Wal-Mart Stores Inc. commissioned an environmental impact study to determine the benefits of a prepaid payroll card program to the company and the environment. By not having to issue paper checks to its employees, the program would annually:
While Michelle Bradford, Senior Manager, Corporate Communications for Wal-Mart, stressed that the main benefit of the program would be in giving its unbanked employees access to an alternative banking tool, the environmental advantages were important factors as well. "Our in-house system worked just fine," she said. "But we recognized a chance to give our associates these extra services, an even more reliable way to get paid, in addition to a program that's going to optimize our sustainability and our cost saving goals."
So, in partnership with First Data Corp. and MasterCard Worldwide, Wal-Mart began in September to offer its employees (associates) the payroll card option. It is a MasterCard Paycard processed over First Data's Money Network Payroll Distribution Service. The service allows Wal-Mart associates to get their biweekly pay loaded on cards for free, Bradford said.
Of Wal-Mart's 1.4 million associates nationwide, roughly 50 percent are set up with direct deposit, she said. That leaves approximately 700,000 workers without access to traditional bank accounts. Not only does the card allow cardholders to avoid having to cash payroll checks at check cashing businesses and lose a percentage of their pay in the process, but they also get access to First Data's extensive reload network.
"Some portion of the Wal-Mart employee population works another job beside what they do at Wal-Mart," said Jim Contardi, Senior Vice President and Division Man-ager for Prepaid at First Data. "And, therefore, they're getting funds elsewhere - either in the form of a paycheck, or maybe they're doing odd jobs in their community and they're taking third-party checks."
Thus, workers can load pay from second and third jobs onto Paycards. "Our view is that reload needs to be wherever the employee lives and works," Contardi said. "So we attempted to set up a fairly ubiquitous reload network. And so any Western Union location, any Moneygram location, any Wal-Mart location allows for a money network cardholder to load funds onto their money network account."
Bradford added that associates can also load funds at Sam's Club stores.
Contardi said Wal-Mart is among First Data's biggest clients. The world's largest acquirer already processes the check and credit and debit card transactions of the largest private employer and grocery retailer in the United States, he said. And he recognizes the core cost savings Wal-Mart will enjoy by using First Data's payroll system.
Wal-Mart has publicly said that it will "eliminate 18 million paper pay checks a year," he said. Taking the conservative estimate that to cut a check costs $2 per check, Wal-Mart will realize $36 million in savings. "And that's just cutting the check," Contardi said. This does not factor in labor and distribution costs. As for the "green" factor, Wal-Mart's sheer size makes the conservation of natural resources all the more important.
"When you think about it, how much paper does it take to put checks in the hands of hundreds of thousands of employees?" Contardi said. "And how much fuel does it take to bring those checks to each of the store sites? And you just start adding up all the incidental resources that go into making that process work as opposed to a purely electronic process. I think it's a real difference maker."
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