Cashing in on technology, students get fast, safe access to refunds

BankMobile Disbursements electronically deposits financial aid, payroll checks for Western Kentucky University students

Seven years ago, Western Kentucky University said goodbye to its time-consuming, paper-based way of issuing financial aid refunds and said hello to BankMobile, an electronic disbursement service that has led to major savings.

“Between student refunds and student payroll disbursements, we have eliminated having to issue 76,000 paper checks annually,” says Belinda Higginbotham, bursar for the university of more than 20,000 students. “Cost savings in paper and postage, in addition to eliminating all the touch points on campus involved in the former process, are quite substantial. Had we not made this change, we would have had to increase staffing in order to handle the volume.”

Seeking a partner

Beginning in January 2010—the start of the winter term—financial aid disbursements were handled entirely electronically by BankMobile. The following year, BankMobile took over student payroll disbursements, which currently involves about 1,600 biweekly disbursements. Another 35,000 financial aid refunds are disbursed annually at the university, which is based in Bowling Green and has several regional campuses.

“We wanted to partner with a company that would completely manage the refund process, as well as the marketing outreach to students,” Higginbotham says. “In addition, they offered the solution for student payroll disbursement, and their interface with our student information system works extremely well.”

Students have embraced the platform, largely because it means faster, safer access to cash, Higginbotham says. The university has embraced BankMobile because it not only eliminates the time and resources required to process paper checks, but also the need to stop payments and reissue checks that get lost, damaged or sent to incorrect addresses.  

Offering students options

Incoming students are introduced to BankMobile during registration and orientation, and the company also reaches out directly, encouraging students to choose an electronic refund preference—either an existing bank account that can accept electronic deposits, or a student-focused BankMobile account called Vibe, which offers direct deposit, fee-free Allpoint ATMs and no monthly minimums. 

“The fact that they offered an electronic option for students who didn’t have a bank account was very positive,” Higginbotham says, noting that in the past, such students often had difficulty getting checks cashed or had to pay for the service.

About 87 percent of refunds are electronically disbursed, but that number hits the mid-90s at the beginning of each semester, Higginbotham says.

She adds that BankMobile staff helped make the transition to electronic disbursements smooth and the ongoing relationship accommodating for all. 

“BankMobile is always very helpful with any issues we have,” she says. “We appreciate that our students can reach them, and we also are able to reach them.” 

The benefits of the partnership have validated the university’s decision to bring in an outside vendor to handle financial aid refunds. 

“We knew we didn’t have the staff or manpower to run our own ACH program,” Higginbotham says. “We needed a partner with expertise in that area. It was a smooth process, and BankMobile was with us every step of the way.”

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