Student Housing Business

MAR-APR 2018

Student Housing Business is the voice of the student housing industry.

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SMARTER OPERATIONS StudentHousingBusiness.com March/April 2018 125 MARC TREITLER Partner And General Counsel, Conservice Utility Management & Billing proactive can be transformative." This mindset echoes Wybenga's positive culture of collections that GMH Capital attempts to foster among its residents. Partnering with third-party vendors for bill- ing gives residents an easy plat- form for paying utility bills, and with that comes the expectation that bills will be paid on time, every time. With an almost universal adoption of electronic bills, stu- dent housing residents want to do everything on their phones in as few click as possible. To meet that demand, Conservice users can sign up for text alerts for monthly bills that feature a direct link to pay the bill online and view consumption data, explains Marc Treitler, partner and general counsel with Conservice Utility Management & Billing's San Diego office. From split billing to meter read- ing (to determine possible leaks and monitor conservation), the company works with property management teams to alleviate the burden of utility billing so team members can refocus on community management. "Whether it's an app or mobile responsive site, students want and expect to be able pay from their smart phone," says Patrick Postrehovsky, CEO of RentMoola. "To be competitive within the stu- dent market, it's essential to offer online payments." RentMoola is another vendor that has met that demand with its online payment platform for rent, utilities and other payments, and it also has a focus on the user experience for both tenants and property owners and managers, explains Postrehovsky. "Payment applications that focus on the customer and user experience are going to get more engagement, improve user adop- tion and provide billers and man- agers with happier customers and tenants," he says. Successful Partnerships While the challenges of bill- ing and collections in the student housing space are not new, the solutions that third-party vendors are offering can greatly benefit a community, if the correct partner- ship is made. "There is a point in the lifecycle of an account where the amount you pay a [collection] agency is offset by the benefits they are pro- viding," says James Neely, vice president of sales and market- ing with Tampa-based Hunter Warfield. "This is demonstrated through a reduction in internal staff costs and an overall improve- ment in recovery. Using an agency should always be a positive addi- tion to the bottom line." With that mindset, most oper- ators are looking for long-term partnerships with third-party vendors for billing and collec- tions products and services. These service providers are seen as an extension of the community's brand, making customer interac- tion and engagement crucial, par- ticularly in the oftentimes delicate issue of collections. An advantage to partnering with an experienced third-par- ty provider is the expertise and knowledge that the vendor is able to provide, but without effi- cient communication between the property and the collections team the success rate for delinquent accounts and accurate utility bill- ing may suffer. "Communication is key, and we become a partner with our clients," says Marilyn Lohonen, vice president of marketing with Orlando, Florida-based Southern Management Systems. "A strong relationship and information flow from the debtor is vital." New laws and regulations that came out in September 2017 require that collection agencies must have the full name, address, social security number, date of birth, and contact phone numbers for both the resident and guar- antor before sending delinquent accounts to the credit bureaus, explains Lohonen. Without this information, it can be almost impossible to ensure successful recovery of overdue accounts. Along with ensuring all docu- mentation is accurate and com- plete during the leasing process, it's also important that the lease language discuss the resident's responsibility for monthly bills and utilities. Documentation also needs to indicate whether the operator is using third-party vendors. Getting this information upfront and implementing it at the correct time in the leasing cycle can be tricky, but knowledgeable ven- dors work with leasing teams to ensure language is accurate and all documentation is complete to create a proactive billing environ- ment, notes Treitler. In addition to streamlining the billing processes and remov- ing that burden from manage- ment teams, most utility billing provider also work with utility companies to determine the cor- rect rates for properties and audit monthly bills, which can lead to savings and refunds for overpaid utility bills. The deep knowledge and expertise provided by part- nering with these companies often cannot be provided through in- house staff due to the complexity of regulations and utility billing, especially on a national scale as each property in a portfolio may be subject to different regulations and laws. Last year, Conservice found its clients a total of more than $10 million in refunds and inaccurate billings from its utility audit ser- vices. These are savings and issues that are often overlooked without the use of utility vendors who specialize in billing and rates. "Your vendor should be the one bringing solutions to you for issues you didn't know you had or didn't know there were solu- tions for," says Van Pelt. "They should be working as hard for you as you do for your residents." Along with operators fostering responsibility with billing, resi- dents are taking on more respon- sibility for their usage and con- sumption, especially as more and more communities have started passing water and sewage utility bills along to residents. "More residents, or parents, are requesting historical consumption data as it relates to water and other utility uses for their units, so there seems to be a trend toward more responsible consumption and usage among student hous- ing residents," explains Treitler. With this trend toward reduced consumption, student hous- ing residents are showing more responsibility when it comes to utility management and daily usage. This may translate to overall better performance with monthly utility bills and reduced collections issues. SHB PATRICK POSTREHOVSKY CEO, RentMoola JAMES NEELY Vice President of Sales snd Marketing, Hunter Warfield

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