New York City Non-Profit Eliminates Paper Checks to Keep Cash Moving During COVID-19
Essential Non-Profit Turns to Deluxe Payment Exchange for Rapid, Seamless, Digital Transformation
Frank De Lucia, Deputy Executive Director & CFO at Independent Living Association, Inc. (ILA) in Brooklyn, New York, was hunting for solutions that would improve Accounts Payable (AP) efficiency at the non-profit care facility. In particular, the facility wanted to address long-standing challenges tied to paper checks.
“We’ve always wanted to have our executives and board members be able to sign checks electronically,” said De Lucia. “It’s difficult when the Executive Director isn’t in the office and we need to physically bring checks to another Board Member to have them signed.”
Then, COVID-19 rolled across the country.
De Lucia quickly realized the time for planning was in the rearview mirror; now, it was full- speed ahead to figure out how to make payments while the organization’s office staff, Board Members and most of New York City stayed home.
“I called our bank and asked if they have something where we could batch and send checks electronically. They suggested Deluxe,” De Lucia said.
That call in March 2020 was the start of a rapid—and smooth—transition to the Deluxe Payment Exchange (DPX) platform. It transformed the company’s AP process with a newer, more sophisticated way to work and a convenient, digital replacement for paper checks.
“As we were learning about it, my Controller and I were really excited how Deluxe Payment Exchange would dovetail into our current systems, and how this was really the answer to our problem,” he said.
Protecting Staff and Keeping Payments Flowing
ILA is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit that provides long-term residential care for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities. They support nearly 250 residents across four boroughs of New York City. The organization prides itself on a culture of caring. Their services foster increased independence and community integration for year-round residents and participants at day programs.
Throughout the pandemic, they’ve maintained a laser focus on health and safety for their residents and staff. While caregivers remained onsite, COVID-19 precautions meant dramatic and immediate changes for office staff. De Lucia and his team needed to do as much work as possible from their homes.
“We wanted to keep the number of people coming into the office down to 25 percent,” he explained.
As a consequence of COVID-19:
- Checks could only be signed once or twice a week by the Executive Director.
- Large-dollar payments were problematic, since they required signatures from the Executive Director and a Board Member.
- There was no easy workaround for check printing and mailing, typically done from their Brooklyn office.
- Sending check stock and check printers to a home environment presented too many security concerns to be a viable alternative.
ILA needed solutions to help them navigate these new, unprecedented roadblocks.
The low-cost DPX payment platform quickly solved these challenges by delivering digital payments quickly with zero interruptions to De Lucia and his staff’s existing processes.
Within the platform, there is convenient and secure eCheck disbursement option. With eChecks, recipients download a check image, which they can either submit to their bank through a remote deposit capture application, or print and deposit as a physical item at a bank branch or ATM. Recipients can also choose from options like direct deposit, ACH, debit card, and more. For ILA, eChecks completely eliminated check printing, mailing and trips to the office.
“The COVID-19 pandemic pushed us,” De Lucia said. “We had been moving toward this method. We wanted to work more remotely. Now, we can issue payments remotely anytime we want. The signatories can go into the web site and sign whenever they want.”
The platform also offers a convenient Print+ Mail service, which provides the option to outsource check printing, stuffing and mailing operations to Deluxe. AP teams can issue a check into their ERP or accounting system, and DPX digitally sends the payment and remittance details to a Deluxe facility for processing. A high-security laser check is printed and mailed within one business day.
Up and Running in Less than a Day
One of the biggest advantages of DPX was its integration with ILA’s current accounting system, Great Plains. There was no need for IT involvement or for the finance team to change their payables processes. That meant ILA was up and running fast, and the learning curve for staff was almost nonexistent.
“It’s very important to have capabilities that work with current accounting software and processes. We had tried AP outsourcing with another company, and it was really difficult to use with our accounting process. What they promised and what they delivered were two different things,” he said.
Speed and ease-of-use were essential, given the urgent need created by COVID-19.
“The integration does not take long. It’s very efficient,” De Lucia said, noting their setup took less than a day.
The process for AP is also simple. The not-for-profit approves payments in Great Plains as usual, then sends payee information to the DPX platform for disbursement.
“The only thing we had to do in our general ledger was produce and upload a report,” De Lucia explained. “The creation of the report took no time—the fields were already in our accounting system.”
He also appreciates that they can maintain their existing bank relationship and the banking services they use, such as positive pay, to safeguard physical checks from fraud. The platform also makes it easy to track payment status.
“The best thing about Deluxe Payment Exchange is that it’s seamless,” he said. “It dovetails with our current system. It’s extremely easy to use. eChecks are basically a digital payment from our end.”
Prepared for the Future of Work—Without Reinventing the Wheel
While cities and states across the country are gradually reopening, the ILA team can now work 100 percent remotely, with no disruptions to their AP routine.
Digital signatures have replaced hand-signed checks, providing new efficiencies for AP staff and signatories. Email delivery has replaced printing and mailing physical checks from the office, helping them maintain appropriate social distancing.
“Everyone is at home in their bunkers, but we’re Zooming, we’re sending eChecks, using VoIP telephones,” he said.
De Lucia sees other benefits that extend far beyond the pandemic.
“Saving time, saving money, saving duplicate processes—and doing it without reinventing the wheel—is very important,” he noted.
And, while no one loves the circumstances that prompted their digital transformation, De Lucia is confident in the strength of his fellow New Yorkers, his colleagues – and his bank.
“New Yorkers tend to band together, and we’ll get through this, too. I truly appreciate the fact that they Citibank gave us this solution.”
The bank’s choice to partner with Deluxe created new opportunities to help ILA improve business continuity and be more cost effective, despite unprecedented circumstances.
As organizations across the United States grapple with the future of work, ILA is one step ahead of the curve. The not-for-profit is better positioned to maintain its mission of providing first-class care and accommodations to hundreds of individuals with developmental disabilities.
“It [The DPX platform] was at the right time and the right place,” concluded De Lucia.
Monthly payments converted to eChecks
Time to set up Deluxe Payment Exchange
New AP workflow and payment process