SB 650M MICR check scannerEarlier this week at the RDC Summit in Las Vegas, we unveiled the Digital Check SB 650M – a new, portable desktop scanner designed to handle anything a business environment can throw at it, from checks and money orders to ID cards, full-page documents, and anything else in between.

The SB 650M has a lot in common with typical lightweight scanners, featuring an 8.5″ slot for accepting letter- and legal-size documents. What sets it apart is a MICR read head capable of reading magnetic characters in either of the standard E13B and CMC7 typefaces. That helps the SB 650M overcome the single biggest challenge of using a standard “off the shelf” scanner to capture checks – a major reason why banks and businesses have been reluctant to deploy devices other than dedicated check scanners for use in remote deposit capture.

There’s more about the new SB 650M in the official press announcement and product page, including specs and benefits that customers are going to love. But in order to understand that, it’s also helpful to know the reason behind this product and where it came from.

How MICR makes a difference

This isn’t the first attempt to introduce multi-purpose scanners as RDC devices – in fact, our own SB 1000 scanner (which was retired from production in 2010) was one of the early examples of this, and sold quite well for years because it was so much less expensive than the big multi-feed devices available at the time. But banks hated it once low-priced check scanners like the CheXpress CX30 became available.

Why? There was nothing wrong with the SB 1000 as a scanner, but it was designed without a MICR read head, instead using optical character recognition (OCR) to interpret the entire check – something else that had not been tried before on a large scale. It did its job for the most part, but even with today’s best technology, about 1 in 5 checks scanned with OCR contains a misread or unreadable character (usually because of bad handwriting). Well, when it’s just the dollar amount that doesn’t match, it’s simple to catch and correct with about two seconds’ worth of typing, and that’s precisely what banks do today. But if the account number comes out wrong, that can cause much bigger problems, so you want a 0% error rate; relying on OCR by itself makes you nervous. Today’s check scanners have MICR heads that read the magnetic characters with over 99.9% accuracy, and OCR is used to double-check the result. Check deposits from non-MICR devices (including smartphones) are limited to small numbers of items, which is what they are best suited for.

Asking the obvious

So, why didn’t we just put a MICR head in the SB 1000 back then? It would’ve been better to have a scanner that does everything, instead of just a plain check scanner, right? The thing with MICR is that in order to be so accurate, you can’t just scan it like a regular piece of paper. It has to be fed through at a very constant rate to avoid distortion, and for that, you need a much more precise set of feeder motors; combined with the cost of the read head itself, that raised the cost significantly. If we were going to include MICR, it was actually less expensive to produce a scanner designed for one purpose only – scanning checks – and that’s what became our best-selling CheXpress CX30 model. (We don’t regret that decision today, mind you.)

Skip ahead almost 10 years, and it’s now become possible to make a multi-function scanner at a cost that’s competitive with single-feed desktop check scanners. There’s also been a lot of demand built up from businesses that want to scan other things in their sales process besides the payment itself: invoices, ID cards, receipts, you name it. So with the SB 650M, it’s now possible to do that with the same device you use to make deposits.

It would’ve been better if this could’ve been put into an all-in-one printer, like the one you probably have sitting in your home or office, right? Unfortunately, we’re not at that point, because MICR works best when the read head is actually in contact with the magnetic ink on the paper, which means it won’t work underneath the glass you find on a flatbed scanner. So for now, it’s feeders or nothing. Don’t think we haven’t thought about it, though!

The first units of the SB 650M are available today. However, check with your solution provider to find out when they will be certifying it with their application. To find out more, contact your Digital Check account representative or contact us online.