Saturday, July 10, 2010

Same-day ACH settlement highlights need for better dispute management tools

By Ed Pearce (

Last week's announcement by the Federal Reserve Board of posting rules for a new same-day automated clearing house (ACH) service brought the topic front and center. Everyone from industry analysts and bloggers to trade publications and associations have expounded the pros and cons of same-day settlement. But virtually unmentioned in the all the hubbub is the potential for more ACH disputes as a result of accelerated settlement -- a scenario most banks are ill-prepared to manage.

Starting next month, the Federal Reserve Banks will be offering a same-day settlement service for certain ACH debit payments through its FedACH service. FedACH customers may opt-in to the service by completing a participation agreement. The service will be limited to transactions arising from consumer checks converted to ACH and consumer debit transfers initiated over the Internet and phone. Same-day forward debit transfers will post to a financial institution's Federal Reserve account at 5 p.m. eastern time, while same-day return debit transfers will post at 5:30 p.m.

As a result of the faster settlement, banks undoubtedly will see more consumers coming into their branches complaining of unauthorized transactions. The limitations of traditional in-house ACH systems and the strict time constraints and complex processing requirements imposed by NACHA rules and Regulation E already have led to sharp increases in operations expenses and higher charge-offs associated with ACH disputes. A new influx of consumer disputes will require financial institutions to implement a more centralized, more streamlined approach to dispute management.

Several features will be critical:

• Real-time distributed data access to any authorized user, anywhere
• Intuitive search capabilities
• The ability to annotate comments to disputed transactions
• The ability to export data
• Expanded search capabilities
• Filtering capabilities to block and restrict access to certain transactions
• Unlimited data storage

It may be some time before same-day ACH settlement achieves critical mass. But the next generation of consumers will demand it. This means that banks must begin adapting their ACH infrastructure today or risk even higher operations costs, as well as falling behind the competition. And this includes deploying sophisticated solutions to manage the inevitable spike in ACH disputes.

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