Think about it. We're still paying our mortgages and credit cards with paper checks. Not you, maybe... You're paying online. But companies like Countrywide and Option One receive millions of payments per month in envelopes. Millions! And they almost always get it right! It works like this:
The post office delivers the mail in trays, each holding about 1,000 envelopes. The trays are stacked in steel carts on wheels. Each cart can hold about 30 trays. The carts are stacked up in the mailroom four or five deep per shift.
The young lady celebrating her birthday (I took this picture in Texas where they obviously know how to celebrate a birthday) is standing in front of a fully automated machine that sucks in envelopes at a rate of three per second. Three and 1/2 seconds later, it pockets the check, now separated from the payment stub, and sends a data file and an image file to a remittance processing engine (computer.) Think a $400,000 letter opener!
That's 10,000 envelopes per hour per machine. The average mortgage payment exceeds $1,000. You do the math! In Phoenix, as you are reading this, Chase Bank has an operation out by Sky Harbor airport with (last I knew) seven of these machines running 24 hours a day, 7 days per week, all year long.
The operator's job is to place envelopes on to a conveyor (bottom left in the picture) that feeds the machine and to remove the stacked checks from bins as they fill up. If your payment was in the run, no one but you ever touched your check until it was cancelled and posted.
The machine, in 3 1/2 seconds, qualified your envelope (one document, one check, nothing folded, nothing else,) cut it open on three sides, peeled the envelope away from the contents like you peel a banana, oriented and sequenced the document and the check (if you put it in upside down and backwards, the machine turned it right-side-up and face forward,) checked the envelope full length and pulled it into a shredding system.
It captured an image of the doc and the check. It read those images, compared them, and found out
(1) who you are, (account number)
(2) how much you owe, (amount due field in the scan line--all those little numbers at the bottom)
(3) when it's due, (date due field)
(4) whether it's past due, (compares today's date with date due field)
(5) how much you paid (the numbers you inked in the courtesy amount field and scribbled on the line)
(6) and whether that amount is the minimum due or some other amount. And it cancelled your check for the amount written. Yes, Dorothy, it CAN read your handwriting.
And no one but you ever touched your check!
Or looked at it.
And if you folded the check, or included a post-it note? The machine outsorts that envelope unopened, and it gets processed by a human being on an automated desk like this one. My friend John, seated at the Model 50 Rapid Extraction Desk, is the OPEX salesperson here in Arizona.
John would tell you that the cost to the bank to process your payment at this desk is as much as 25 times the cost of processing it on the fully automated machine above.
He would also tell you that people make a mistake on your account at a rate more than 10 times the rate on the fully automated machine! And you folks who use Check Free or some other online system? Many of those systems bundle your payment with 99 other payments, and cut a paper check to the payee, along with a paper adding machine type tape that includes all 100 account numbers and amounts paid. When it gets to the payment processing center, a person has to key the data back into a new system for posting. You don't want to do that.
And if you walk in and pay at the front desk?
(John again, on the left:)
We hope we get it right!
I had the privelege in a past life of working as National Sales Manager for OPEX Corporation, located in Moorestown, NJ.
Somewhere, we have a picture of the Queen of England, at the Royal Bank of Scotland, standing in front of the fully automated System 150-IEM. Big hat, little purse. I couldn't find it! LOL
Mike in Tucson