Case studies published on this website have been archived, and some information and links may be out of date. This follows the acquisition of Albany Software by Bottomline Technologies in September 2012.

Manchester Metropolitan University


Electronic document delivery of remittance advices has provided a rapid Return on Investment by releasing staff from repetitive manual roles, removing print and postage costs and reducing supplier enquiries. In addition, automated reporting of Direct Debit failures in student payments has enabled the university to take early action to work with students to ensure fees - for both tuition and hall of residence - are paid. Freelance journalist, Emma Mansell-Lewis reports.

Financial Control

Developed initially as a centre of Technology, Art and Design from Manchester Mechanics Institution (1824) and Manchester School of Design (1838,) Manchester Metropolitan became a Polytechnic in 1970 and a University in 1992. Today, Manchester Metropolitan University is based across seven campuses in Manchester and Cheshire and offers nearly 1,000 courses in a wide range of subject areas to some 32,000 students.

In common with every other UK university, Manchester Metropolitan needs to recoup payments from students - not only rent for halls of residence but also, since 2003, tuition fees. To ease the payment burden, the university offers students a number of payment options, from once a term to monthly for hall fees and either three or six payments for the tuition fees.

However, with over 30,000 students making diverse payments this creates a significant challenge and, previously, a major administrative burden. Over the past few years, the university has used the Direct Debit (DD) system to collect student payments. However, the process of managing DD failures - primarily due to a student having insufficient funds available - was difficult. Often the university had to wait several days to receive failure information from Bacs, the UK's Automated Clearing House, creating unnecessary delays and potential problems for the students in question.

Increased Process Efficiency

In 2005, Manchester Metropolitan University upgraded to the ALBACSip Bacs software from Albany Software, and now receives immediate, automated electronic information on DD failures. James Kua, Systems Controller, Manchester Metropolitan University, confirms, "For failed Direct Debit payments we automatically represent them to the bank for payment, which significantly cuts down our administrative overheads. Furthermore, we now have online access to all failure information via ALBACSip which gives us the ability to track failures immediately and, therefore, get in touch with the student faster regarding problems."

Indeed, the university has now tailored its responses to DD failures and immediately emails the student about the problem. Kua maintains that the speed of response has increased the amount of student income the university receives and, critically, the low administrative overheads and improved cash flow has prompted the university to rethink its planned adoption of online payments and reinforced its commitment to the DD system.

Indeed, the university currently receives around £8 million per term from students via DD and expects that volume to continue to increase. He says, "The effectiveness of the Albany solution has transformed the efficiency of the DD process - providing benefits for both students and the university."

Supplier Payment

Direct Debits also underpin Manchester Metropolitan University's supplier payment process with annual payments in excess of £80 million via DD. Every fortnight the university makes between 1,000 and 2,000 DD payments and, until recently, manually printed, folded, stuffed, franked and posted the same number of remittance advice documents - at a significant business cost.

"Obviously when we paid suppliers via cheque, the remittance advice was attached," says Kua. "But now the majority of our payments are made via Bacs, the process of sending remittance via the post is time consuming, expensive and, frankly, unnecessary."

The university decided to embrace electronic document delivery and implemented the eConnect Online solution from Albany Software. Remittance information is automatically generated by the SAP financial software and imported into eConnect Online, which then creates a recipient specific remittance advice and faxes it out overnight to utilise off-peak rates.

eConnect Online allows documents to be tailored to meet specific supplier requests and includes intelligent routing to maximise the number of documents successfully sent electronically. With the ability to deliver over 400 documents per fax line, the process is both fast and efficient.

Rapid Return on Investment

Suppliers receive the remittance within 24 hours of the Bacs payment - significantly earlier than traditional postal methods. The automated process has freed up at least one day per person per payment run, whilst paper, print and postage costs have also been removed.

"Now the university only has to deal with a small number of persistent failures - generally due to a fax number being busy" he says. The software will automatically retry any unavailable numbers and gives us the option to specify alternative delivery methods if we so wish.

Furthermore, by providing suppliers with faster access to their remittance advice, Kua confirms that the university has seen a significant drop in enquiries. "In the past, there was often a requirement to generate another hard copy to meet a supplier query, which was time consuming. Now theeConnect Online process ensures the remittance is accurate and received in good time, which has cut down suppliers' requests for information or duplicate remittances," he says.

Given the ease with which the university set up the eConnect Online solution, Kua confirms the speed of return on investment was rapid. "We wrote to all our suppliers, asking them to provide fax details if they required a remittance advice. Now we produce no paper remittances and use eConnect Online to send upwards of 400 remittance documents each payment run. That has significantly reduced our costs and released staff to concentrate on other less administrative, more valuable roles."

Furthermore, because the information content is in SAP and then imported into eConnect Online there is no need to update information in eConnect Online when a supplier's fax number changes; it is handled automatically once the SAP system has been updated. "eConnect Online picks up the key information, minimising the overheads associated with running the system," he says.

Kua concludes, "By automating key financial processes Albany's eConnect Online and ALBACSip solutions have fundamentally reduced the administrative costs, removed many repetitive tasks and provided a rapid Return on Investment while enabling the university to deliver improved financial services to both students and suppliers."

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