. The payee's bank submits the payment details to the ACH network, which then coordinates with the payer's bank for verification and transfer.

  • Verification: Upon receiving the request, the payer's bank verifies the account information and availability of sufficient funds. If everything is correct, the bank approves the transaction for further processing.

  • Funds transfer: Once approved, the ACH initiates the transfer of funds from the payer's bank account to the payee's bank account. This could happen almost immediately or may take a few working days. How quickly the funds are transferred depends on various factors, including the institutions involved and the specifics of the ACH network's processing schedule. (It settles payments four times a day, but is offline at the weekend and on bank holidays.)

  • Confirmation and record keeping: After the transaction successfully completes, both parties typically receive confirmation receipts. These electronic records are easier to manage and store compared with paper records, and they can be retrieved easily for auditing purposes or to obtain a transaction history.

  • Settlement: Finally, the ACH settles all transactions with the banks, completing the entire process.

Benefits of accepting eCheques for businesses

The value of accepting electronic cheques depends on how well a business manages them within its overall payment ecosystem. Here are some of the potential benefits for businesses:

  • Cost-effectiveness
    eCheques have lower transaction costs compared with credit card payments. The impact of this is especially significant with high transaction volumes.

  • Security measures
    eCheques use the ACH network for transactions, which boasts numerous security protocols such as encryption and authentication. These features create a safer transaction environment for both businesses and customers.

  • Faster processing time
    While traditional cheques can take several days to clear, eCheques often clear within a single working day. This speedier clearance time improves the rate at which businesses can access funds, which is especially beneficial to companies with tight operating margins.

  • Improved cash management
    With faster processing times, businesses can forecast their available funds more accurately. This improves decision-making about investments, payroll and other expenses that require short-term liquidity.

  • Convenience
    eCheques are convenient for both businesses and customers. There's no need to visit the bank to deposit cheques and many financial software systems can record these transactions automatically, reducing the administrative workload.

  • Fewer chargebacks
    The ACH network includes features that make it more difficult for customers to initiate chargebacks, compared with transactions facilitated by credit card networks. Fewer chargebacks mean fewer administrative headaches and less potential lost revenue.

  • Environmentally friendly
    eCheques are a paperless method of payment, aligning with the environmental values of many modern consumers and businesses. Reducing the use of paper cheques also decreases the need for physical storage space.

  • Increased customer satisfaction
    Providing multiple payment options, including eCheques, accommodates a broader range of customer preferences, making it easier for them to do business with you. This kind of flexibility can improve customer satisfaction and loyalty.

  • Access to a broader market
    Some consumers and businesses still avoid using credit cards due to various concerns such as high fees or the potential for debt accumulation. Offering eCheques as an alternative could make your business more appealing to these segments, potentially widening your customer base.

  • Regulatory compliance
    The use of eCheques is regulated by US law, which offers a structured dispute resolution process and provides protection against fraudulent activities.

  • Recurring payments
    eCheques are highly suitable for recurring payment structures, such as subscriptions, thanks to their lower fees and security features.

Challenges of accepting eCheques

Electronic cheques are considered to be fairly safe and secure for businesses and customers – but they still have potential risks. Here's a quick overview of common challenges associated with accepting eCheques as a payment method:

  • Fraud risks
    Even though eCheques are generally secure, no payment method can offer complete protection against fraud. Techniques including account hijacking or the use of stolen account information can still occur, so it's important to adopt preventative strategies, such as vigilant transaction monitoring and additional layers of security.

  • Insufficient funds
    As with traditional cheques, eCheques are subject to the risk of insufficient funds being available in the payer's account.

  • Operational adjustments
    Businesses that have not accepted eCheques before may need to modify their accounting and bookkeeping practices to accommodate this new method. This could involve changes to software systems or additional staff training, which requires time and resources.

  • Transaction reversals
    An eCheque transaction can be reversed after it has been deposited into the recipient's account, which is challenging from a revenue-assurance perspective. These reversals can happen up to 60 days after the transaction, creating an extended period of uncertainty.

  • Limited international use
    The ACH network primarily supports financial institutions in the US. If a major portion of your customer base is international, you'll need to use alternative payment methods for global transactions.

  • Initial setup fees and ongoing costs
    Depending on your financial institution and the specifics of your business operations, there may be fees associated with setting up the capability to accept eCheques. While these costs are generally cheaper than credit card transaction fees, don't overlook them.

  • Customer reluctance
    Despite their advantages, eCheques are still not as widely used or understood as other payment methods, such as credit cards or even traditional cheques. Educating customers about the benefits and security features of eCheques may require an investment in marketing and informational resources.

  • Regulatory complexity
    As a regulated payment method, eCheques come with a set of legal obligations, including consumer rights and fraud protection measures. This complexity can be especially challenging for small businesses that might not have dedicated legal resources.

  • Delayed transaction confirmation
    Although eCheques typically clear faster than their paper counterparts, they don't offer the instant payment confirmation that credit or debit card transactions do. This could be a disadvantage in scenarios that require – or benefit from – immediate verification.

  • System compatibility
    Not all financial software is configured to handle eCheques, so businesses may need to update their systems or invest in new software. This transition requires a monetary investment and may involve educating staff.

