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Small Businesses Get New Payment Options

Small-business owners rarely adopt new technologies, and their use of electronic payment services is no exception. CheckSpace Inc. and Intuit Inc. want to help prompt merchants to give the paperless route a try. CheckSpace, which operates an online payment system aimed at small and midsize businesses, this week is expected to roll out a new version of its software integrated with Intuit's QuickBooks, the small-business version of the Quicken accounting system. Customers sign up for the service at CheckSpace's Web site, then use their QuickBooks software asthey always have.

Typically, business owners pay their bills through QuickBooks by generating paper checks on printers and mailing them. Others use services, such as CheckFree Corp., that deliver payments to big financial institutions electronically, but must print paper checks for recipients who can't receive electronic payments. Now they have another delivery option. Small businesses using the QuickBooks software can send payments directly to CheckSpace, which delivers them to recipients either electronically or by paper check. CheckSpace has also added a feature that lets customers send checks to people or businesses that aren't registered CheckSpace customers. Previously, both payer and payee had to be registered customers. To make the software easy to use anywhere, CheckSpace has added a Wireless Access Protocol interface that lets customers pay bills via a cell phone or other WAP-enabled wireless devices.

By keeping the process familiar to QuickBooks users, CheckSpace has a leg up on its competitors. "It's critical for any business serving the small-business market to integrate with QuickBooks," says Gomez partners analyst Paul Jamieson. "To date, it's been almost impossible."

New payment forms such as CheckSpace's are likely to whittle away at the dominance of credit cards for online purchases, says Jupiter Research analyst James Van Dyke. "CheckSpace is targeting an important growth area--the ability for consumers and businesses to exchange payment via the most appropriate alternative," he says. "And it's never too soon to mount an offensive enabling payments by cell phone."

But already on the horizon, Gartner analyst Avivah Litan says, is competition from Intuit itself, which is about to launch a similar service that likely will be better- integrated with QuickBooks than CheckSpace.

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