Debit card system could be costly, complex

Proposed Q.Ca$h initiative is a possibility, but other attempts have stalled before

Residence and Hospitality Services Director Bruce Griffiths says he has spoken with the AMS almost every year about an expanded flex-dollar system.
Residence and Hospitality Services Director Bruce Griffiths says he has spoken with the AMS almost every year about an expanded flex-dollar system.

Bruce Griffiths, director of residence and hospitality services, said that he has spoken with the aMS almost every year about setting up an expanded flex dollar system.

“There’s some fairly restrictive tax regulations for meal plans,” he said. because the meal plan in use at Queen’s is tax-exempt, flex ollars can only be used for meals, Griffiths said. The meal plans are not-for-profit, he said, so a student only pays $240 for $250 worth of flex dollars.

“We would have to ask the aMS for a 10 per cent commission, which is a pretty big amount of money,” he said, adding that the commission could even be larger, to account for administrative and service costs. Griffiths said the aMS could look intosetting up its own system, but it could be unnecessarily costly.

“i’m not sure there is [a need],” he said.

Griffiths said there are no legal estrictions in terms of the liquor license that would prevent such a program from being used to buy alcohol, as long as the proper taxes are admitted. However, he said, he wouldn’t recommend allowing alcohol purchases from a safety point of view. “if a student brings $20 to the bar, they’re going to spend $20 on alcohol,” he said. “if a student has a card loaded ith money [they’re going to spend more].”

When dan Jacob was working as aMS advancement and development officer last year, he developed the idea of SWiPe—a debit-card loyalty program. “We wanted to create a card that linked a digital card to the interac system,” he said, adding that the card would also grant students discounts at downtown stores and restaurants. To develop the idea, Jacob, who is now aMS media and volunteer director, worked with Mike Cotton, a SWiPe co-ordinator hired by the aMS executive team, and employees at Givex, the company that would organize the system.

The project never got off the ground, however, as complications arose with the proposed “digital coupon” system. “The technology was new and when we tried it out, we realized there was a lot of red tape,” Jacob said. “The program in its original concept had to be re-worked.”

Later in the summer, when they began brainstorming other options, Jacob said, they came up with a odel similar to the Q.Ca$h program proposed by aMS executive candidates Team TPC. Jacob said the system would use the Point of Sale (POS) terminals set up at aMS services to digitally track inventory, and would allow students to use a card system similar to the flex dollars students use at campus food retailers.

Jacob said he spoke with Wells Hospitality Systems, a company that provides similar services for businesses such as Gusto, Chez Piggy and the Kingston brewing Company, to look into providing the service.

This idea never came to life either, Jacob said. This time, it was because of the price tag.
“For this program, you would need a server to set it up, new cards … and administration fees,” he said.
“all said and done, it could cost between $50,000 to $100,000 for the equipment, and possibly up to $150,000 just to launch,” he said, citing paying someone to run the system, advertising and a service contract with the system provider as costs. “Coming from a student government standpoint, frankly, it wasn’t a good use of student money.” Jacob said he looked into running the service internally, but that this, also, appeared to be too costly.

“The thing is, even though we could run it on all the POS systems, we still needed a central server to facilitate the program, as well as a system which could effectively register the cards on the database.” He said because of those costs, they didn’t think it was a worthwhile project. Jacob added that this stem wouldn’t improve service quality, because the wait at services like the Common Ground or the QP
isn’t due to the transaction time but to the actual service time for food or drinks. Jacob said they didn’t turn to expanding flex dollars to include aMS services because of complications with Sodexho’s contract
with Queen’s.

John Paterson, VP (operations) candidate for Team TPC, said the main challenge to implementing the WiPe program last year was there was no way to connect all the retailers under one system, a problem that an aMS-only card won’t have to deal with because of the point-of-sale system installed
at aMS services over the summer.

“All the POS systems are connected—they can all communicate,” he said, adding that they’re connected by a central server. Paterson, who is taking a leave of absence from his position as aMS information technology officer, said they wouldn’t need to bring in any outside technology in order
to get Q.Ca$h running. “The iT office can write the software to do the transaction. … in terms of actual development it’d be fairly simple,” he said. “We’re trying to use pieces already in place, to keep costs own using existing systems.” alvin Tedjo, TPC’s presidential candidate, said this wouldn’t require any additional resources. “[Paterson] knows the capability of the iTO; he selected the permanent staff,” he said. The Q.Ca$h system would allow students to put money on their student cards using an online transfer system run through the Queen’s iTS office. The payments would be made with a credit card and would go through the same system students use for paying for anything else with a credit card at Queen’s, such as ordering a transcript.

This would use an existing service, Paterson said, and would ensure students’ privacy because their credit card information would be processed by Queen’s, not through the aMS.

Students could then swipe their aMS student card at any of the aMS services, except for the Greenroom, which doesn’t have the Point of Sale system, for an easy payment method.

Paterson said the aMS would be charged six cents every time a student loaded money onto his or her student card, but the aMS would easily be able to make up the costs because students would be spending the money at aMS services. Paterson said he’s unsure as to the exact development time, but that it wouldn’t take the iTO very long to set up the proposed system. “it’s not that complicated,” he said. “it’s a simple database … using a system that’s already in place.”

Paterson said students wouldn’t be able to use Q.Ca$h to buy alcohol, although he hasn’t yet determined how the restriction would be put in place. Common Ground manager Catherine O’reilly said the proposed Q.Ca$h service sounds like a good idea. “if it worked, that would be great … i just hope they would look into it,” she said. “i would hope they would talk to all the services and get some feedback just to make sure they know how to design it to help all the services best.”

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