American Payment Systems Newsletter Writing

American Payment Systems manages in-person bill paying for utilities, credit card companies and other clients. This newsletter required extensive interviewing of APS customers, agents and staff. Done in collaboration with CORE Advertising, Meriden, CT.


(Three sample story excerpts)

Person to Person

President’s Message

Dear Friends:
As we enter 2001, I want to wish all of our clients and agents thanks and best wishes for continued success in the New Year. The year 2000 was a great one for APS. Our ongoing growth and the development of new products and services that fill important needs in the marketplace have energized us to make even bigger strides in the future. As we look back, I see a number of highlights worth recapping. The year 2000 saw us bring our QuickPay!® service to our agent partners, helping them to build customer traffic, loyalty, and revenue while offering our clients a broader payment network supplementing authorized agent coverage.

AccuPay® Generation 7 also made its debut in 2000, making AccuPay better than ever. With "Real Time" capabilities, the new version gives immediate notification of payments, has expanded capabilities to identify DNACs and reduce NSF expenses, offers a "pay as you go feature," and has new automated transmission techniques to move data quicker.

Last year we also conducted an "Agent Satisfaction Survey." The results of the survey were extremely helpful and gratifying. APS learned that our agent satisfaction is high, particularly in agents’ ratings of APS equipment and training. The survey will help us to continue to improve on what we do while getting input and ideas for new products and services that benefit agents and clients alike.

As we enter the new year, APS now employs over 180 people and serves over 100 utilities and billers in 44 states through a network of over 6,000 agents. The agents collectively process over 90 million payments totaling $9 billion. None of these accomplishments would have been possible without you, our loyal agents and clients. Once again, we thank you for your business and wish you the best in the coming year.


Smoke Signal And APS: Growing Together

Smoke Signal, a company in the business of providing prepaid local phone service, has developed a very interesting, mutually beneficial relationship with APS. By complementing each other's aggressive expansion strategies, the companies are helping each other to grow and prosper. Smoke Signal sells its service and accepts payments at retail locations. If a retailer does not have a payment service, Smoke Signal is authorized to sign the retailer as an agent of APS. Interestingly, this unique setup makes Smoke Signal both a client and an agent of APS and the arrangement is working out well for both parties.

Smoke Signal's customer base is made up of a cross section of people some of whom have had credit problems and are unable to obtain service from their local phone companies. Smoke Signal handles all of the business dealings with the local phone company including phone service installation and customer billing. The average customer lasts eight months and because of this rapid turnover, Smoke Signal has to have a huge and very good customer service department. They support their agents with 490 customer service reps capable of handling 20,000 to 25,000 calls a day and 800 calls simultaneously.

"We provide prepaid local dial tone service to 2 million people and act as the resellers of local phone service purchased monthly. Smoke Signal takes on the obligation to pay the telephone company and the user pays a premium for this service which is paid in advance," said Glen Massey, President and CEO, Smoke Signal. Mr. Massey defines Smoke Signal's target market as the 13 to14 million people in U.S. that do not have phone service. Reasons vary but mainly it is due to inadequate personal identification or poor credit. "Electronic payment processing capabilities, such as those offered by APS, provide an excellent method for Smoke Signal's clients who are last minute payers and want to avoid the delays of the mailing payments," he added.

After beginning in 1997 at 40 Fiesta store locations in Texas and taking in revenues of $100,000, Smoke Signal had approximately $100 million in revenues in 2000 and covered 17 states. They are projecting $180 million in 2001 as they make an aggressive move into 21 additional states including New York, which will open in January. They currently have 36,000 retail agents. "APS and Smoke Signal are a good fit. APS gave us the road map on how to handle the unbankable person and the opportunity to get into the large retail markets, and we in turn are helping them expand through referrals. We are looking for APS to continue to grow and us to grow with them," Mr. Massey said.

For Illinois Power, APS Reliability Is The Key

Illinois Power, an energy delivery company based in Decatur, Illinois, with 650,000 natural gas and electricity customers in a 15,000 square-mile territory across Illinois has been serving its region for more than 75 years. Six years ago Illinois Power was in the process of reengineering and downsizing. Part of that process entailed closing all thirty-two of its walk in payment offices and looking at ways to outsource payment operations. For this they began looking at six vendors offering payment systems. One of these was APS. The formal RFP process that began the search included a service provider rating system to measure functionality, communication processes, programming, and IT support. The system also rated personnel and general overall operation.

"In the final analysis, we were looking for a smooth turnkey operation. We also asked for and received a very aggressive rollout schedule from APS. This, in combination with APS receiving the highest rating for their personnel, was the deciding factor in awarding the contract to APS. Price was a factor, but not the final deciding one," said Beverly Armstrong, Supervisor of Cash & Collections at Illinois Power. Ms. Armstrong who is responsible for all incoming cash and check payments and soon credit card payments, also noted the speed with which APS got the system up and running, "When we first met with APS in July 1995, there was no agent network in place in Illinois. It had to be started from scratch. We started with APS in September 1995.

Everything was in place and we were able to close our 32 walk-in payment offices in November, only three months later. Everything went exactly the way APS said it would – smoothly and reliably. We started with 108 agents and have stayed between 106 and 110 agents with 117 terminals processing over 120,000 payments per month."

Another reliability issue that contributes to Illinois Power’s strong relationship with APS is the strength of APS’s software support. "A lot of firms offer software and programming support, but we’ve been extremely impressed with APS. I have never worked with a vendor that told us what and when they would deliver and then actually did it! The coding was correct the first time and our IT people were delighted that the transition went so smoothly."

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