Online solution simplifies card payments for a growing vacation rental company

Teresa Schulstadt, Schulstadt Rentals, August 1, 2018
Zero. That’s the number of successful fraudulent chargebacks Schulstadt Rentals has experienced since 2016 when we started using Hancock Whitney’s Biller Express online solution for accepting customer payments.
 
A family business
My husband Herb and I founded our Panama City Beach, Fla., vacation rentals business a decade ago. About the time of the recession, we bought a condo unit at the Majestic Beach Resort as an investment. Herb was the resort’s onsite realtor at the time, and I was a retired postmaster. We soon figured out we could provide a higher quality stay and make more money managing the unit ourselves, rather than paying the rental company. When other owners saw what we were doing, they started asking us to manage their units for them. Today, we own two units at Majestic Beach and manage 33 others.
 
Herb handles the maintenance. My daughter Kendyl manages reservations, guest relations and housekeeping. And I oversee the finances and administration, among other things, with part-time help from my son Andy, a school teacher. We have one other full-time employee, and during the busy summer months we have a housekeeping staff of about 15.
 
Hancock Whitney Biller Express simplifies online payments
 
Running a successful business is a family affair for the Schulstadts. Left to right: Andy Ward, Herb Schulstadt, Sandy Jowers, Hancock Whitney Vice President and Treasury Services Representative, Teresa Schulstadt, and Kendyl Covington.
 

Change in card rules results in fraud
What we can’t afford in our family business is credit card fraud losses, and in six weeks’ time in 2016 we got hit twice with a scam that cost us $2,500.
 
We were vulnerable due to a change in credit card rules impacting hospitality businesses. At the time, we were accepting rent payments by phone and online. What we learned — too late — was that new rules required hospitality businesses to verify and scan credit cards upon check-in, or else forfeit the right to challenge chargebacks arising from any renter dispute. But that wasn’t part of our process.
 
Twice we had people stay for a week but later attempt a chargeback claiming someone had fraudulently used their card information to rent the unit. We had a signed electronic rental agreement, we never had their credit card information (it was tokenized) and we could prove the payment was initiated from their IP address. But we couldn’t win the disputes because we hadn’t verified the cardholders’ identities in person, as the rules require.

A well-timed email from our bank
Shortly after these incidents I received an email from Hancock Whitney, our longtime bank, explaining the Biller Express online payment solution and its fraud-fighting benefits. I talked to my treasury management representative, Sandy Jowers, and signed up. It was just what we needed.
 
Today not only do all of our renters make their reservations online, but they also must pay online — we no longer take card payments by phone. Now, when someone books a reservation, we send them a confirming email reporting the amount they owe and asking them to click on a link to a site where they initiate their card payment.
 
With Biller Express we’re outsourcing the payment acceptance step of the reservations process. Hancock Whitney takes the renter’s payment information and handles all of the card verifications to ensure we meet all regulations and remain protected from fraud. (The service has a split payment capability, so a renter can pay for a unit with multiple cards, if desired.)

No fraud, greater efficiency
We still get the occasional renter issuing a chargeback to try to get a free vacation. But none have been successful. The reporting we get from Hancock Whitney helps us fend off attempts to defraud the business, and I consult with Sandy to make sure I’m taking all the right steps to challenge any improper chargebacks.
 
In addition to eliminating card-fraud concerns, Biller Express has made our business more efficient. We used to have another full-time office employee to help accept credit card payments by phone, take reservation information and enter it into our system, and follow up on collecting payments. By adopting Biller Express, we were able to streamline our operations and save about $50,000 a year.

A relationship that keeps paying dividends
From the start, the bank has been very attentive. As a new business owner, I needed guidance, and my Hancock Whitney banker quickly became my go-to person for getting things done.
 
In recent years, I’ve been working with Sandy to institute effective treasury management solutions, such as commercial online banking and ACH for transferring funds to our condo owners and initiating direct deposit of payroll.
 
I like knowing there’s someone at my bank I can call whenever I have a question or problem. Biller Express is just the latest example of how Hancock Whitney has been there with a solution whenever we needed one.