Kerry10 March 2016 15:05
Student Group Financial Support is Coming!
We want to introduce an in house financial support system that can function a bit like a bank for Student Groups. This has come from a history of students asking for better financial support, which culminated in a policy that students voted for in 2014 at the Annual General Meeting.
Why are we doing this?
Lots of student groups experience issues with their bank accounts, which can impact the way they function. Some examples of troubles we’ve heard of include:
-Changing signatories (meaning it can take months for new committees to have control of their bank accounts)
-International students being authorised as signatories
-Little consistency/information given from previous committees as to the financial history of the group
Furthermore, this project will mean that it will be easier to transfer money from group funding and the Box Office directly to Student Groups, as well payment of SUSU invoices (e.g. for minibuses and tech crew) being done in house, meaning less work for committees.
Most importantly, this is something that’s been asked for by students, and as financial support is one of the most frequent ways we interact with student groups, it’s amazing that we will be able to provide a convenient service for them.
So, we’ve gone away and investigated how other Students’ Unions operate similar systems, discussed the idea at Student Groups Committee with your elected reps from each zone, and have started thinking about the logistics of developing our own equivalent.
The next stages are to get more information on what functionalities our student groups require, and how we can make it work for them. That’s why we’ve sent out the survey, and asked for groups to take part in the pilot study. We’re not mandating anyone to switch to a SUSU account yet, we’re working out how we can make the system fit for purpose for our groups’ ranging needs.
In the long term, we could even use data from this project to help inform and improve our funding process and guidelines, as well as other ways we can support groups better. For example, if we see that lots of groups spend lots of money on marketing, we could look at getting new screens around campus where groups can put cheap adverts up.
It was great to see so many positive responses to the project’s continuation, as well as a lot of student group engagement in the form of questions. We’ve compiled them all to try and answer them all in one place, if you have more questions- please email firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll keep this blog updated. Next, we’ll be contacting the groups taking part in the pilot study and get that started!
How can SUSU operate as a bank?
Well first of all, it won’t technically be a bank for legal purposes, it will simply be a service for student groups to conveniently manage their finances within SUSU’s accounts. There will be one designated bank account for student groups which will be completely separate from the Union’s account. This money will be one big pot for student groups ONLY.
Will it interfere with the priorities of being a Students’ Union?
Not at all, as it won’t technically be a bank. If anything it will engage student groups more with the Union and will enhance the service we already supply, thus furthering our charitable objects to support our students.
What will happen to our money when SUSU has it- could it be spent elsewhere?
Definitely NOT, this is student groups’ money ONLY and will be kept separate from the rest of the Union’s finances. Every group will have an online statement of the money which belongs to them, so they’ll be able to track their account as well.
Is the scheme opt out?
At this stage we’re just running a pilot, after we have assessed the feasibility of the system, we will decide how the long term scheme will operate in terms of being opt in or out.
How much control will student groups have over their accounts?
Full control in the sense that they will be able to deposit money and pay suppliers as they do now. No expense will be removed from their account without the approved authority from the group (President/Treasurer). You will be able to access your account balance online.
Will student groups have to apply to withdraw money, like a budget that needs approving?
Student groups will have control of how they spend their money, which can be accessed via the cash machine, as a daily limited amount of cash could be dispensed from the cash machine. Or, suppliers could be paid by submitting an invoice authorised by the relevant people (so you this may not be immediate). All groups would be issued with their own user number for the cash machine and they would set their own pin number.
What benefits will it provide?
Overall, we are hoping to provide convenience for student groups. This means no issues with accessing groups money, no issues with changing signatories, payments to suppliers done by SUSU, better links with the Box Office and SUSU funding system, 24/7 online system enabling a snapshot financial position of the group via the Groups Hub.The majority of groups who took part in our survey made less than 20 transactions a year, so this service will be able to help make these transactions quicker and easier.
How will we withdraw cash?
A daily limited amount could be withdrawn from the cash machine. A larger amount could be requested and dispensed by Finance with 48 working hours’ notice.
How will we make transactions?
All memberships would be transferred from the website and box office sales to the relevant group’s accounts. Cash deposits could be done through the cash machine and suppliers could be paid from invoices submitted by groups.
How can we access our account/monitor our balance?
All groups will have access to a 24/7 online system enabling a snapshot financial position (bank statement type info) via the Groups Hub.
How will we deposit money?
Cash could be deposited through the cash machine and cheques could be taken in the Finance department. A lot of the deposits done by groups is usually membership and event income, which will be done automatically through the Box Office. We are planning on doing weekly bank transfers, so at the most we will need 1 week notice.
How will this integrate with other services such as PayPal?
Unfortunately it would not be possible to integrate with services such as PayPal, although our survey suggested that most groups wouldn’t need the use of PayPal. Through doing the pilot study, we will be able to ascertain whether it’s necessary for us to investigate possible alternatives.
Where will the account be held for the pilot scheme?
All money will be held in the relevant group account in the student groups’ bank account. We have already opened a new account with Lloyds for student group money.
What accountability and oversight will there be?
The bank account will be reconciled periodically, just as the Union’s bank account is and will be part of the audit at the end of the financial year. The VP DCI and Student Groups officer will have political governance over the system, as they currently oversee all matters relating to student groups, however they will not interfere with student group money.
What happens if everything goes wrong?
What could possibly go wrong? There would be audit trails to track all transactions going in and coming out of this bank account. I will be creating a policy to go to Student Groups Committee and Union Council to define in council the governance and details of the project. The point of the Pilot scheme is for us to troubleshoot the system so that nothing can go wrong!
How will we ensure it is secure?
It will be a held by Lloyds bank in a current account which would probably be no different to where they are currently holding their money now, so all processes will be subject to strict rules and safeguarding.
Will Union Politics affect how student groups access their money?
No – the money belongs to the student groups and not the Union and as they do now can spend the money on what they want. The new system will in fact be able to help contribute towards the financial transparency of the Union, and will help inform a fairer funding system. As mentioned before the governance of the project will be determined in a policy.
How would I set a SUSU account up and what information would we need?
We will shortly be contacting the groups selected to participate in the pilot, and invite them for a meeting after Easter where will provide all of the information they need about setting up an account, but essentially all they need to do is give us their details and transfer their finances from their current account.
Would it be possible to have more than one account?
Judging by the survey, most student groups only have one account anyway so this shouldn’t be too much of an issue, but through doing the Pilot study we will be able to ascertain whether we will be able to offer extras such as multiple accounts.