Human Capital & Careers


Paper or Plastic?
Joseph McCaffertySeptember 1, 2002

Jim Wooten was tired of replacing lost payroll checks. The controller of Franklin Covey Printing Inc. says that employees would lose them or accidentally run them through the washing machine. So he decided to mandate that all employees use direct deposit.

The problem, though, is that not all the 130 employees of the Salt Lake City­based printer of day-planners have bank accounts. So Wooten turned to pay cards. The cards, issued by credit-card providers like MasterCard and Visa, allow employees to receive their pay on plastic cards that can be used like credit cards or at ATMs to retrieve cash. Companies that have recently installed pay-card programs include Sears, Roebuck and Little Caesars Enterprises.

“Paper checks are a nightmare in terms of reconciliation and replacement,” says Wooten. Indeed, MasterCard estimates that checks cost the average employer as much as $1.50 per check to issue when replacement, redistribution, and check fraud are factored in. After an initial fee of $3 per card, Franklin Covey pays 25 cents per transaction to load funds onto the cards. But most of the savings, says Wooten, is in the reduction of time to administer payroll. “I don’t have to run all the checks through the check signer,” he adds.

Businesses that have high turnover, lots of temporary employees, or a decentralized employee base are adopting the cards. “They are just now starting to catch on with companies in the hospitality, retail, food-service, and health-care industries,” says Michael Chittaro, vice president of new products at Citicorp EFS in Chicago, which issues MasterCard-branded pay cards.

Intrawest Retail Group Inc., a ski rental and retailer based in Golden, Colo., turned to pay cards when storms kept checks from being delivered to employees located at company outlets in five states. “Now we have a nearly automated process,” says payroll administrator Cindy Pacheco, “and employees aren’t sitting around waiting for checks.” –J.McC.