Company keeps track of bad check writers

by Ingrid Skjong

Whether they’re being written, cashed or bounced, J.A. Blanchard knows just about everything about checks.
And soon Deluxe Corp., the nation’s biggest check printer where Blanchard is president and CEO, will know just about everything about check writers.
About 200 Carlson School of Management alumni, mentors and students listened Tuesday as Blanchard touched on a new system to cut down on bad checks.
It was the latest in a series of Tuesday luncheons Carlson has held to give students insight into different facets of the business world. Although details of Deluxe’s internal changes dominated Blanchard’s speech, it is the company’s new check verification system that is drawing the attention of vendors and consumers alike.
To curb the problem of fraudulent and bounced checks, Deluxe paired with information technology companies Acxiom Corp. and Fair, Isaac & Co. early this year to create the payment industry’s first “debit bureau.” The bureau acts as a data warehouse that stores customer information, including check history and collections data, to better determine the standing of check writers.
But what the companies want to know makes some uneasy.
“It’s a concern,” said Peter Weimann, a graduate student in material science who was sipping coffee Tuesday at Bayou Coffee. “But on the other hand, if you’re financially responsible, something like that is not going to affect you.”
A report released by the Federal Reserve’s Ninth District of Upper Midwest States showed $4.5 billion in checks were returned to the issuer’s bank for insufficient funds in 1997.
A concern is that one-time offenders will have that held against them when they try to cut a check.
“I don’t understand why retailers need to see your entire credit history,” said Meghan Flanagan, a senior majoring in Chinese.
Blanchard said it is Deluxe’s responsibility to protect financial institutions and vendors who accept checks.
The company already operates the Shared Check Authorization Network, which is the largest check verification network in the country already used by retailers. The established data warehouse will enhance this existing network, said Stu Alexander, director of public relations at Deluxe Corp.
Although the debit bureau is a significant ally to retailers, consumers will also benefit.
Banks will “be able to recognize you as a good customer and treat you accordingly,” said Bev Bergstrom, who also works in public relations at Deluxe Corp.