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digital clearinghouse idea

      Electronic checks are currently handled by the U.S. banking
      system as Automatic Clearinghouse transactions, and are used by
      organizations such as Checkfree(tm) and by insurance companies
      to automatically take money out of your account each month for
      premiums, etc

If you use the ACH system, you can't pre-authorize sporadic payments
for arbitrary amounts.  Since the receiving institution enters the
transaction into the ACH, and since the security environment of the
ACH is, er, primitive to what can be accomplished with public key
techniques, each transaction amount must be specifically authorized
with a piece of paper.  Individual transactions can be authorized, as
well as periodic payments such as loans and insurance premiums.

With Checkfree, the sender must separately authorize each payment, as
I understand it.  The receiving institution cannot ask for payment.

It's a hole in the payments system--an electronic way for individuals
to give authorization to take money from their accounts on a per
transaction basis.