CBA Reconciliation Issues

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» Posted by on Feb 10, 2014 in Payment Methods | 0 comments

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One of the more vexing issues for some agency travel managers is the reconciliation of government Centrally Billed Account (CBA) charge card transactions originating from the agency’s chosen E-Gov Travel Service (ETS).  While in some cases the responsibility for CBA reconciliation lies with the ETS contractor and its embedded Travel Management Center (TMC), there are other cases where the agency is responsible and must match transaction data provided by the agency’s SmartPay® bank with authorization and voucher data provided by the ETS contractor.  This becomes particularly problematic if and when there is no ETS authorization number in the bank-provided charge card statement to use as a “key” to tie it back to the ETS authorization.  A reasonable person might ask, “Well, why wouldn’t the authorization number always be sent to the bank along with the other transaction information such as the date, purchaser and amount?”  The answer to this question requires an explanation of the complex relationships that exist along the pathway from the ETS contractor to the SmartPay® bank.

 

Air Fare Transactions

The first set of relationships pertains to charges for air fares.  When a traveler makes a reservation using the ETS’ online booking capability, the ETS creates a Passenger Name Record (PNR) in the Global Distribution System (GDS).  When a traveler’s reserved itinerary is ticketed (according to agency-defined business rules), the GDS sends the financial transaction portion of the PNR to the Airline Reporting Corporation (ARC).  The financial transaction includes data such as the date, purchaser, airline and flight number, and total air fare.  ARC then processes the transaction through VISA or MasterCard (depending on which is used by the agency’s SmartPay® bank), who then hands the transaction data off to the bank’s “Issuing Processor” (e.g., TSYS), who then sends the transaction data to the agency’s SmartPay® bank for posting to the agency’s CBA.

Concurrent with the sending of the financial portion of the transaction to ARC, the “non-financial” portion of the PNR is extracted from the GDS and sent to ATPCO, whose role it is to collect and distribute airline fare-related data.  This portion includes (but is not limited to) data such as flight origin and destination, frequent flier number, and the ETS authorization number.  After being reformatted by ATPCO, this non-financial data is sent through Visa/MasterCard to the Issuing Processor and finally to the SmartPay® bank.

This is where it gets tricky.  If ATPCO’s data is delayed and is not received by the Issuing Processor before it sends its daily file of financial transactions to the SmartPay® bank, then the ATPCO transaction is “orphaned” and cannot be matched to its financial “parent”.  Thus, when the agency looks at its monthly CBA statement, no authorization number will appear with the financial transaction.  This means that the agency travel manager will have to perform research in order to reconcile the transaction.

See Attachment 1 for a visual representation of the flows described above.

 

ETS Voucher Fee Transactions

Unlike air fare transactions, the transmission of charges for the ETS Voucher Fee transactions follows a single pathway; however, this pathway is fraught with its own issues that may make CBA reconciliation difficult.  For agencies that choose to do so, when an ETS vendor processes a voucher, it charges the ETS Voucher Fee to the CBA.  The financial transaction can be set up by the ETS contractor to include the Voucher Number so it can be communicated to the SmartPay® bank.  This does not guarantee that the Voucher Number will be received by the SmartPay® bank, primarily because there is no industry standard for where this data should be placed and there are numerous players and business relationships that exist in the pathway that the transaction must travel, to wit:

  1. The agency has a contractual relationship with its chosen ETS contractor and a separate one with its SmartPay® bank.
  2. The ETS contractor has a contractual relationship with its Merchant Bank for charge card transaction processing.
  3. The Merchant Bank has a contractual relationship with its Acquiring Processor.
  4. The SmartPay Bank has a contractual relationship with its Issuing Processor.
  5. The Acquiring Processor and Issuing Processor are “members” of VISA and MasterCard (a.k.a, “the Associations”).

The Associations have established transaction data specifications and make changes to those specifications on an annual basis.  The ETS contractors have attempted to leverage existing data elements in those specifications in order to communicate voucher numbers to the SmartPay® banks.  This typically works for some period of time but may be disrupted if/when the annual specification update by the Association is implemented.  When this happens, agency transition managers have no information other than the date available for use in matching the voucher transaction fee to the appropriate voucher document … a frustrating position to be in.

See Attachment 2 for a visual representation of the business relationships described above.

 

Conclusion

For both of the scenarios described in this paper, the solution to the absence of adequate reconciliation data lies in the establishment of an industry standard for where the ETS authorization/voucher number can (and should) be placed in the financial portion of the PNR and charge card transaction.  This will require advocacy by the agencies and teaming with their ETS and SmartPay® contractors to get the appropriate data element(s) identified, documented and implemented by VISA and MasterCard.

 

NOTE:  TO SEE THE ATTACHMENTS PLEASE GO TO:

http://www.cgtp.net/documents/Potocko_Final_Paper.pdf

 

By: John Potocko

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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