Best practices for accepting eCheques

Determining the best approach to accepting and managing electronic cheques requires understanding your needs, your specific vulnerabilities and your customers' preferences. Your strategy will probably vary from that of comparable businesses. However, there are some generally accepted best practices for accepting eCheques:

Stricter authentication processes

When selecting a third-party service for account and identity verification, look for features such as real-time validation against live banking data. The goal is to spot inconsistencies before a transaction occurs, which greatly reduces the risk of fraud.

Implement a double-check process where a customer's identity is confirmed both at transaction initiation and at its conclusion. This dual-validation method can catch errors or unauthorised activities before funds are transferred, providing another opportunity for fraud prevention.

Advanced security configurations

Implement a role-based access-control system within your payment software. By providing tiered levels of access to employees based on their job functions, you reduce the risk of internal fraud or data mishandling.

Employ machine-learning algorithms to monitor transactional behaviour over time. These algorithms adapt to normal behaviour and can flag genuinely suspicious activities, in comparison to static rule sets which are unable to do so.

Transaction and security audits

Transactional logs can supply data for behavioural analysis. Apply machine learning to analyse logs and identify patterns that may indicate fraudulent activities.

Periodic internal audits should also include stress-testing your security measures and identifying potential vulnerabilities in your process that could be exploited.

Customer education

Provide customers with an interactive digital dashboard where they can track the status of their eCheque transactions in real time. Equip this dashboard with features such as push notifications for significant transactional milestones to encourage active engagement.

Create content resources that guide customers through problematic scenarios that they might encounter, such as failed transactions or disputes. Make sure that these guides offer specific solutions, giving customers a sense of empowerment and reducing their reliance on customer service.

Process and tool refinement

Consider scheduling your eCheque processing based on statistical data, such as high-traffic hours and the typical duration between a cheque being issued and cleared. Optimising this can minimise strain on system resources, reduce costs and give you a better sense of when the transaction will be complete.

Select a payment gateway that can adapt to future changes in the payments ecosystem. Given the rapid rate of technological evolution, locking yourself into a rigid system could result in future inefficiencies and missed opportunities.

Which Stripe products enable eCheque payments?

Stripe's entire suite of payment solutions is designed to allow businesses to accept eCheques in a variety of ways, based on how and where they accept customer payments. A quick list of payment processing products from Stripe that facilitate eCheque acceptance include:

  • Stripe Checkout: Checkout is a hosted payment page that allows you to integrate a prebuilt checkout experience into your website. To accept eCheques, specify "ACH Debit" as an accepted payment method when setting up your Checkout session. This offers your customers a straightforward way to enter their bank information.

  • Elements: If you prefer to use a customisable form, Elements provides UI building blocks that create a compliant payment form for your business. With Elements, you can add an "ACH Debit" form to your checkout process easily. Elements handles the more sensitive aspects of data collection and security compliance, freeing you from this complexity.

  • Invoicing: Stripe Invoicing lets you send digital invoices that customers can pay via various methods, including eCheques. When setting up an invoice, choose ACH Debit as one of the payment methods. Once the invoice has been sent, customers can enter their bank information directly into Stripe's secure invoice interface.

  • Payment Links: If you're looking for a quick solution that doesn't require a website, Stripe Payment Links can help. You can create a payment link that accepts ACH Debit payments and then share this with your customers. They'll be directed to a Stripe-hosted payment page where they can complete the transaction.

  • Subscriptions: For recurring payments, the Stripe subscriptions service can streamline your process. Within the subscription setup, specify that you accept ACH Debit to enable eCheque payments for your subscription services.

How to accept eCheques using Stripe

Below are the common steps to accept eCheques using Stripe as your payment processor:

  • Account setup: Visit Stripe's website and follow the account registration process, including email verification and business information submission. Once that's done, you'll gain access to your Stripe Dashboard.

  • ACH Direct Debit activation: Stripe supports ACH Direct Debit transactions for accepting eCheques. To enable this, go to your Stripe Dashboard, locate the "Settings" section and search for ACH. Activate it and your account will then be able to handle eCheque payments. Stripe usually requires verification for this – such as proof of business – so be prepared to upload the necessary documentation.

  • Choosing a Stripe product: Understand your payment flow to help you decide which Stripe products to integrate. Would your customers prefer one-off payments or are you offering subscription services? For recurring payments, subscriptions will be your best option. If you need a customisable solution, you may want to use Stripe Elements. For quick setups, Stripe Checkout or Payment Links may be more appropriate.

  • Implementation: To learn how to implement the Stripe solution you're working with, go here for instructions on integrating payment forms, checkout pages, recurring billing and direct payments.

  • Testing: Stripe provides test bank accounts to simulate ACH Debit transactions. Use these to check that your payment system is working correctly.

  • Compliance: Make sure that you comply with all regulatory requirements concerning ACH Debit transactions. Stripe helps with many of these, but you're responsible for your business's compliance.

  • Going live: After testing, you can switch from "view test data" to "view live data" in your Stripe Dashboard to start accepting real eCheque payments.

  • Review and monitor: Use Stripe's extensive Dashboard analytics to monitor payments, look for any unusual activities and get detailed insights about your revenue.

To learn more about eCheque acceptance with Stripe, go here.

The content in this article is for general information and education purposes only and should not be construed as legal or tax advice. Stripe does not warrant or guarantee the accurateness, completeness, adequacy, or currency of the information in the article. You should seek the advice of a competent attorney or accountant licensed to practice in your jurisdiction for advice on your particular situation.

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