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P-card contract brings university significant financial payoffs while reducing expenditures

Through E&I, American Express delivers efficiencies, cost savings, and a yearly money-back rebate
University Business, December 2012

As at most higher ed institutions, administrators at Barry University have made controlling or reducing costs a priority.

Founded in 1940, the private, Catholic, coed liberal arts institution has grown into one of the educational leaders in South Florida, with 2,747 full-time undergraduates and 3,748 graduate students.

Nicole Diez, associate vice president for finance & chief accounting officer, is constantly looking for ways to save money—a focus that, three years ago, turned her attention toward E&I Cooperative Purchasing. E&I is a not-for-profit buying cooperative that leverages the power of its over 2,700 member institutions to lower the total cost of goods and services. E&I members also realize significant time efficiencies, since the Cooperative manages the entire RFP process.

Members have access to a contract portfolio of more than 100 partnerships with leading suppliers, many of which offer additional financial incentives and benefits. Two important contracts Diez accessed through E&I included one for car rentals and another for a short-haul mover; each enabled the university to replace vendors that charged higher rates.

But, the partnership Diez considers the most beneficial is the one forged between E&I and the American Express Corporate Purchasing Card. Even before joining E&I, Diez says the university was looking at using purchasing cards (p-cards) hoping to streamline the requisition process, reduce the number of purchase orders to be processed, and make it easier for staff and faculty to obtain needed materials.

University finance administrators considered several companies that offered p-cards, including American Express. But unlike the other vendors, American Express didn’t offer a rebate on purchases; an omission that ruled them out. However, through the contract established with E&I— which was in place when the university joined the purchasing cooperative—American Express was able to offer a rebate in the form of a yearly check, which put them back in the running, says Diez. A committee weighed in on which p-card to use, ranking the potential vendors on seven to 10 items; American Express p-card emerged as the top choice. And it wasn’t just because of the cash incentive.

“The rebates, which have varied from $70,000 to $100,000 annually, benefit the entire university and are directed where needed,” she says, explaining that the amount they receive depends on the spending not just of Barry University, but of every consortium member nationwide using the E&I American Express agreement. There are other aspects of this card that the university prizes. Their p-card is targeted to smalldollar items; standard purchases include office supplies, most travel, and most orders under $2,500.

The E&I/American Express partnership provides a good enduser experience, allowing staff to order what they need more quickly, getting their items faster. Plus, they don’t have to wait for reimbursements. But even better, the card has significantly reduced the number of purchase orders the department has to wrestle with, winnowing these down from around 6,000 to about 1,000 per year.

E&I made all of this possible, says Diez. “From the start, I wanted to go with American Express because they place such a high value on customer service, which is very important to us,” she says. “But because they didn’t offer a rebate, we couldn’t. I’m extremely pleased that because of E&I we’re now able to. This contract has more than met our expectations.”

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