They're Going To Break Me!

  • September 20, 2013  08:41 PM
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I had only been working for a few months inside Palm Beach Tan's corporate headquarters when early one morning, I heard the President of Palm Beach Tan (PBT) slamming the phone down and raise his voice saying "They're going to break me!".

My office was just across the hall between his and the CFO's office.  I distinctly remember thinking "Good Grief, what's about to happen?".  At that very moment, I saw the CFO run out of his own office and into the President's office.

It wasn't very long until the President poked his head into my office asking me to come into his and I soon discovered this to be my Introduction into the Electronic Funds Transfer or EFT world.

Apparently the folks contracted to process PBT's monthly membership dues were charging full amounts for both the collected and uncollected dues and then charging again for retries on the failed even where the account numbers were obviously wrong.  These fees also seemed to be increasing percentage-wise each month and up to a point where the contractor was back-charging over 20% of the total attempted dues (or 30% of the monies collected).  This was at a time when money within the company was tight and payrolls were difficult, thus becoming the Breaking-Point.  In the 10 or so years afterwards, I never heard the President ever raise his voice about anything ever again.

I spent the next couple of months of every waking minute to develop an In-House replacement EFT system.  The CFO was tasked to identify a processor.  This 1st system was simplified where we could submit credit cards, debit cards, checking accounts and savings accounts with one file per store.

Another year later, the CFO discovered that we could cut the costs in half again if we used two processors; one for the credit and debit cards and another for just the checking and savings accounts.

Eventually we were collecting enough membership dues to get another cost cutting by establishing a private direct connection to a bank and altering our sending and receiving file formats.  The banks began coming to PBT for PBT's EFT business.  This was about the time when PBT was selling franchises across the country and PBT would be able to cover the processing of membership dues for the Franchisees at a rate that couldn't be matched.

There were always other aspects to the In-House EFT process:

1. Making a 2nd attempt to collect membership dues five days later on credit card and banking accounts that where initially flagged with "insufficient funds".
2. For additional savings, not try to collect fees on account numbers known to be inaccurate due to incorrect number of digits, wrong characters, etc.
3. After the 2nd attempt, update the customer's membership to reflect the success or failure of collecting membership dues.
4. Every report imaginable for the CFO for confirmed bank reconciliations and expenses.

The EFT processes begins just after midnight once per month with one more daytime follow-up attempt 5 days later on accounts marked with "insufficient funds".

I did have one serious mishap in one month where about $6,000.00 was double charged.  This was a serious matter because one can loose the ability to process EFTs if mistakes are made.  This happened at a time when the President and CFO were in Chicago, IL.  I made the late night call to the CFO 1st and explained the matter.  He informed the President and followed up with a 2:00AMish conference call.  The EFT process was designed to be a one way process.  I told the President and CFO that I thought I could create a 1-Time program to take funds out of PBT's account and get them back into the customer's account.  They approved my proposed attempt and at 8:00AM that morning, I had the funds returned, destroyed that program and went home to bed.  Days later, I finally discovered what had gone wrong that night for the double-billing and made some program adjustments before the next EFT month so that particular problem could never happen again.

Obviously, anytime there was a possibility to save money, speed the process, correct or prevent errors, the EFT programs and utilities were updated as an ongoing process in itself and as the company had grown from 12 stores to over 60 stores both owned or franchised.

The amounts I processed in any one month with the systems I developed well exceeded both 200,000 membership accounts and $5 million.

MS-Access was utilized as the Primary User-Interface and for all Accounting Reports including Exports to EXCEL.

Custom-Coding (VBA) within MS-Access was solely utilized to create/write and read the ASCII files sent to and received from both banks and credit card companies.

MySQL Databases installed on multiple Windows Servers were the Data-Sources and Storage.