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Each month I am involved in the CBA (Centrally Billed Account) reconciliation process for our largest government client. This client’s current bank card vendor is JP Morgan Chase. Each month our agency receives an electronic file from JP Morgan Chase for this client’s 19 CBA accounts. This file is generally received by our accounting department around the 8th of each month for the previous month. After receiving the file we have approximately 3 to 5 days to match transactions in the data file to information in our back office. Our reconciliation team works relentlessly to match all data as accurately as possible in order to provide the information to the client in a timely manner so that they may pay their bill which is due around the 20th of each month.
My team gets involved in the reconciliation process after the accounting department has provided the client with the matched file and the client has reviewed and recorded the information provided. At this point there are still items that remain unmatched as some of the information is simply not found in our back office system. Certain CBA transactions that take place after the original ticket has been issued such as ticket counter transactions, airline refunds and reissued tickets are not in our back office system since our agency did not initiate the transaction. In an attempt to identify these items the client then reviews their physical paper statement. The client’s goal is to properly match report and record all CBA transactions to the specific traveler’s travel and voucher documents. Unfortunately, the passenger’s name is usually not listed on the client’s statement for these unmatched items so the client provides my team with the vendor name listed on the credit card statement as vendor names are not provided with the monthly JPMC electronic file. Therefore, we are given this information so that we may contact the vendor requesting passenger name information. Prior to contacting the vendor we generally search our back office system once again in hopes that the information has been matched since the JP Morgan Chase file was received. A few items are identified at this point although most of the information is not found. After this double checking has taken place we finally begin the time consuming task of contacting the vendor for each unmatched item.
The list of unmatched items each month seems to be steadily growing. The reason for these items is that vendors such as airlines and rail service providers have the credit card information in the reservation as the original form of payment. Once the original ticket is issued any changes, exchanges, re-issues, and/or refunds, done at the ticket counter or by the vendor, many times at the request of the passenger are automatically charged and/or credited to the original form of payment. Unfortunately, the vendor does not always communicate all necessary transaction related information to the bank vendor. Therefore, this turns into quite a large task for the TMC responsible for assisting the agency in monthly account reconciliation. To make matters more complicated several airlines and rail vendors are becoming more and more difficult to work with in regards to unmatched items. Reasons given for not providing needed passenger name information are usually attributed to security purposes, or that the information is no longer in the system, or that the customer service representative is told to say “we are not allowed to give that information”, etc. This is even becoming the case if we have a refunded ticket number. Vendors will even state these same reasons to the client when they call stating that they are the cardholder. In the end all unidentified or unmatched transactions on the CBA (this includes refunds) will be disputed by the cardholder as everything must match, no exceptions.
It seems to me that we spend hours of wasted time on reconciliation each month because vendors simply do not want to deal with the calls for information. Ultimately, however they eventually are forced to deal with the matter in the form of a disputed transaction which creates more work for everyone involved.
By Michelle Kennard