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Jordanian banks pilot e-cheques

Six banks in Jordan are in the final stages of a pilot run of an ambitious e-cheque clearing system, which is designed to allow for same day, and even near-instantaneous, clearing of cheques.

Six banks in Jordan are in the final stages of a pilot run of an ambitious e-cheque clearing system, which is designed to
allow for same day, and even near-instantaneous, clearing of cheques.

Jordan’s monetary authority and bank supervisor, the Central Bank of Jordan (CBJ), is driving the multimillion dollar project, which all financial institutions in the Kingdom are expected to have implemented by September this year.

The PS-ECC (ProgresSoft electronic cheque clearing) project was initiated in 2004 by Jordan’s National Payment Council, made up of CEOs of each bank in the country.

The past few weeks have seen pilot runs of the software taking place at six banks — The Housing Bank for Trade & Finance, Jordan Islamic Bank, Banque Audi, Arab Banking Corporation, Cairo Amman Bank, and Arab Jordan Investment Bank — along with CBJ.

Faris Sharaf, chairman of the Electronic Cheque Clearing (ECC) steering committee and deputy governor of CBJ, told IT Weekly the system will ultimately give Jordan’s economy more resilience and that the purpose of the present pilot run was to find any errors and iron out kinks.

“It will benefit the national economy because of the speed and ease of transaction. A cheque becomes almost like cash because it clears instantaneously, and that means people have quicker access to funds,” he said.

“Of course, we are having some issues [with the pilot run] — basic technical stuff — but that is expected and it’s going well,” Sharaf went on to add.

Over 850 branches and head offices of banks operating within the Kingdom — 26 financial institutions in total, both local and international — are aiming to have the system in place by September, but Sharaf claimed that this date is not set in stone.

“The goal is to go live in September. But it’s a timetable — you can’t be too strict, because this is a very important system,” he said.

“If we are not comfortable or completely satisfied with it, we are not going to be stuck by a deadline — we are going to do what needs to be done to fix it,” Sharaf went on to say.

Jordanian firm ProgresSoft, which completed the same kind of project in Qatar in 2003, is providing the e-cheque software package being implemented within banks.

All banks have now aligned their disparate hardware systems to run in sync with the PS-ECC solution and Jordan Telecom (JTC) has put the communication infrastructure in place.

“I am positive that this solution will be successfully running all over the country before the end of this year. It is a
massive project,” Michael Wakileh, CEO of ProgresSoft, told IT Weekly.

“You are talking about a system that holds the whole cheque exchange system for the whole country,” he continued.

“ You cannot have this system stop for a moment. If this system stops, if it doesn’t work properly in one of the banks, this means that the cheque clearing system will go down
in the whole country,” he went on to add.

The scanner used in each bank’s branch and head office will scan the image of the cheque first and read the vital information about the serial and account number of the cheque, including its face.

Then it will send all the information with the header to the Central Bank, where that image will be verified (accepted) or not.

The banking sector is set to benefit, not only in terms of efficiency, but also in relation to risk and costs reduction.

The system will also provide a comprehensive database and a vast capacity archive of cheque images that can be used for analytical and legal purposes.

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