How Automated Payments Save Schools Time, Money, and Sanity

November 14, 2022 by Peter Friesen

How Automated Payments Save Schools Time, Money, and Sanity

The Dubuque Community School District, located on the Mississippi River in eastern Iowa, has grown in the last two decades to serve over 10,000 students, with 1,900 employees. But their accounts payable office has, for budgetary reasons, remained a two-person team for 20 years, taking on more work as the district grew.

Seeing how the strain of approving thousands of payments a year affected his staff, Kevin Kelleher, the district’s chief financial officer, decided to switch to an efficient digital solution, which has freed up employee hours, saved the district money, and made for a happier work environment.

Regularly Scheduled Stress

Every year, the school district contracts with between 5,000 and 6,000 vendors, 95% of whom used to be paid by physical check. Once every month, the accounts payable staff would gather pending payments for approval by the school district board. After the board approved, they would start cutting physical checks, stuffing them into envelopes, and putting them in the mail.

“Unfortunately, it would not allow the team to take a day off or two when they needed to, if it was falling near our board meeting,” Kelleher says. “It was a real struggle for them to get all of the work done.”

The stressful, time-consuming process clearly didn’t work for the school district or the vendors, who preferred simpler, more efficient payments, which could arrive in their accounts closer to when work was provided.

Efficiency With Automation

To solve their monthly dilemma, the accounts payable team adopted a new schedule and an electronic payment tool that could save vendor information, process multiple payment options, and allow them to process fewer payments every week, instead of a mountain every month.

The change in schedule, along with the snappy new solution, cut almost 20 hours of work a week from the accounts team’s schedule. This allowed one of them to go on vacation, or handle a last-minute time-off request, without affecting the team’s ability to approve and process payments on time.

Vendor information is saved in the system, and each company can choose their preferred method of payment, whether credit card, direct deposit, or physical check. Once they opt in, “it's really almost as simple as pushing a button and that vendor payment file goes out,” Kelleher says.

“It's very simple to use. The product itself was built to save time and energy and it definitely does that.”

Saving More Than Time

The automated system not only saved the accounts team time, but some of their sanity as well. They were able to add diverse tasks to their day with the saved hours, improving the office atmosphere that previously was a mass of paper files, check printers, and envelopes.

“The workflow was spread out evenly and that really saved them a lot of stress,” Kelleher says. “They seemed happier that they didn't have to work so hard at one point of the month and continually do the same thing.”

The solution is also simple enough that when a new accounts team member was recently hired, they picked up the software quickly, without any previous experience.

The cherry on top for a small department that is used to doing more with less is the cost savings. Now that a minority of their payments are by check, they’ve greatly reduced orders for check stock, ink, and envelopes.

Shifting their manual system to one with automation and modern payment options saved Dubuque time, money, and sanity. They are now encouraged to find other ways they can modernize processes across the school district.

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