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CREATE-A-CHECK KEEPS PAYROLLS ROLLIN' ALONG

Utah Valley Hospital's accounting department used to haul its checks to another department to print them. But not now.

Weber State University used to spend quite a bit getting its checks ready but now might save as much as 15 percent by printing them.The secret?

Create-A-Check software that links up with existing accounting applications to print customized checks on site. Create-A-Check is a Salt Lake company that serves clients throughout the United States, Canada and Australia, but it only recently began being recognized in the Utah market.

Since its inception in 1991, the business is expanding briskly. It doubled its sales last year and expectations are that sales will double again this year, according to Linda Kesler, company founder and CEO.

"Annual sales should be $2 million this year, and we're right on schedule with that. The projection for next year is $7 million. It's becoming fun," said Kesler. "It used to be where we'd be scraping out $200,000."

Kesler, with her a background as a controller, owned another company in the 1970s that handled such things as payrolls for other firms. But that meant keeping boxes of valuable preprinted checks under lock and key.

Kesler eventually solved that problem by switching to work on a huge Xerox printer. Technology changed again, and in 1987 she decided her customers would be better served if her firm used personal computers. But that meant going back to the old preprinted checks.

"Lynn Shimada (Create-A-Check's vice president) and I sat down and thought, `Why can't we do this on the small desktops?' That gave us the best of all worlds. Our customers could print their checks on site using the same technology they had before," Kesler said.

"The whole business world is based on buying checks," said Kesler. "In 100 percent of the offices I've been in, they cannot tell you what they pay for the preprinted form. It's something they've done for 40 or 50 years. We're trying to educate them that instead of paying 18 cents for this form, they can have ours for 2 to 5 cents depending on the printer they're using."

Create-A-Check officials like to describe their product as a "total solution" for businesses - Create-A-Check provides software, special magnetic ink in a toner cartridge, blank paper stock and, if needed, printers. Myriad tiny security details have been built into the software, paper and ink to cut the risk of forgery.

"This is other people's money, so we take security very seriously," said Shimada. With Create-A-Check, "There is no preprinted check stock locked up somewhere that could be stolen." This also means no delays while waiting for new preprinted checks to arrive, and a company can easily change its name or address simply by typing in new data on the computer.

Also, the Create-A-Check blank paper has unique characteristics including various watermarks, and its "rainbow stock" contains different dyes and color patterns woven throughout the check that cannot be reproduced on a color photocopy machine. The checks also blare the word "VOID" on photocopies.

The Magnetic Ink Character Recognition (MICR) printing uses a special toner that produces a magnetic signal that can be spotted and read by bank reader and sorting equipment. If the signal is not quite right, the bank's machinery rejects the check.

There also is a string of minute numbers so tiny it almost looks like a smudge on each check giving codes, dates, amounts and other information that would prompt a bank machine to reject the check if it had been tampered with in any way - for example, if someone tried to write in a few extra zeroes to illegally get more cash than the check allowed.

The software itself also includes several safety features and, once sold to a particular client, cannot be copied.

The company has about 2,000 clients altogether, with fewer than 5 percent in Utah, although a partial list reveals many large and instantly recognizable firms.

Plans are to make more headway into the Utah market as well as continue expanding in other areas, according to John Bechard, director of sales and marketing.

"We have unique marketing channels, and we're trying to position ourselves well within each channel," he said.

The company's strategy is four-fold: direct sales; sales through dealers who sell accounting systems and include Create-A-Check as part of their package; manufacturers of accounting systems who might want to to integrate Create-A-Check into their product; and a partnership with paper vendor Reynolds & Reynolds, which can get the Create-A-Check's name before medium-to-large firms interested in printing their own checks.

"Certain applications lend themselves better to Create-A-Check, especially ones with many different checking accounts - property managers, payroll service companies, CPAs and universities," said Bechard. "Universities are a real hot market for us at this point."

Universities seem a natural for this type of service since their complex finances encompass many departments, checking accounts and revenue sources. Bechard said Create-A-Check just completed a direct mail blitz to about 1,700 colleges and universities.

Meanwhile, the world of private industry increasingly has gotten interested in Create-A-Check. Recently, many of the Tony Roma's franchises agreed to use Create-A-Check for gift certificates that actually are checks. That way, the first restaurant isn't out any money issuing a certificate and there is no payment delay for the eating spot that cashes the certificate.

Create-A-Check also has an agreement with Subway to produce customized gift certificates. Fund-raising groups can buy these for $2 and sell them to the public for $3, keeping the extra dollar for its fund raising.

The program saves Subway franchisees plenty. "Their prior printer charged $75 per run (of certificates) per franchise," said Bechard. "If there was another run, there was another $75 charge. We have a one-time charge of $25 for a franchise. If there are more runs, there's no extra charge."