By Andy Williams, Contibuting Editor, AVISIAN Publications
An Atlanta university seeking to reduce the number of checks passing through its business office now allows its students – or their parents – to handle many of those financial transactions electronically via their campus ID card. The result has been a 50% reduction in walk-in traffic, freeing up staff for other purposes.
“We were wanting to reduce the amount of checks and cash we handle in our operation,” explained Dave Siegel, director of EmoryCard and Campus Life Technical Services at Emory University.
For General Meters, the Colorado-based company that handles the university’s card program with its University One-Card System, “it’s all about making campus life more efficient,” said company vice president Jeff Zander.
What Emory University has done is enable its 12,500 students to log-in to their PeopleSoft student account called OPUS, which is controlled by Student Financial Services, and make a bank transfer to their EmoryCard Plus account (PeopleSoft provides Emory’s personnel and financial system). After they fill out the Automated Clearing House (ACH) bank form, every 60 minutes a job runs in PeopleSoft that sends the deposits in a file to the Emory FTP server where the General Meters’ University One-Card System processes the deposit and the student then has access to that money on his campus card.
That means that the funds will be available to the student in no more than 60 minutes. If he makes a deposit five minutes before the batch process is scheduled to run, the money is available almost instantly.
“Students don’t have to come to the Emory Card Office and they don’t have to wait in line to make deposits,” says Mr. Seigel. “(We have) freed staff from the process of receiving and processing checks and at the same time avoids bank fees and bank credit card fees.”
“We approached our bursar’s office first about wanting to reduce the amount of checks and cash we handle in our operation. (We met with) the PeopleSoft group here on campus … and we gave them the information about what General Meters could provide us to make this happen,” said Mr. Siegel.
Several months later the system was operational. “The student can now log onto his bursar account, look at bills and statements and make a selection on this bursar page to make an ACH deposit into the student’s flex account,” said Mr. Siegel.
The program began in mid-January “and we reduced our walk-in traffic about 50% as far as deposits go. That’s with doing very little advertising,” he added. “It has worked flawlessly from the outset. I really think by the fall semester we’ll be doing 70% of our deposits this way, especially with the incoming freshmen class.”
With less bursar office traffic, “we can concentrate on other important items for our customers,” said Mr. Siegel.
Adds Mr. Zander: “The objective is convenience. We’re automating cash handling using the Web. Students can actually view their account statements on the web and it allows students to manage their card program without having additional staff dedicated at the campus level.”
The future of the program
Mr. Siegel foresees ACH deposits as becoming the standard procedure, greatly reducing if not eliminating the acceptance of checks and credit cards on the Emory campus as well as campuses throughout the country.
While any university with support for declining balances can make this system work, Mr. Zander said it helps if “you have the flexibility of an open architecture platform which can allow other services and interfaces to be part of the university’s card program. At General Meters, we make the hardware and software and if the system is open, like ours, then (automated deposits) can happen.”
This is just phase one for the program, said Mr. Siegel. “Our next step will be allowing employees to make these ACH transfers.”
About the EmoryCard program:
The EmoryCard equipped with a mag stripe, is used for meal plans, bookstore purchases, laundry, vending, copying, printing, door and computer access, and events, said Mr. Siegel. It also can be used to verify a student’s age when he attempts an alcoholic beverage purchase. “The next thing we’ll be doing is foodservice kiosks and online food ordering. That will happen this fall.”