Revised article published in Journal of Financial Services Research 16, no. 1 (September 1999).
Because the automated clearinghouse (ACH) has been found to have lower social costs than paper checks, the Federal Reserve has been promoting more widespread use of ACH by lowering ACH processing fees. In this paper we have obtained the first numerical estimates of ACH demand elasticities, a measure of the responsiveness of ACH demand to price changes. In order to determine how robust the estimates are, various methods were employed to estimate the demand elasticities. Our results show that the volume of ACH items processed by the Federal Reserve does respond to changes in per-item fees. We find that demand for ACH credit is elastic, while demand for ACH debit is inelastic. The difference most likely arises from high customer resistance to automatic payment deduction and from low market penetration of that service among companies. Demand for origination was found to be somewhat more elastic than demand for receipt. We then examined how volume growth initiated by a price cut affected unit costs. Given the relatively large scale economies found for ACH, volume growth leads to lower unit costs. However, to outweigh revenue lost as a result of a price decline, ACH volume would have to increase by an amount greater than our estimates indicate is likely. Consequently, a decline in per-item ACH fees would likely lead to lower net revenues.