Like many companies, Subject Matter recently reached its one-year milestone of working remotely. What the company quickly discovered is that when its entire staff works from home, a lot of basic functions had to change – including sending and receiving payments to and from clients and vendors.
In its fully remote environment, all of the Washington, D.C.-based creative advocacy firm’s mail was initially forwarded to the home of its CEO, Nicole Cornish. She would retrieve any paper checks and invoices, and then send a courier to the home of the company’s comptroller so he could deposit the checks.
It didn’t take long for Cornish to notice a few things. “The volume of checks still coming to us was significant,” she said. “I began to realize just how ridiculous the process was.”
That awareness inspired Subject Matter to begin an all-out blitz to encourage its clients and vendors to switch to using electronic payments via ACH, or the Automated Clearing House Network, which is connected to all U.S. bank and credit union accounts.
ACH already had been ingrained in certain areas of Subject Matter’s business processes. The company has paid its 100 employees with Direct Deposit for years. And about half of its clients and a sliver of its outside vendors were already using ACH, but the company wanted to increase those numbers.
Subject Matter’s “switch to ACH” campaign is a success story.
Before the pandemic, the company paid only about 10% of its vendors via ACH, meaning the company was sending out 20-30 paper checks per week. Now 95% of its vendors are paid by ACH.
Also in 2020, the company transitioned an additional 20% of its clients to ACH, resulting in about 75% of its client base using ACH in total.
How did they do it?
Subject Matter’s success in moving clients and vendors to ACH just took some extra communication and follow-up, Cornish said. Subject Matter’s best practices include:
- Making sure the entire Subject Matter team was informed about the “make the switch to ACH” effort.
- Sending a mailing to its clients and vendors – on a colored piece of paper to attract more attention – informing them about the change.
- Flagging the effort during client meetings, and personally encouraging clients who weren’t yet using ACH to switch.
- Providing information about the switch in all invoices, including, when possible, a personalized letter to its clients’ AP department staff.
“One means of outreach wasn’t going to cut it,” Cornish said.
She also admits that it’s easier to get vendors to make the switch to ACH than clients. “As a company, we produce creative assets. We work with a lot of third parties and freelancers,” she said. “If I am a true small business or independent contractor, I imagine cash flow is far more important from a time perspective.”
Meanwhile, working in the professional services industry, Cornish said its clients may dictate the payment method used. “Our client base varies. We work with large corporations that have thousands of employees, and also organizations that have less than 100 employees,” she said. “We have to make sure that the request to switch gets to the right person.”
Subject Matter still has about quarter of its clients paying with paper checks. “My guess is of those that haven’t transitioned, about half is probably due to level of sophistication or limited resources to make this a top priority,” Cornish said. “The other half are mostly large companies that may have so many business partners that they haven’t gotten to our request yet.”
Benefits of making the switch
Cornish said Subject Matter continues to follow up with those clients that haven’t transitioned because the benefits of ACH payment solutions are too plentiful to ignore.
“With all of the clients and vendors that transitioned in 2020, we probably freed up about six to eight hours a month that was previously used on payment processing – which is significant,” Cornish said.
“That is valuable time that can now be spent on far more strategic efforts for the organization,” she said, adding that moving to electronic payments provide much more accurate tracking than paper checks.
“Last year, we used the pandemic as a catalyst to urge our clients and vendors to transition to ACH,” Cornish said. “Today our message to them is far less about the pandemic, and much more about the general convenience of ACH.”
“Why it took a pandemic for us to make that change, I’m not sure,” Cornish said. “My advice to other organizations like ours that want to transition to ACH is: Don’t be afraid to ask.
“We have seen such a significant improvement in our processes, that it was well worth it,” she said.
Helping businesses and organizations of all sizes to more easily make and receive ACH payments is one of Nacha’s strategic initiatives aimed at increasing adoption of ACH payments.
For more information on how to leverage ACH for your business, visit ACHQuickStart.org, an online resource for your business to learn how to pay or get paid using ACH for either B2B or B2C payments. You can learn more about direct deposit at directdeposit.org.