Goleta (Calif.) National Bank, which bought a majority stake in an electronic paycheck firm last fall, has headed to the high seas with that investment.

The $136 million-asset bank kicked off a six-month project to pay the wages of cruise line workers with an electronic paycheck card rather than cash-the typical form of payment on cruise lines.

The bank negotiated the effort with Thomas Cook Currency Services Inc., a Toronto travel and financial services firm that works with cruise line operators.

"We've always looked to technology as a means to expand our product offerings," said Randy Shaffer, an executive vice president at Goleta National, who declined to name the cruise line testing the product. "We believe our card fits well with that industry."

The bank bought a 70% stake in Electronic Paycheck last October as a vehicle to boost fee income.

Electronic Paycheck has developed a system to pay workers with credit- filled cards-which can be used at automated teller machines to withdraw cash-instead of a paycheck or cash.

The cards, targeted to businesses whose employees are paid in cash or do not have bank accounts, are used mainly by California farmers and manufacturers.

Hans Schroeder, an analyst at Hoefer and Arnett in San Francisco, said that, if the pilot program succeeds and leads to agreements with other cruise lines, it would easily smash his estimate of 10,000 cardholders for Goleta by yearend.

"The size of the cruise line industry is enormous," said Mr. Schroeder. "If this catches on, there is huge potential."

Kirk Tobias, director of business development at Thomas Cook, said the project has gotten favorable reviews so far. But as with any new technology, he conceded, "it could face some consumer apathy as you work out the nuances."

The cruise line partnership could flood Goleta's balance sheet with a new wave of fee income.

Goleta National collected $9.4 million in fees last year, up from $6.2 million in 1996 and $4.4 million in 1995. With Electronic Paycheck, it makes money by charging the employer $1 per card issued at every pay period. Each time the card is used at an ATM, the bank gets 2 to 3 cents.

Mr. Shaffer said Goleta is also seeking agreements in the hotel and gambling industries.

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