Areas of Expertise

  • Business Process Automation
  • App Development

Industries

  • Finance

Technology Used

Challenge

Planning for a funeral — and the expenses that come with it — can be a burden for those who have lost a loved one. To alleviate this burden and to help people preplan and prepay for their funerals, the MasterChoice Investment Trust Fund, managed by Hightower Services, was created. In collaboration with funeral homes (a.k.a.: MasterChoice members) across the nation, the MasterChoice Investment Trust Fund provides families a safe and secure place to invest funds for future funeral expenses.

Managing prepaid funeral contracts is a complex process with many moving pieces. Hightower Services knew they needed a web application that would provide automation and allow for visibility into the contracts and funds data. Because the MasterChoice Investment Trust Fund uses a daily market valuation process, each of the individual funds and contract shares needed to be accurate. Plus, the data needed to be readily available.

The Challenge?

  • ensure the system passed a PCI level 4 security audit (for merchants who process fewer than 20,000 transactions per year),
  • provide transparency and consistency for third-party service providers, and
  • migrate data from an outdated database to a manageable Django application.

Hightower Services sought help from Six Feet Up’s expert developers to architect, develop and deploy a Django app.

Implementation Details

Prior to engaging Six Feet Up, Hightower Services was using a technology that provided little transparency into the processes used for tracking inputs and withdrawals; had a vague auditing process; and required a great deal of manual input, which introduced human errors into a financial tracking system.

To improve the existing system and provide greater transparency, the new application had to ensure both data security and accuracy of the shares — down to the exact decimal point. Contract holders were guaranteed the correct payout, so it was critical for the system to calculate these funds precisely.

At its core, the new system used Amazon's S3 to securely handle the storage of over 22,000 contracts with a minimum of two documents attached to each contract. User session management, SSN encryption, intrusion detection and utilization of the AWS Shared Responsibility Model ensured data security and integrity.

Automated Cross-Platform Communication

To address the manual process of communicating fund valuations and transaction requirements, Six Feet Up developers created automations for receiving and ingesting the fund valuation files from the bank. The completed system’s files were then dropped into a secure SFTP server that lived outside of the app, and the file was picked up via an API. Once the file was ingested, the valuations were applied across all new transactions and a file for the bank was generated with details on which buys and sells to execute on each fund.

Process Automation

In collaboration with third-party service providers, Six Feet Up eliminated rounding errors, timing differences for transaction processing and discrepancies with fund balances by automating several processes. Specifically, Six Feet Up:

  • instituted a policy of rounding unit transactions and balances to four decimal places to ensure accuracy between the partners;
  • removed the human element by automating the ingestion of fund valuations and transaction reporting;
  • automated payment letter generation, death claims processing, month-end reconciliation reporting, and daily fund drift calculations; and
  • implemented real-time alerts when fund balances were not as expected.

Reconciliations

To ensure there would be no discrepancies with the fund balances received at the time of takeover, the Six Feet Up team:

  • performed an audit of the original contract files provided at the inception of the project;
  • identified processes that could potentially result in future fund balance discrepancies;
  • identified a path for correction of these processes, then historically repaired any contract or transaction that was potentially impacted; and
  • identified a path for ongoing reconciliation to ensure data integrity.

Tax Reporting

Hightower Services also needed to produce, validate and send tax documentation for the company’s clients and contract holders. To create a seamless reporting process, Six Feet Up worked closely with Hightower Services and the third-party partners to ensure all calculations were accurate and complete.

Results

The Django-based application/financial contract management system — MyMasterChoice — allows Hightower Services to easily manage funeral contracts and provide both detailed and accurate reporting about the contracts to funeral homes and fiduciaries. Additionally, the secure and reliable application provides oversight of and accountability for all parties involved in the management of the investment contracts. 

MyMasterChoice includes more than 12,000 active contracts across several states, and, according to Hightower Services, the investment is already paying off. In fact, MyMasterChoice has paid for itself in the form of new contracts and time saved. Hightower Services has also received several requests from other associations to license the application. 

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