How Great Places Housing group effectively reduced risk and ensured a seamless merger by automating their payment processes and removing the need for manual intervention.
Great Places Housing Group owns or manages almost 25,000 homes across the North West, Yorkshire and Derbyshire. Its portfolio includes social and affordable rented homes, supported housing, housing for older people, market rent, homes for key workers, shared ownership, and market sale homes. It also provides leasehold and estate management services.
Great Places is more than a landlord for its tenants, providing a wide range of services and promoting partnership work to create vibrant, sustainable communities.
The Great Places Housing Group employs approximately 900 colleagues across four regional offices (Manchester HQ, Oldham, Sheffield and Blackpool) and includes the following entities;
- Great Places Housing Association: providing general needs rented homes and tenancy services as well as accommodation and services that promote independence and wellbeing for some of society’s most vulnerable people.
- Plumlife; an award-winning affordable home ownership company which helps people fulfil their home ownership dreams through Help to Buy schemes such as Shared Ownership as well as outright market sale.
- Cube Homes; who develop quality new homes for market sale and private rent.
- Terra Nova; in-house construction, and design and build services.
Denise Campbell, Head of Treasury at Great Places Housing Group, approached AccessPay looking to improve payment processing, being mindful of the security of data and allowing colleagues working in an efficient and transparent way.
Prior to AccessPay, the finance team was using BACS smart cards and readers to submit its BACS payment runs on on-premises software installed on a dedicated, internal PC. This meant that the team must be in the office and must have their smart card, card reader and Gemalto software installed (and working) to make a submission.
Conversations around ‘what would happen if these cards and readers were misplaced?’ flagged this process as a security risk. It also impacted remote working; with the influx of hybrid-working becoming commonplace, this presented another challenge for the finance team as it could only process payments within the office itself. As we have all learned since the Covid-19 pandemic, this isn’t always possible. If businesses want to protect business continuity, having remote but secure processes in place is key.
The second challenge for Denise was around servicing a variety of payment types. Managing nearly 25,000 homes meant there was a substantial amount of payments made to employees, suppliers and tenants.
Removing the need for Smart cards and Gemalto software with improved security controls
Denise organised with the bank and AccessPay to use a digital certificate (HSM) which replaced the need for physical smart cards or Gemalto software. This meant that the finance team is safely able to approve, validate and submit their BACS payments for payroll, supplier payment runs and payments to tenant from anywhere, home or office.
“AccessPay has transformed the way we work. Our old software meant we had to rely on specific computers and our BACS cards, which is a business risk in case the hardware doesn’t work or we aren’t on location. Access Pay’s digital certificate HSM feature has made us much more agile and secure; we no longer rely on our IT team and dedicated machines.”
Denise Campbell, Head of Treasury, Great Places Housing Group
Find out more about HSM here.
Automated Bacs payments
Great Places was now able to manage their payments within the AccessPay platform too, which also meant it was able to create a more seamless process for its Bacs payments. Payment files could be managed in a centralised location in bulk, meaning tenants could be paid quickly without the need for manual input. The payroll process was also streamlined as a result.
“When it comes to payroll, it saves time for the finance team because we aren’t going in and manually checking payroll files anymore. That saves time for myself and my finance colleagues because we can pass the ownership onto the senior people within the HR function.
Accounts payable payment runs are written straight from the finance system to AccessPay with no manual intervention, saving time and reducing the risk or fraud, error, or loss.”
You can read more about how automating BACS payments works within the platform here.
A merger success story
As a well-known housing group, Great Places is no stranger to mergers therefore being able to streamline this process for the future is a huge advantage for the finance team. The company merged with a smaller housing association which meant the finance team now had an extended portfolio to manage. Because Great Places was using AccessPay as a centralised point between their finance system software and bank, it was easily able to mirror this process, meaning the finance team was quickly able to apply the same processes for the new entities.
“We had a merger in April 2020 which was exciting but also challenging given the COVID pandemic hit two weeks before. Luckily, we’d implemented Access Pay about eight months before that. I was able to Access Pay was I realized I need all the new payments to run through AccessPay from the 1st April. The organisation that merged with was using a different bank to Great Places which means we had a challenge. We had to find a way to manage two different banks, two different digital certificates, two different networks, two different accounting systems and two different payroll systems.
“My focus was making sure the payments were combined straightaway as I knew it was possible and would be key for business continuity. I worked with AccessPay from February and what we quickly deduced was that we could easily mirror the set up that we had for Great Places.
“We got all that of that done within a few weeks and it was a real success; within two weeks of the merger, we were sending the payroll and the payment runs seamlessly. It went very smoothly.