Areas of Expertise

  • Enterprise Web Portals
  • Cloud Hosting
  • Business Process Automation

Industries

  • Technology
  • Finance

Technology Used

Challenge

Six Feet Up was engaged by Hightower Services to help create a web application for managing prepaid funeral contracts for their MasterChoice members, which are funeral homes across several states.

In a nutshell, the contract dollars are invested into one of the primary investment funds. Each day, the value of those funds and individual contract shares are updated via a daily market valuation that is managed and sent by the partner bank. The app needed to help streamline, manage and audit the investment and disbursement mechanism.

Hightower had been relying on services that provided limited visibility to the contracts and funds data. There was very little transparency in the processes used for tracking inputs and withdrawals. There was no clear auditing process. And to make things worse, there was a great deal of manual input required, which introduced human errors into a financial tracking system.

All of these issues led to a lack of confidence in the information presented to the Hightower management team. Daily communication between systems, data security and transparent reporting were high on the list of concerns.

Six Feet Up was tasked with building a new app and ensuring the system passed a PCI level 4 security audit. The project mandated working with the other service providers to ensure transparency and consistency between all systems moving forward.

Six Feet Up began by migrating the management of the contracts from an outdated service to a new one that allowed the Hightower team to fully manage the contracts and all the information attached to them. Then Six Feet Up architected, developed and deployed a Django app.

Implementation Details

Requirements Gathering

When Six Feet Up came into the project, the requirements were limited. The set expectation was to finish up a project that was mostly complete. The reality, though, was that the project was barely started and would require a rebuild from scratch. Working with the previous service provider as well as the fiduciary made it challenging to gather the full specs of what the system should do. After many meetings and hours of research, the Six Feet Up team was able to put together clear specs to communicate with the stakeholders.

Security

Since the app was dealing with people's money and private information, it had to ensure both data security and accuracy of the shares down to the exact decimal point. This took a lot of coordination work with the bank as well as a fair amount of research to ensure the correct rounding and calculations were used to guarantee contract holders were receiving the correct payout. 

The app used Amazon's S3 to securely handle the storage of over 22,000 contracts and 2+ documents on each contract. User session management, SSN encryption, intrusion detection and utilization of the AWS Shared Responsibility Model participated in ensuring data security and integrity.

Automated Cross-Platform Communication

In order to address the manual process of communicating fund valuations and transaction requirements, Six Feet Up developed a means for automatically receiving and ingesting the fund valuation files from the bank. The files are now dropped into a secure SFTP server that sits outside of the app, and then the file is picked up via an API. 

Once the file is ingested, the new valuations are applied across all new transactions and a file is generated to send back to the bank. with details on what buys and sells to execute for the contracts.

Process Automation

Working with the other service providers, Six Feet Up was able to prevent rounding errors, timing differences with transaction processing and discrepancies with fund balances. This all led to the automation of processes, including: 

  • Instituting a policy of rounding unit transactions and balances to four decimal places in order to ensure accuracy between the partners;
  • Removing the human element by automating the ingestion of fund valuations and transaction reporting;
  • Automating payment letter generation, death claims processing and month-end reconciliation reporting;
  • Automating daily fund drift calculations;
  • Sending out real-time alerts when fund balances are not as expected.

Reconciliations

The new system had to make sure there would be no discrepancies with the fund balances received at the time of takeover. So 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 and then historically repaired any contract or transaction that was potentially impacted;
  • Identified a path for ongoing reconciliation to ensure data integrity.

Tax Reporting

In order to allow Hightower to produce, validate and send their own tax documentation to their clients and contract holders, Six Feet Up developed exhaustive calculations requirements that were carefully validated with the client. 

Results

Throughout the project, Six Feet Up and Hightower worked hand-in-hand to ensure the development of a robust platform that would allow the client to not only manage the funeral contracts, but also provide detailed and accurate reporting of those contracts to the funeral homes and the fiduciary.

Rather than relying on various external parties to manually manage spreadsheets, email valuation files and provide fund statements, Hightower and their clients now have a secure, reliable system that allows oversight and accountability for all parties involved in the management of the investment contracts. Six Feet Up and Hightower were excited to launch their contract management system. It is currently managing over 12,000 active contracts across several states.

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