The Federal Reserve and the Bank Administration Institute have dropped plans for a highly publicized study that was to measure check collection patterns for the first time in more than a decade.
Fewer bankers than expected responded to the survey, and the responses received were incomplete, institute officials said.
At a time when the volume of checks, estimated at between 50 and 60 billion items a year, seems to be leveling off, the survey would have quantified check volume and processing patterns, particularly in the private sector.
A Look at Technologies
The survey would also have looked at the use of new technologies such as image processing and electronic check presentment.
The institute and the Fed expected that the completed study would influence the way banks organized their check operations in years ahead, and how the government set processing rules.
"We're disappointed," said Nalini Rogers, senior analyst with the Federal Reserve Board. "Everyone has a best guess [on check collection patterns] based on data from 1979. We were trying to get more-legitimate data."
One industry observer who asked not to be named said the survey questionnaire was too complex and would have required several weeks to answer fully, in a year when banks had bigger problems on their hands.
And one banker said the survey, while it would have helped bankers thinking about entering the correspondent business, would not have helped them make technology decisions.
"It's irrelevant," said Jay T. Simmons, a vice president and director of U.S. dollar disbursement products at Citibank. "Knowing where we are today doesn't resolve the question of what is the payment system going to look like five to 10 years from now."
While the Fed tracks its own check volume, it only has an estimate of the size of the entire market. Ms. Roger said the Fed believes it handles between 30% and 40% of all domestic check volume.
Slowdown in Growth
After years in which the number of checks processed by the Fed grew at 3% annually, volume growth in 1991 slackened to about 0.8%. The volume of checks handled by the Fed actually declined in the first six months of 1991 by 100 million items, or about 1%, according to officials at the National Automated Clearing House Association.
The study would have tried to determine whether check volume actually is leveling off; how many checks are cleared through the Fed and by commercial banks; and how long it takes to clear checks in different regions.
Another question that would have been addressed was whether collection can be accelerated if the check depositor's bank sends payment data to the check writer's bank electronically instead of waiting for physical presentment.