The Undergraduate Association’s Controlled Value Card committee is beginning beta testing for its controlled value cards program this semester.
By issuing the value cards, which are pre-paid credit cards that charge against student-groups’ accounts, the committee hopes to solve what Assistant Director of Student Activities and Finance Colin M. Codner calls the ‘buying problem.’
“Currently, groups have to front a bunch of money” for large purchases, Codner told The Tech. He explained that while groups have other options, such as asking him to charge the expense to his procurement card, those options are not always feasible, and student groups often resort to fronting the money and filling out a request for payment (RFP). With the CVCs, “students [in student groups] don’t have to worry about fronting the money,” he said.
The committee used a lottery to select 26 of the 47 groups that applied to be a part of the beta test. “The number of groups within each type of group… was predetermined,” said Cory D. Hernandez ’14, UA Treasurer and co-chairman of the CVC committee. Club sport groups, dorms, Finboard-funded groups, organizations funded by the Graduate Student Council, student governments, and unfunded groups are all part of the testing set.
The beta test, which came after a 19-group alpha test that took place last fall, is designed to determine the effects of increased CVC transactions on the SAO’s workload and give the committee a chance to test out the CVC application process, Hernandez told The Tech.
Hernandez noted in an email that five of the 19 groups in the alpha test will not participate in the beta test; one had been removed from the alpha test due to “misuse of the card,” and four were not included because they had not used the card at all.
Hernandez explained the rules regarding CVCs in an email to The Tech: only one member of each group may be a cardholder; the cardholder must attend a training session with Codner; and the card may not be used to buy alcohol, pay sales taxes, or cover travel expenses. He added that cardholders must provide the Student Activities Office (SAO) with original receipts within ten days.
“Any procurement process has both a paper side and electronic side,” Codner explained. “The students are still required to do the paper side,” he said. But with the CVCs, “they’re not scanning receipts or uploading anything.” Unlike with RFPs, expenses do not have to be forwarded to a treasurer electronically before the treasurer forwards them to the SAO, he said. Nor does the cardholder have to personally deliver the receipts to the SAO — they may mail them across campus using free inter-departmental mail or have another person deliver them.
Codner and Hernandez both stressed that travel expenses consist of any purchases made while on a trip, including things like food. For large travel expenses, “Colin has a procurement card; some groups use it to book hotels or purchase airline tickets,” Hernandez said in an interview.
Codner said that travel expenses charged to the CVC, and charges for which the student does not provide a receipt within 26 days, are charged to the SWEPT account that lists unverifiable expense, which creates an audit liability. Codner said that if sales tax is charged by mistake, the retailer or restaurant will often refund it. When that is not possible, the sales tax is considered an unallowable expense. The Institute considers both audit liabilities and unallowable expenses when deciding whether to continue issuing the group a CVC, he said. In extreme cases, the card could be revoked. Codner stressed that “the [most common] reason things were SWEPT was delayed turning in of receipts as opposed to other situations.”
Turner Bohlen, the other co-chairman on the CVC committee, said that while there is a learning curve, most mistakes, such as accidentally charging a travel expense, are unlikely to happen more than once.
Hernandez said that 68 percent of the money charged against the CVCs during the alpha test was for food, and 25 percent was for Amazon purchases. Codner explained that it is not reasonable to compare the number of transactions, because Amazon bills the card only after an item has shipped, meaning that a single multi-item purchase on Amazon is likely to show up as several transactions.
Codner said that the CVCs don’t seem to create much additional work for the SAO, given that their verification process is less work intensive than the labor for RFPs. This is counterbalanced by the additional volume due to the way Amazon bills the CVCs.
Reflecting on future plans for the CVC rollout, Hernandez said that the committee would like to issue multiple cards to groups. Some groups that host “multiple large events,” he explained, would appreciate “a card for each director.”