SunTrust Rolls Out New Technology to Help Companies Defend Against Fraud

Kim Wade

Thursday, January 12th, 2017

When SunTrust Bank in Albany approached their clients at Georgia Federal-State Inspection Service (GA FSIS) to update their current payroll system, the idea was not exactly met with applause from the accounting department or the employees. While it’s true that implementing new programs can be difficult, the reality is the world is changing and securing your payroll is important in this electronic age. 

The prompt to help their client came from a recent study completed by SunTrust showing that non-electronic processes are the number one source of fraud, according to the 2016 AFP Payments Fraud and Control Survey. If your business still works with paper checks to pay your employees, you are not alone. SunTrust Bank recently released a survey of middle market and small business executives showing that 57 percent still make all payments through paper-driven processes and checks. And while fraud is a problem, add in the negative impact on your company’s cash flow and balance sheet, and you’ve got a serious issue. 

So, SunTrust Bank teamed up with GA FSIS to help upgrade their payment program. Every year from September to February, GA FSIS employs an additional 1,000 people due to the crops and harvest schedules. In the past, they paid these employees with paper checks. The local team at SunTrust suggested they offer their employees an electronic pay card. While the transition from a paper to electronic payment system has been a learning process, all parties feel GA FSIS is now on the road to continuity with easier and safer pay options for all employees.

Chris Misamore, market president for SunTrust Bank in South Georgia, explains that some businesses are slow to focus on technology because they still look to their bank for traditional services such as business loans, but he says SunTrust has more options to offer their clients.

“As a bank, we are constantly working to stay ahead of the curve on issues that are important to our clients. We have invested a tremendous amount in technology, and electronic payments are just one of the ways we help our clients save time, money and protect themselves from fraud,” Misamore says.  ”

SunTrust has been reaching out to clients who still use paycheck systems to show them the value and safety of switching to an electronic system. Misamore says that after he sat down with the finance coordinators at the GA FSIS, they decided the Skylight payroll card program would be a smart solution.

According to Debra Richardson, finance director at GA FSIS, the way they previously paid their employees was a difficult process. The company is responsible for setting up check points to inspect items like pecans, Vidalia onions, peanuts and other crops and works with 12 districts every year with 130 buying points across the state. During the busy months, they go from 120 employees to more than 1,000.

“The district office is like our satellite,” she explains. “So when payroll is done, the supervisor would have to visit each job site before noon to deliver the employees’ checks. The employees would then use their lunch hour to cash their checks so they could eat or get gas.” 

Misamore says the company does payroll every two weeks and has been cutting paper paychecks and distributing them to the employees in person or via FedEx overnight mail. The costs for those services add up quickly.

“It was a massive undertaking, but you also have to think about the huge number of checks in the public circle with account and routing numbers on them. Fraud is just waiting to happen.”

With the Skylight payroll card, payroll funds are deposited into an account at midnight and are ready for use in the morning. The employees have access to the money at multiple ATMs and can use the card just like any debit card.

Richardson adds that not only does the card save everyone a lot of time, but it’s convenient. “If employees need gas or food, the money is right there. They no longer have to run around at lunchtime to cash their check. It’s been a great process.” 

Sunny Cochran, the accounting manager with GA FSIS, explains that employees choose their pin when they activate the card. These cards are good for three years, so if they come back to work for them at a later date due to the seasonality of the business, they can still use the same account and card.

“This process has been a learning experience,” Sunny adds. “Chris and his teammates at SunTrust have worked with us nonstop to help smooth the way.”

“It is a collaborative team effort. My support team does a lot of pre-work calling before the cards are even sent out to make sure all the different people responsible for making this transition go smoothly are collaborating,” Misamore explains. “The process sounds simple - you have an employee with a payroll card and it’s electronic - but it’s a sophisticated process behind the scenes to make it work without issues for the employees or business owners.”

Richardson says SunTrust provided 12 refresher classes in August and September when they first initiated the program. “SunTrust attended every class to ensure the districts were trained and felt comfortable using the card instead of a paper check. Some of the employees did not have a checking account, so this gave them a chance to open an account through SunTrust with their Skylight card, allowing them to go directly to the bank to get their money.”

“It was a new concept and a completely different way of doing business. As I find other businesses that have this need, I now have a testimonial to show them exactly how we initiated this process and how it worked,” said Misamore.

Cochran adds there was some extra work on her part to update booking to match the new system but that overall, it was worth it to help the employees. “These employees work from sun up to sun down and even longer during the height of the season. We wanted to make getting paid as easy as possible.”

While Cochran says they began the new card system the first week of September, they are taking their time to add employees and “work out any bugs.”

“It’s been a learning experience,” she says. “But I can say that when we mailed out checks, we had people call and say their checks hadn’t shown up, and we had to scramble. We don’t have those problems anymore and are very appreciative of everyone at SunTrust for their assistance. Chris has also put me in touch with some of the best customer service representatives at Skylight, and we thank him and his team for going above and beyond for us.”