Online banking checks – Is there a better way?

If your utility is like most that I’m familiar with, every month you receive more and more checks from your customers who pay their utility bill using their bank’s online bill pay software. Are you familiar with what I’m referring to – those checks that come stuffed with several in one envelope, or in some cases, many of them in one large manila envelope? If you’re not, ask your customer service staff who open and process mail payments – they will know what I’m talking about!

Did you realize that these payments can take a week (or longer) to reach your office from the time your customer initiates the payment process online? Then when the payment finally arrives at your office, the return bill stub is not included, so your staff must rely on the account number that your customer entered into the online bill pay software.

Many times, the account number your customer is using with the banking software is incorrect. For instance, if you have recently upgraded software and changed account numbers, your customer could still be using the old account number. Or if your customer has transferred from one address to another, the account number linked to the payment could still be the account number from the previous address.

Then, of course, there is the customer service dilemma with customers who end up being cut off for non-payment because they didn’t allow enough time for the payment to reach your office before cut-off day. Your customer most likely assumes that, because the bill was paid online, you will receive the payment immediately, not a week or more later. No utility likes unhappy customers – especially when it can be prevented.

Is there a better way?

Of course there is – or why else would I be writing about this topic?

Most banks do not print their own online bill pay checks. Instead, they outsource this process to one of a half dozen or so check writing services. Two of the largest check writing services are CheckFree (now known as Fiserv) and Metavante. If they do enough volume with your utility, both CheckFree and Metavante will direct deposit your daily payments and provide you with an electronic file of each account that was included in the deposit for that day.

However, the file format from each check writing service is different, so you will need different import processes for each of them. And then there is the issue of your customers who have the wrong account number stored in their bank’s bill pay software. Each of those will reject when you import the file into your collections software.

Consider the AR-Box product from Creative Payment Solutions. For just 12 cents per transaction with no monthly maintenance or file transmission fees, AR-Box consolidates online banking checks from all of the major check processors into one file, electronically deposits the checks and and delivers an import file to you within two days of your customer initiating payment online. As an added benefit, AR-Box provides a way to correct invalid account numbers in the import file so that, in the future, these payments will correctly post to the proper account.

Many of our customers at Logics have implemented AR-Box and they all rave about how fantastic the service is. If you have any questions about AR-Box, please give me a call at 919-232-2320 or e-mail me at gsanders@logicssolutions.com.

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© 2011 Gary Sanders

Does your website work as hard as your employees?

I will be writing a bi-weekly e-mail that will focus on topics of interest to people like you who are responsible for operating a utility system as a business. Whether your utility operates as a municipal enterprise fund or is a self-sustaining utility, you are well aware of the challenges to operating efficiently. The purpose of my bi-weekly e-mail is to share thoughts and ideas that I have come across in my 30 plus years of working with municipalities and utilities and assisting them in becoming more efficient and reducing costs.

Does your website work as hard as your employees?

One of my job responsibilities is demonstrating Logics’ Eagle Utility Management software for prospective customers. Before each demo I like to customize the point-of-sale receipt to print the utility’s name, address and phone number. I also use the prospect’s office address as the service address of my test account so that the mapping tab will display a map to the utility. To accomplish this, I do a web search for the utility and visit their website.

I am frequently surprised at how difficult it is to find the office address on some utility websites. This leads to the question of “what is the purpose of your website?”. It seems to me that a good website should, at a minimum, provide easy access to the following information:

  • Office address
  • Driving directions to your office
  • Office hours
  • Phone numbers
  • Requirements to apply for service
  • Different ways your customers can pay
  • Frequently asked questions

If your website doesn’t easily answer these questions for your customers, they are going to pick up the phone and call your office. Why burden your customer service staff with answering such mundane questions as how to find your office or what are your office hours when your website can do this for you?

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© 2011 Gary Sanders