ASCEND Eases Mercantile Bank of Michigan’s Growing Pains

The $3.6B bank grew from six to 48 branches, doubled their workforce and simultaneously reduced their AP processing time by automating accounts payable with BankTEL’s ASCEND suite.

With: Andrea Whitney, Officer, Financial Reporting Team Lead

Headquartered in Grand Rapids, Mercantile Bank of Michigan is deeply rooted in supporting the communities it serves, whether through direct financial contributions or charitable service and volunteer efforts.

Over the past 23 years, this customer-centric approach has helped the community bank grow to become one of the state’s largest banks. Throughout this tremendous growth, Mercantile Bank of Michigan has continued to expand its offerings, services and technology to meet the needs of the individuals, companies and corporations it serves across the state.

The Challenge

With the 2014 merger with Firstbank Corp. of Alma, Mercantile Bank of Michigan’s geographic footprint increased from six branches and 300 employees in Grand Rapids to 48 branches and nearly 700 employees statewide.

The bank knew their manual processes were inefficient, and would make it incredibly challenging to scale. The paper-heavy accounts payable system was time-consuming and relied on endless Manila folders, file cabinets and spreadsheets. A single, full-time employee was already struggling to manage accounts payable manually for six branches.

“We needed a new accounts payable process,” says Andrea Whitney, Officer, Financial Reporting Team Lead. “What we were doing was very, very manual. We were looking for efficiencies and wanted to go paperless.”

The Solution

After evaluating several different companies, Mercantile chose BankTEL. “They understood us,” says Whitney. “It’s an understatement to say it saves us a lot of time. I don’t even know how to quantify it. With ASCEND, we are a 48 branch institution, easily processing 2,000 invoices a month with one employee and no problems.”

Mercantile Bank of Michigan adopted the following BankTEL ASCEND solutions:

  • Accounts Payable – allows the bank to effortlessly schedule transactions and pay bills with a completely automated process
  • Prepaid & Accruals – to automate monthly prepaid and accrual items
  • Approval Workflow – enables managers to approve invoices and vendors electronically, creating a detailed audit trail
  • Expense Report Reimbursement – for managing employee expenses, reimbursements, electronic receipts, and credit card transactions
  • Remote Imaging – a critical component that empowers branches and remote employees to scan and submit invoices and documents from anywhere
  • Vendor Management – to track and maintain risk assessments, contracts, and important dates of vendor relationships

Faster Payments

ASCEND helped Mercantile Bank of Michigan optimize their accounts payable process so payments could be processed much faster, and with significantly less effort.

Due to the bank’s exponential growth, which doubled the number of employees and added 42 branches, the volume of AP processing grew tremendously. However, automating accounts payable and going paperless with ASCEND made it possible for a single employee to comfortably process around 2,000 invoices per month.  

“The input/approval process timeline became much, much shorter,” says Whitney. “If someone needed to get paid, we could do it that same day instead of waiting for paperwork to get here and waiting for the processor to input it.”

Remote scanning played a significant role in speeding up payment processing for the bank as remote employees and branches in rural parts of the state can now submit invoices, documents and expense reports in real-time, which dramatically speeds up the workflow.

ASCEND helped Mercantile Bank of Michigan accelerate payments to both vendors and employees.

Expedited Expense Report Processing

Before BankTEL, employees filled out an expense report and put the paperwork on a manager’s desk for approval. Once approved, the manager would send the report via interoffice mail to be entered into the system manually so the payment could ultimately be issued. The whole process took about a week.

Now, with ASCEND, employees are reimbursed within three days of submitting an expense report. Employees can access the system at any point to find out if their expense report has been approved, or where it is in the process.

The ease and speed of this process was crucial with the growth of Mercantile Bank of Michigan’s team. “With the merger, we doubled the number of corporate credit card holders, from under 100 to 200,” says Whitney. “Now, all we have to do to process corporate credit cards is get a data extract from VISA, upload it, and the BankTEL module will populate all those credit cardholders’ expense reports.”

Efficient Vendor Management 

Before adopting ASCEND, Mercantile Bank of Michigan had difficulty organizing and keeping track of vendor profiles, which were kept in file folders. “We didn’t have an efficient way to keep up with them,” says Whitney.

“Now we have one integrated system where we can set up the vendor for electronic payment, have their IRS information, contact name, location, and type of vendor, all in one place.”

Streamlined Compliance

In the ever-changing world of compliance, it was challenging for Mercantile Bank of Michigan to pull together all of the necessary information. BankTEL helped streamline compliance by providing easy access to all required information digitally. 

“Before, it was a huge, manual process, with Manila folders and paper and tracking spreadsheets,” says Whitney. “Now we can simply run a report in ASCEND and upload it to the IRS for end-of-year reporting.”

Improved Efficiency Across the Board 

Automating their accounts payable process with ASCEND helped ease the transition of Mercantile Bank of Michigan’s rapid growth as they more than doubled in size. By removing the dependency on time-consuming, paper-heavy processes, the bank was able to streamline their AP and scale without any service interruptions.

Hear Andrea Whitney discuss how automating their accounts payable helped Mercantile Bank of Michigan grow seamlessly in this webinar.

“We just had our first external audit with ASCEND. I scheduled a 30-minute sit-down with the auditor to look at specific items. This process would have taken about six hours before ASCEND. The auditor couldn’t get over how easy and accurate it was. She said at least 10 of her bank clients immediately came to mind, that should start using BankTEL. She took a stack of my cards, to give to the accountants at these banks, in case they wanted to call with questions.”

“I’ve been through the conversion process to new software before, and it’s usually a nightmare. Nothing balances and nothing works. But with ASCEND, things balanced and things worked. It was a very easy move.”

“With BankTEL, everything was more streamlined, there was better reconcilement, better functionality and better security on the user-side of things. It was a major step up for us.”

“Banks deal with accounting every part of every day. It’s a core part of the business. To be able to maneuver through the system and have the detail of records, the tracking and reporting that are available at BankTEL, was long overdue. Ascend is leagues ahead of where we were previously.”

“One thing I like about BankTEL is that they always want to know what you want and how they can make their product better. They like to listen to customers.”