Sunday, August 12, 2018

A Senior Missionary Opportunity

In 2015, I finished 40 years as a computer programmer. For the last 20 of those years, I was developing and enhancing credit union software to manage assets and liabilities, income and expense, debits and credits, payables and receivables.

Beginning April 1, 2016, my wife and I served 26 months in the office of the New York New York South Mission (now the New York City Mission). She was mission secretary and I was finance secretary.

Accounts receivable and accounts payable

Receivable: When a business sells goods or services on credit, the purchaser becomes indebted to the business for the amount of the purchase and the unpaid amounts—not yet received—are accounts receivable.

Payable: When a business buys on credit things to sell (or stuff to make things to sell), the deferred payments for those purchases are accounts payable.

The Missionary Department provides amazing computer support for accounts payable, but leaves missionaries to their own devices when it comes to collecting accounts receivable. In fact, collecting receivables is, by nature, more difficult and takes more time than payables because the collection process involves sending periodic notices to the debtor and a receipt each time a payment is received.

Accounts payable in LDS missions

During our 26 months in New York, I paid more than 2,500 rent invoices and more than 3,200 utility bills—plus other miscellaneous invoices. Preparing those payments was fast and efficient because the process is computerized by the Missionary Department's IMOS (Internet Mission Office System), making entry quick and easy, and virtually eliminating human error.

Not so with accounts receivable.

Receivables and missionary prepaid debit cards

On the payables side of missionary support cards, monthly funding is automated by IMOS. However, during our 26 months in New York, I encountered hundreds of other questions and problems related to these prepaid debit cards.

Often, the missionary simply needed help understanding his or her card balance. Fortunately, the bank provided office staff access to missionary account histories which allowed me to quickly resolve these issues.

But sometimes fraudulent transactions were discovered on a card and sometimes the card was lost or stolen. In these cases, I would call the bank and they would cancel the card and issue a new one.

According to policy in our mission, when a card was cancelled, funds were added to the companion's support card for the support of the cardholder while waiting for his or her replacement card.

On the receivables side of missionary support cards, when the replacement card arrived, the temporary support loans had to be repaid from the cardholder's account.

Tracking the collection of these receivables was handled external to IMOS because IMOS isn't designed to manage missionary debit card loans (receivables).

Traffic and parking fines as receivables

In our mission, some fifty missionary companionships drove Church-owned cars which were registered to the Corporation of the Presiding Bishop with the mission office as the mailing address. During our time in New York, the mission office received notice of more than 150 traffic and parking fines from courts in the New York City area.

The policy in our mission was to pay these fines immediately and then collect the amount paid from those missionaries assigned to the vehicle at the time of the violation. This resulted in more than 300 accounts receivable. Again, the tracking and collection of these fines had to be done external to IMOS because IMOS isn't designed to manage traffic and parking fines as receivables.

Mission processing of payables and receivables

The number of temporary card loans and traffic and parking fines to be collected was small compared to the number of payable items. But without receivable software, these accounts were the source of more frustration and mistakes than all of the payables combined.

Even today, hundreds of senior missionaries assigned to mission offices throughout the world have to invent their own solutions for handling receivables. Those without accounting background are unaware that the rest of the world has receivables software and, being unaware, they just bravely press forward without complaint.

The resulting lack of complaints has the Missionary Department believing there is no problem. Nevertheless, IMOS could and should process receivables just as efficiently as it does payables and it is unfair to senior missionaries who could use receivables software for the Missionary Department to withhold it.

Yes, Virginia, missions have receivables

During my first month in New York, I asked mission support in Salt Lake City about the lack of accounts receivable functionality in IMOS. The answer given was that LDS missions do not sell goods or services and, therefore, have no accounts receivable.

This logic is the result of a superficial analysis, based solely on the fact that missions don't sell goods or services. In reality, however, mission offices do have accounts receivable, in the form of support card loans and traffic and parking fines as discussed above.

This will not be a quick or easy fix

The lack of accounts receivable in IMOS is a design flaw. The omission traces back to a lapse in the original planning for the mission office system.

The addition of accounts receivable to IMOS is long overdue. It is the correction of a fundamental error in the original design of IMOS.

It is claimed that the Missionary Department budget is too small to accommodate this project, therefore, very little can be done at this time to fix IMOS.

The cost to correct this oversight is not a valid reason to perpetuate the error. The Missionary Department can provide the best estimate of that cost but, for discussion purposes, we will use the large, round number of one million dollars.

Where will the needed funds come from

Reuters is a London-based news agency with worldwide offices. In a 2012 news article, Reuters reported:

"Relying heavily on church records in countries that require far more disclosure than the United States, [Ryan] Cragun and Reuters estimate that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints brings in some $7 billion annually in tithes and other donations." (See "Mormon church made wealthy by donations".)

"Seven billion dollars annually" (six years ago).

The funds are in the Church's overall budget

Seven billion dollars is one million dollars times seven thousand. Consider this simple illustration. A standard ream of copy paper contains 500 sheets. Fourteen reams contain 7,000 sheets.

Let us use a stack of 14 standard reams of copy paper to represent the estimated donations received by the Church in one year. Let a single sheet of paper, removed from the top ream, represent a budget of one million dollars set aside to correct the IMOS receivables design flaw.

It would require special equipment just to measure the difference in weight or height of our 14 ream stack of copy paper before and after removal of that single sheet of paper.

In other words, compared with the Church's income for a single year, one million dollars is relatively insignificant, especially in view of the Church's long-term commitment to missionary work.

The Missionary Department budget will be adequate after the correct allocation of available funds. The only thing lacking is a solid commitment from the Missionary Department to fix IMOS. And the sooner the better.

In the meantime, there is a senior missionary opportunity for couples willing to manage mission finances without IMOS accounts receivable.

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