The Royal Mail is offering its business customers a newfangled way to get their paper mail.

Employees at the Royal Mail will open letters for companies and then transmit them electronically to the intended destination.

The new Physical to Electronic (PTE) mail service lets businesses have their regular mail — anything from general correspondence to application forms, customer surveys and purchase orders — sent directly to their computer systems via the Internet or dedicated networks.

Not everything can be delivered electronically, though. For example, the Royal Mail said it won't scan in cheques and will physically deliver them to companies if they get included in envelopes that are opened. It also won't open envelopes that are marked confidential.

The Royal Mail is using e-commerce software to transform the physical mail into electronic data.

About 20 companies in the U.K. have signed on to use the PTE service so far and already are receiving a combined total of hundreds of thousands of documents electronically per day, according to the Royal Mail.

Early adopters include companies in the financial services, telecommunications and pensions and insurance industries.

It's actually a crime to tamper with mail, according to Robin Speight, the Royal Mail's PTE project manager.

The companies that want to use the new service have to sign an agreement giving the Royal Mail permission to open their mail, Speight added. This, he said, protects the postal service from criminal prosecution.