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Banking on a better way for refunds and financial aid disbursements

BankMobile Disbursements transforms financial services into model of digital efficiency at Central Piedmont Community College
University Business, April 2017

The year was 2009 and Central Piedmont Community College was having trouble getting refunds and financial aid disbursements into the hands of students of the multi-campus school in Charlotte, North Carolina.

“We were getting a lot of returned checks with invalid addresses, and we had to stop payment, contact the student to obtain the correct address, then reissue the check,” explains Jeff Hill, executive director of the business office. “This was a redundant, time-consuming and costly process.” The process was so time-consuming, Hill says they were considering adding staff to handle the extra work.

Instead, the school discovered BankMobile Disbursements (formerly known as Higher One), which transformed the financial services department into a model of digital efficiency, with nearly every refund or financial aid disbursement being deposited electronically.

“We wanted to increase student satisfaction with refunds and financial aid disbursements, increase efficiency, and move toward a paperless process,” Hill says. “Many of our peers who used BankMobile Disbursements were reporting excellent student satisfaction and cost savings.”

The move provided all that and more. “Student satisfaction has increased because they get their refunds much quicker than when we had to mail paper checks,” says Mike Whiteman, associate vice president of financial services. “We went from escheating 800 checks a year down to less than 30. That saves a lot of time. We had been considering adding staff to help with all these processes and considering an in-house ACH program, but we eventually saved money by doing this.”

BankMobile Disbursements now processes 100 percent of the college’s student refund and financial aid disbursements, and 89 percent of students have funds directly deposited into a bank account. The others are paid with paper checks.

A CPCC survey had found that many students did not have a bank account, so the BankMobile Disbursements option of providing a student-focused checking account—now called VIBE—was a clear differentiator from other vendors.

“The bank account was designed specifically for students. Students can use it to deposit more than refunds, and use it like a traditional checking account,” explains Niem Le, director, administrative services & CCE accounting.

The accounts offer direct deposit, fee-free ATMs and no monthly minimums. But the big draw was access to funds, something highlighted during a marketing campaign the college used to encourage participation in the new system.

“Students learned that BankMobile Disbursements allowed them to get money faster and eliminated a trip to the bank,” Hill says. “Students get a notification on their phone when a refund is ready, and there is no risk of theft of checks from mailboxes.”

“Increased staff satisfaction is also a plus,” Hill says, adding that BankMobile Disbursements support—along with convenient e-training—helped personnel make a smooth transition to the new system.

“We have become more efficient with our internal process, which has increased our productivity and eliminated the need for more staff to process student refund and financial aid disbursements,” Whiteman says.

“We’ve had very few complaints, but we work with BankMobile Disbursements to resolve any issues we do have,” Hill says. “The number of dissatisfied students and parents in the business office has decreased tremendously. Using BankMobile Disbursements has decreased staff stress and made students more comfortable in getting their money more quickly.”

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