by Mike Tallitsch, WAUSAU Financial Systems
As utilities and other billers are challenged to balance customer service demands with internal cost and regulatory pressures, American Electric Power Co. Inc. (AEP) has streamlined its remittance processing, reduced its labor requirements and sought to enhance customer service with WAUSAU Financial Systems Inc.’s Integrated Receivables solution.
The utility ranks among the nation’s largest electricity generators and owns the largest electricity transmission system in the United States. AEP’s utility units operate as AEP Ohio, AEP Texas, Appalachian Power (in Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia), Indiana Michigan Power, Kentucky Power, Public Service Co. of Oklahoma and Southwestern Electric Power Co (in Arkansas, Louisiana and eastern Texas).
A WAUSAU customer since 2004, AEP has used Integrated Receivables to streamline its remittance processing and take advantage of electronic clearing methods.
The solution brings together payments from any channel, consolidating processes and significantly accelerating work flows. It also is flexible enough to handle recurring business or personal checks, full or partial remittance payments or single-check or full-page transactions. Automating all imaging, routing and validation in a secure, integrated hub accelerates processing times and reduces waste and cost.
This comprehensive approach also enables the solution to deliver consolidated reporting, extracts and analytics in near real time.
AEP’s solution includes a magnetic ink character recognition database of check information, enabling the platform to automatically populate fields for customers who have paid their utility bills using the same bank account. Integrated Receivables is integrated into the utility’s customer information system, allowing users to look up missing customer account data quickly and streamline posting.
AEP also uses WAUSAU’s ARC module, which converts paper check payments into electronic automated clearing house (ACH) debits. By converting checks to ACH transactions, AEP has lowered significantly its transaction fees per item processed and has accelerated its posting of payments, reducing float times, speeding funds availability and enhancing customer service.
In addition, the utility uses WAUSAU’s Check 21 module. Together, ARC and Check 21 allow AEP to create electronic deposits based on the best cost for availability, as well as clearing rules.
By streamlining AEP’s remittance processing, Integrated Receivables has provided the utility with significant benefits, including the ability to reduce some full-time and part-time staff positions.
Integrated Receivables also enhances customer service. By providing fast access to archived payment images and data, the solution speeds response times to customer inquiries, relieves the stress of dispute resolution and helps ensure accurate and consistent customer communications.
The solution also archives images of the front and backs of checks, meaning billers no longer must rely on or pay their financial institutions to research inquiries related to check clearing.
AEP’s customer resolution time has been reduced from three days to same-day resolution with the archive system.
The platform also provides a flexible platform for future receivables initiatives, including a GreenBills solution, which replaces paper bills and statements with electronic bills delivered via secure email.
GreenBills can offer billers such as AEP low-cost electronic bill presentment via email, as well as turnkey programs to drive consumer adoption.
Electronic bill presentment reduces billing costs up to 90 percent compared with paper; reduces days sales outstanding (DSO) as much as 70 percent; and provides a bill and statement delivery system that is faster and more secure than U.S. mail.
WAUSAU offers a KeyLESS solution, which combines WAUSAU’s remittance technology with Orbograph’s check recognition and Key-Pay technologies to deliver optical character recognition read rates approaching 98 percent.
Ideal for environments such as utilities that receive full and partial payments, KeyLESS was designed to help resolve items that otherwise would not balance, without the need for manual data entry.
KeyLESS results in faster reconciliation of exception items, which are the most time-consuming and expensive items to process for nearly every remittance-processing operation.
In addition, WAUSAU resells the MAVRO productivity suite of work flow-monitoring and statistics modules to provide a complete, real-time view into a biller’s receivables system.
This helps ensure that documents are routed efficiently, exceptions are tracked, transactions are completed on time, and systemwide metrics are gathered for performance analysis.
Mike Tallitsch is vice president of corporate solutions at WAUSAU Financial Systems. He has been in the financial services sector more than 15 years and with WAUSAU Financial Systems more than 13 years specializing in receivables processing solutions. He was among the first to achieve TAWPI’s Information Capture Professional (ICP) designation in TAWPI’s inaugural class and has facilitated pre-show classes at the annual TAWPI Forum and Expo.