Companies are so accustomed to buying office supplies and large bulk items by check that they even prefer checks on the Internet, where card payments would be easier, according to Visa U.S.A.

Checks are the most common form of payment for business-to-business e-commerce, a Visa survey found, and security is the primary reason. But a waning of those fears suggests that commercial purchase cards could overtake checks in the near future, the card association says.

Visa polled more than 165 purchasing executives in May at the international purchasing conference of the National Association of Purchasing Managers in New Orleans. Forty percent said they used purchasing cards to buy merchandise online and 41% said they used checks.

Sixty-seven percent of the purchasing executives said they did some corporate buying over the Internet, up 10% from 1999. And of those who were not buying on the Internet, 86% said they had plans to, up 26% from just two years ago.

The poll results were released in late November and Visa plans to do a follow-up survey.

Worries about online security seem to have plummeted in the last year. In the 1999 poll of purchasing executives, 43% said they had security concerns; this year only 10% said they did.

And while checks remained the most popular payment form, only 2% of the respondents said they felt checks were the most efficient method. James L. Accomando, president of Accomando Consulting Inc., a financial consulting firm in Fairfield Conn., observed that the current system is “entrenched” but “very inefficient, very costly because of the amount of man-hours” involved.

Mr. Accomando said some companies are skittish about purchasing cards because they’re afraid their employees will misuse them.

“The issue comes down to the risk that’s associated with issuing cards to personnel,” he said. But purchasing cards do not usually offer revolving credit, and most come with spending control features that can prevent people from buying from unauthorized vendors.

Mr. Accomando said B-to-B payment cards are still a relatively new business and have been slow to gain momentum, but “clearly it’s the way we’re going to go.”

Lisa Ruddock, director of commercial products and services for Visa U.S.A., said checks remain popular because they are “cheap, people like the float on checks, and they know how to use them.”

The follow-up survey will be more comprehensive, and Visa plans to use its findings to hone its purchasing card. It wants to make that “the default payment mechanism for B-to-B electronic commerce,” Ms. Ruddock said.

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