Thomas Cook Nederland wanted to do away with paper-based invoices in order to improve reconciliation and remove manual intervention. With the help of ING, the company implemented an e-payment solution, supported by payments platform iDEAL, which fills in many of the details automatically, leaving the customer with little to do to complete the payment.
Manager Finance and Administration
One of the world’s leading travel operators, Thomas Cook Group PLC has 22.5m customers across 21 countries worldwide. Its Dutch arm, Thomas Cook Nederland BV, generated sales of £8.9 billion in 2010. The company employs some 750 people, approximately 450 of whom work in 127 travel shops in the Netherlands. Each year, 1m Dutch holidaymakers choose Thomas Cook NL to arrange their trips.
When customers book their holiday with Thomas Cook Nederland BV, they receive a paper-based invoice. The invoice contains a payment reference, which the customer must mention in the payment, enabling the travel company to process it. However, the reference information the customer provides in the payment is often incorrect or incomplete, making seamless reconciliation very difficult for the travel operator. Edo Rensman, Manager Finance and Administration, Thomas Cook Nederland BV, explains some of the issues the company commonly encounters: “Take for example the name ‘Jansen’, which is very popular in the Netherlands. If we happen to receive a payment with just the words ‘Jansen, Costa Brava’ mentioned in it, that can be extremely problematic for us. We simply can’t reconcile automatically with that information as it does not provide sufficient detail for the system.”
As a result, the company is obliged to book such payments manually, causing inefficiencies and making the reconciliation process far lengthier than it need be. In addition, due to the 56-day refund period mandated by the PSD, the payer is able to cancel a payment made within that window. This means that last-minute bookers and late payers could cancel their payments and get their Thomas Cook holiday for free. Thomas Cook Nederland BV turned to ING for help in overcoming these challenges.”
The first thing that the ING team did was to sit down with the treasury personnel at Thomas Cook Nederland BV and discuss the difficulties they were experiencing. “ING sent their representatives over to our offices and we spent a few hours talking about all our processes and problems,” says Edo. “Before they arrived, I was a little sceptical as to the value that we would derive from the session and I imagined that they were going to give us the ‘hard sell’, but they didn’t. It was just a chat and a very broad discussion, which helped both them and us to better understand the challenges we were facing.”
The bank put the client and its problems centre-stage by conducting a financial supply chain (FSC) scan; a special diagnostic check that allows ING to familiarise itself with its client’s internal processes and deepen its understanding of the range of challenges the client faces. Once the scan had been performed, the bank was then in a position to help Thomas Cook Nederland BV to overcome its problems. “Once we had fully understood the challenges Thomas Cook Nederland BV faced, we put forward a proposal to implement an e-payment solution. Our FSC approach to a client’s difficulties is an ideal way of putting their needs first and prioritising their objectives,” says Erik Honing, Cash Management Consultant at ING. “This ‘Problem Solved’ is a fine example of a local Dutch issue. In general, for both parties, the FSC approach itself is also an excellent way for better understanding of international processes.”
The e-payment solution is delivered via e-mail and supported by a payments platform known as iDEAL in the Netherlands. iDEAL is an online payments system that is recognised among Dutch customers for its trustworthiness and reliability. It is a guaranteed payment platform, which means that Thomas Cook Nederland BV no longer has to worry about customers cancelling their direct debit payments. In turn, this has led to more accurate cash flow forecasting and means that less time and fewer resources are spent on chasing payments.
“We had approval from the CFO on 24th May and the e-payment email and iDEAL system were tested and implemented just a few weeks later. On 13th July we received our first payment using iDEAL. Since the new system was implemented, we are in much closer contact with ING. “We expect the new system to pay for itself within five months and we fully intend to migrate more of our customers onto this payment method going forward,” says Edo. In terms of processes, Thomas Cook Nederland BV now sends out an email to the customer with a link to the iDEAL platform. By clicking on the link, customers are redirected to the website of their own bank, from where they make the payment. The system fills in many of the details automatically, leaving the customer with little to do to complete the payment. This also ensures that Thomas Cook Nederland BV has the necessary information to be able to seamlessly reconcile the payment, meaning less time and fewer resources have to be allocated to chasing up payments.