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Armored Cars: Retail Treasury’s Necessary Evil

  • By Andrew Deichler
  • Published: 7/3/2018

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DENVER -- When you bring together a group of retail treasury professionals, sooner or later, the topic of armored carrier services is going to rear its ugly head. During the latest AFP Retail Roundtable, practitioners once again discussed this frustrating but ultimately necessary headache.

GEOGRAPHICAL CHALLENGES

One common theme that emerged was that some of the major armored carrier services do not maintain consistent, quality services across different markets. Two different treasurers noted that one carrier in particular has been very unreliable in the Las Vegas market, frequently missing pickups. The excuse the carrier has given is that the heat is affecting the service. “But they’ve been in Las Vegas forever,” one treasurer said. “I don’t understand why all of a sudden heat is an issue. It just seems to be specific markets where they can’t seem to control the quality.”

Another treasurer said she has had similar issues with this carrier in Wisconsin. “They just miss pickups all the time,” she said. “They’ve gotten a little better, but it’s taken a lot of complaining. We actually had to drop them in a couple areas. They just couldn’t handle the volume.”

However, in some markets, the root of the problem is more the markets themselves than the companies. One treasurer noted that in Houston, there were two guards that were killed, which led to a number of people resigning from armored car service jobs. Those employees were eventually replaced, but in Texas, it takes 90 days to train and arm a guard, resulting in further delays. “So even if they hire somebody today, it takes 90 days to get them up to speed,” she said. “And in other states like New York, it’s a year.”

She added that road construction, particularly in the Houston market, has also led to a lot of delays and missed pickups. “The whole courier industry is challenged,” she said.

CREDIT PROBLEMS

When armored car services miss pickups, they typically offer a credit to the retailer. Unfortunately, this can create more issues.

“One of the challenges I have has been tracking credits,” said one retail treasurer. “You might send an email and they’ll respond that you’ll get a credit. But because of the way they bill—they bill for services at the beginning of the month and ancillary charges at the end—tracking credits can be very tough.”

Tom Hunt, CTP, AFP’s director of treasury services, asked if retailers can just short-pay the carrier and then send an email with the payment. Unfortunately, that process is less than user-friendly. “I go into the invoicing and there are all these credit memos, and unfortunately I have to download that. It’s very manual; I have to look at each credit memo. We use that to short-pay our excess invoices,” said a retail treasury manager.

A third treasury professional described her carrier’s credit system as a “nightmare.”

BAD CUSTOMER SERVICE

Armored carriers even appear to have a serious issue with basic customer service. Listening to retailers describe it, it become pretty clear that these companies have such a monopoly on the market that they don’t see a need to even try to appease their customers.

One retail practitioner noted that when she attempted to do an RFP with one of the major carriers, she couldn’t even get in touch with anyone. “They were very non-responsive,” she said.

Typically, companies at least make an attempt to win you over to get your business. If a carrier isn’t even making an effort then, you can only imagine how they must be to people who are already their customers. Case in point—another treasurer described her experience working with the same carrier: “We have a new rep with them, and I hear nothing from him,” she said.

POTENTIAL SOLUTIONS

The more pickups a courier is scheduled to make increases the chances for missed pickups. Therefore, retailers who aren’t overflowing with cash on hand may benefit from reducing the number of scheduled pickups. “We renegotiated and went down to one day a week with a lot of our couriers,” said one treasury practitioner.

Another potential solution to reducing the costs and headaches of using armored carriers is to make deposits by mail. It’s as simple as it sounds; the retailer simply puts the cash into a box, mails it, and keeps track of it with a tracking number. “It has better tracking than the armored carriers,” noted one treasurer.

The money is sent in a nondescript USPS, UPS or FedEx box. This is by design; if the boxes were specially marked, then it would highly increase the chances of a theft. There are also limits that are placed on how much cash you can deposit at one time—typically, $10,000 or less.

Finally, there are smart safes and cash recyclers, which are designed to eliminate theft, count bills, detect counterfeits, and reduce reliance on armored car pickups. They are both more secure methods of storing and handling cash, though recyclers take the process a step further and allow retailers to reuse the cash for daily operations, rather than simply store it. But they’re not cheap, so it’s important that retailers only invest in these solutions if they need them.

AFP 2018 has multiple sessions on retail in the Payments Track. View the full list of sessions here.

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