The Money Changer
by Scott Rawdon
MATTHEW GILLIN ’89 SEES MONEY NOT AS PAPER AND COINS,but as Xs and Os. As co-founder, president, and CEO of Ecount, a provider of electronic payment solutions, his vision is saving American companies millions, teaching the young to manage their money responsibly, and motivating his clients’ employees to be better sales people.
“Our product can be used like money anywhere. Itgives people the freedom of cash,” said Gillin. The concept behind Ecount is relatively simple: to replace paperchecks with pre-paid cards similar to debit cards. But it was difficult to implement.
Like many revolutionary discoveries, Gillin was working on another product when the concept revealed itself.He had been seeking a way to send financial rewards and gift certificates to customers instantly, instead ofrelying on the postal service. His solution was to create an independent account, then send a credit card of sortsto the customer to draw on that account until the money was gone.
“When there’s a specific need for payment, we should be able to do it electronically. Money is just data.”
— Matt Gillin ’89
Co-founder, President, and CEO of Ecount
Ecount’s technology changed the payment landscape in that it allows card holders to send, spend and receivemoney without having to open a bank account. This isincredibly useful in an economy where a surprising number of employees, especially young employees, transient employees, and those in rural areas lack bank accounts.So far, more than 30 companies, including fast foodchains, pay employees with Ecount Visa or MasterCards.Employers are finding that employees prefer to be paidwith an Ecount payroll card because the card may beused immediately without the hassle of depositing acheck at a bank or trying to cash it through a service.
Many companies use Ecount cards to pay benefits,commissions, and rebates for similar reasons. Using debit-style cards instead of merchandise awards saves Ecount clients – 23 of which are in the Fortune 100– $50,000 to $70,000 annually.
CompUSA, a national computer retailer and reseller, and one of 500 Ecount clients, uses an Ecount incentive program to reward its sales associateswith prepaid cards when they sell specific products. Sales associates may “spend” these cards onanything they wish anywhere majorcredit cards are accepted.
“Before this promotion, it was tough for [sales associates] to take an interest in targeted products,because there weren’t extra cash incentives tied to selling them,” said Daniel Perrone, CompUSA’s director of consumer services. “But, given the choice between earning their normal commission versus earningtheir commission plus an extra $2 to $250 for every sale, well, that’ssomething they remember.”
Gillin said his biggest challenge was finding the capital to get started.”Ecount focused on getting big fast,”he said, but financing didn’t always come through as expected. Ecount thus had to grow slowly and, perhaps for the best, more efficiently.Today, the Conshohocken, Pa.-based company has 100 employees andhas issued more than 1 million cards with payments growing from $18million in 2002 to $97 million in2003, and $300 million last year.
Regardless of Ecount’s financialsuccess, keeping its cutting-edge sharp is no easy task.Competition comes fast and furious, and continuedinnovation is essential to survival. “You have to listen towhat the market is telling you,” he said. Ecount’s latest is the “FUSE” program, designed to teach young consumers the basics about money and financial responsibility. The FUSE card issimilar to a credit card, but its accountis prepaid and cannot be overspent.Users learn that once the money’s gone, it’s gone.
Gillin’s achievements earned him recognition as a guest on CNBC, CNN, and other major media outlets. Ecount and its products were featured in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Business Week, and USA Today. Gillin earned the Philadelphia Business Journal’s Top 40 under 40 Award, he was finalist in the Enterprise Award,and he earned the 2002 Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award.
Gillin humbly shrugs off the attention.”You have to find someone to give the awards to,” he says half-jokingly. Gillin attributes much of his success totwo fellow Denison graduates—Chris Wolfington ’90, whom he calls Ecount’s “third co-founder” and Tim Wall ’87, senior vice president of sales.
He was particularly touched, though, by the Ernst & Young award that recognizes the entrepreneurial spirit and looking toward the future. He knows that cash will never be obsolete, but he envisions a day when a cabbie can be paidfrom a cell phone and a friend can be reimbursed for half of the dinner checkover the Internet. “Your friend will say, ‘Fine, just charge it to my Ecount.’ Where there’s a very specific need for payment, we should be ableto do it electronically,” he said. “Money is just data.”
Scott Rawdon wrote about Psychology Professor Harry
Heft in the Fall 2004 Denison Magazine.