Cutting out processing and shipping costs associated with paper-based payroll checks has long been a goal at many companies. That can be difficult when some employees either refuse to convert to direct deposit, don't trust electronic pay cards or just prefer paper. By law in several states, employers must provide a paper option. That's not a problem for Ecount Inc., a maker of electronic payment applications, and its new offering, the 100% Payroll Solution.

Conshohocken, Pa.-based Ecount's new product is an update of existing electronic pay cards, with an important twist. Ecount manages the payroll process not already automated through direct deposit by issuing pay cards to those remaining employees. In addition, every employee who is issued a pay card is also issued a series of blank paper "pre-checks." When payroll time comes around, the employee contacts Ecount and is given a special code that is used to fill in the check. The checks can be cashed at any bank or check cashing service. "The advantage for the employer is now they don't have to deal with sending out thousands of checks every week," says Tim Wall, senior vice president of sales at Ecount. That can save money on payroll processing, shipping and printing costs.

The solution has already made an impact for $1.5 billion Stein Mart Inc., an off-price apparel company that started using 100% Payroll Solution in July. During the hurricane season of 2004, the company ran into several instances where it was unable to deliver some checks to employees on a timely basis. But this year, despite the fact that Hurricane Katrina caused extended closures at six of its stores, including four located in New Orleans, all employees were paid on time. "It was fantastic for our associates," says Hunt Hawkins, senior vice president of human resources at Jacksonville, Fla.-based Stein Mart. "It let us get on with other elements related to the disaster rather than have to worry about how to get paychecks to those folks."

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