Based on current trends, humanity will require twice as many resources than our planet can support by the mid-2030s. While waste is gathering on land, in the air, and water, there is considerable impact on the world’s ecosystems and resources. The problem isn’t as simple as consuming too much, rather the rate of consumption is systematically increasing each year.

Canada possesses one of the richest environmental resource pools in the world, with 10% of the world’s forests and 20% of the world’s freshwater. Add to this that Canada is one of the highest water users per capita in the world, and represents about seven per cent of the world’s renewable freshwater, Canada has a key role in the protection and management of its resources. These facts (among others) have drawn the attention of many Canadians, and subsequently politicians who wish to ensure that these resources will be available for generations to come.

In Canada, these trends have had an increasing impact on the way organizations and government plan for the future and conduct business.

A key concept utilized to address these concerns, is the concept of sustainable development which is defined as “adopting business strategies and activities that meet the needs of the enterprise and its stakeholders today while protecting, sustaining and enhancing the human and natural resources that will be needed in the future.”  The vision is to simply produce more from less.

The execution of sustainable development is organized through a use of a Sustainability Plan that clearly expresses measurable goals. Sustainability Plans have clearly articulated targets for each of the identified goals and these targets are measurable with multilevel visions normally at 50-year, 25-year, 10-year, 5-year and 3-year intervals.  These targets need to be time bound and reporting cycles should be the same so that messages are reinforced.

The best laid plans are only effective when a Sustainability Plan takes into account:

Integrating sustainability principles into business core strategies is imperative so that organizations explicitly consider the environmental, economic, and social impacts of their activities both present and future. The commitment to sustainability is ongoing and needs to be linked to organizational structure, management reporting systems and be integrated into policy and decision making processes.

Incorporating a Sustainability Strategy into an organization’s governance is the wave of the future and any organization that wishes to be viewed as “best-in-class” will need to follow this model.

Canada, like much of the world, has undergone dramatic change in its payment landscape over the past three decades. Perhaps the best illustration of this transformation is the displacement of cheques by electronic alternatives as the primary non-cash payment method. Increasingly, Canadians are using a variety of electronic payment mechanisms, from traditional debit and credit cards, to online payments, direct debits and emerging methods such as “tap and go” contactless payments. According to the Canadian Payments Association, cheques today only represent about 15% of the total payment items cleared daily through its systems, a drop from 98% in 1985. Looking forward, the Canadian payments landscape is set to undergo further dramatic changes as social media and mobile payment instruments continue to evolve and emerge.

These developments will have profound implications for Canadian consumers, businesses and public entities, resulting in important improvements in payment efficiencies and benefits for the national economy. How quickly we can realize these benefits, however, likely depend on how boldly the government is willing to act to rapidly accelerate the shift to new payments instruments. The reality is that although cheque volumes have greatly reduced, Canadians still write over 1 billion cheques annually, and their complete elimination is not likely without some sort of government mandate.

In fact, governments in many countries have taken a leadership role in effecting payment transformations. Many government programs in the US, for example, are transitioning to “digital currency”, whereby benefits are delivered in pre-paid cards rather than cheques to recipients of programs for child support, unemployment insurance and other disbursements. Netherlands has been virtually “cheque-free” for over ten years, and have identified as a priority the elimination of remaining paper-based payment items. South Africa is in the early analysis stage of determining the appropriateness of cheques and other paper-based payments and how best to promote electronic payments to retail customers. Even in Canada, the recent Task Force for the Payments System Review has recommended government leadership in a broad set of areas, including electronic invoicing and payments for government suppliers and benefit recipients.


The impacts of transitioning toward a chequeless society will be widespread. Consumers will have more convenient payment options, and can benefit from quicker and more secure access to funds. Existing and emerging payment providers will invest in safe, reliable and secure payment infrastructures. Banks will adopt new business models and will experience revenue and earnings shifts as cheque volumes fall, electronic payments rise and processing costs are reduced. New partnerships will be formed between players as new payment products are developed, and end-to-end solutions drive for ease-of-use, affordability, and high security. Small businesses, who continue to rely heavily on cheques, will achieve reduced payment handling costs, and productivity improvements through faster payments, enhanced recording-keeping capabilities, and reduced processing times and errors. Some of these cost savings may even result in some of the benefit being passed on to consumers in the form of lower prices.

So given all of these benefits, why does a move to a chequeless society need to be mandated? In short, because the transition away from cheques will result in near-term costs and significant changes to long-entrenched business processes, behaviours, preferences and habits. Investments will be required in new products, technologies, and systems. Small businesses have already indicated that additional payment systems costs are an area of significant concern. Solutions will need to address current shortcomings, such as the need for enhanced remittance information and common standards. And, during a transition period, banks, payment service providers and businesses may bear a significant cost of operating parallel systems and processes to support declining cheque processing as well as new payment capabilities.

Changes in the payments landscape not only require a mandated nudge to happen, but will of course require public policy responses to address issues of fees, privacy, security, increased transparency, and the need to balance the interest of diverse stakeholders. Considerations will need to be made for how the different players are impacted by transition timeframes, adoption rates, and the need to develop new infrastructure. With a wide range of diverse stakeholders, each with unique needs, interests and concerns, government leadership can act as a catalyst that brings together these varied players to find common ground and workable solutions.

Additional factors could also help paint a bright future for a chequeless society. As electronic payment instruments gain at the expense of cheques, organizations may embrace additional innovative services (such as e invoicing, for example) to accelerate the pace of change and drive additional cost savings and revenue generation opportunities. Driving innovation is certainly part of our current government’s agenda and its benefits could reverberate throughout the Canadian financial system creating further investment opportunities and growth.

If we were to make the final nudge towards a chequeless society, there would certainly be some growing pains, but ultimately most players, and society as a whole, would result in being significantly better off.

Optimus Think