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October 2004
By the People, For the People
By Heather Head

     Although a relatively young company, Crown Solutions is developing a reputation for exceptional service to its banking and direct clientele, offering convenience and efficiency through their remittance and document processing and related services. Clients rave about the company’s outstanding performance and reliability, and the management team exudes confidence and enthusiasm for their profession.

     Shortly after leaving his position in senior management with a top-five bank, Bill Miller assembled a team of professionals to serve what he saw as a growing need in the Charlotte area and nationally. In the fast-expanding Charlotte market, increasing numbers of companies are seeking to focus more closely on their core business and choosing to outsource their remittance and document processing.

     The business is a natural for this team, with Miller as president and CEO bringing more than 20 years of cash management and bank operations experience to the table; Faith Young, managing director of customer relations, adding 18 years of experience in customer care and quality control; and Joe Kufhta, a retired officer of the Marine Corps, contributing 22 years of experience with extensive knowledge in all aspects of operations.

     Together, the three principals designed and refurbished a 23,000-square-foot facility, and set in motion a company whose devotion to and outstanding performance in serving their clients and employees is earning them quite a reputation.

     Crown Solutions offers traditional lockbox (remittance processing), document processing, filing, and an array of related services, plus some of the most advanced technology and state-of-the-art risk management and security features available in the industry.

     Where most similar companies specialize in wholesale or retail, Crown Solutions serves both, as well as both large-volume clients and smaller volume clients and those requiring exception processing.

     This uniquely wide array of options creates challenges for Crown Solutions as well as opportunities, but for the client it means a much simpler process and greater consistency throughout their processing.

     Another way that Crown Solutions provides superior service to their clients is in the way the company is organized. Bureaucracy is minimized to ensure that clients can speak immediately to the person or people responsible for any given aspect of a job. Questions get answered and problems get resolved in an expedient manner. Fewer layers of bureaucracy also mean lower overhead and the ability to price their services very competitively.


Tools of the Trade

     As Young puts it, the technology at Crown Solutions is “very robust.” This is important in an industry where changing technologies and even legislation affect the way remittances and documents are processed.

     For instance, the “Check Clearing for the 21st Century Act” slated to go into effect in October will allow banks to process “substitute checks” in place of original checks. This means that electronic copies of physical checks can be delivered immediately and processed the same day that they are presented, regardless of the bank’s location.

     For Crown Solutions and its clients, the Act changes the way many of their transactions will be handled. It can add greatly to efficiency, but it does require an effort to stay on top of the changing technology.

     Crown Solution’s state-of-the-art technology is ready to handle the changes, and their flexible organization anticipates benefiting from the changes. Many companies that formerly handled their own transactions may choose to outsource rather than invest in the new equipment and training required to keep the process in-house. Crown Solutions is ready and waiting for the new wave of outsourcing customers.

     Miller affirms, “We recognize that our industry will continue to change as technology evolves. Crown will evolve with it and we will expand our treasury management services to the business community.”


Challenges and Solutions

     Even for a company with so much going for it, being new with big dreams has its challenges. The biggest one so far, according to Young, is the youth of the organization and the accompanying lack of name recognition.

     In this business “we’re asking people to direct their revenues to us,” says Young. “So it’s a very sensitive service that we provide.” Potential clients want assurance that the company is sound and reliable. To meet the challenge, Crown Solutions relies on the accolades of existing customers and the experience of the management team.

     Vicki Manton, senior vice president of Middle Market Banking at Bank of America, for instance, says about the company: “Crown Solutions is a perfect representation of the strong growth companies in our... community. They have... [the] leadership and experience... to consistently exceed their client’s expectations.”

     Tom Bennett, senior vice president of First Charter Bank, and one of the company’s first major clients, says similarly, “We made an important decision to source a critical service for our customers to Crown Solutions…the decision has been a great one and our clients receive great service.”

     This type of feedback forms the basis of Crown Solution’s efforts to build a reputation that will fuel the company’s growth.

     Also, says Miller, they stress that although the company is only a couple of years old, the management team has been together for more than five years, and has an outstanding combination of experience in the industry.

     As a result, the company already processes over 300,000 transactions per month, and has recently landed a major contract with WildCard Systems, a provider of electronic host based prepaid cards and custom stored-value products, to implement national prepaid card programs. In addition it has contracts and work on referrals with several major banks.

     “As we continue to grow those relationships,” says Young, “it gives us more credibility as a company.”


A Deeper Purpose

      But a deeper purpose drives the staff of this relatively new company. Miller says that purpose began to grow in his heart while he was in graduate school, completing a paper about the abuses that many companies perpetrate on an underprivileged immigrant population, especially the Hispanic community. Unfamiliar with employment practices and culture in the United States, and speaking little English, many new immigrants are taken unfair advantage of with low pay, few benefits, and dangerous working conditions.

     “And so I thought,” says Miller, “that the ultimate company would be one that offers opportunity to these types of workers and treats them well, but also takes it a step further.”

     It was years later, when the bank Miller was working for lost a contract and laid off large numbers of employees working under Miller at the time, that he recruited his co-worker Young and they set out to build a company that would re-employ those laid-off workers and begin to realize the dream Miller had dreamt in graduate school.

     The “step further” of Miller’s dream is where this traditional business turns revolutionary. Miller and his staff plan to turn 3,000 square feet of their office space into a “Training and Development Area.”

     “We want to be an incubator for our employees,” says Miller.

     In the training center, employees will receive job training and career development for their jobs at Crown Solutions – and beyond. In addition, through Crown Solution’s planned partnerships with non-profits, employees will have opportunities for training in basic coping skills such as using banking services, obtaining adequate housing, using technology, speaking more fluent English, and seeking fulfilling employment…all while working in the real-world, real-job environment of Crown Solutions, and with the goal of some day “outgrowing” their current employment, even if that means moving on to other companies and opportunities.

     Although the dream is not yet fully realized, Crown Solutions is not standing around waiting to begin their mission. As an example of their attitude toward the people in the company, Joe Kufhta, managing director of operations, relates the story of Amelia.

     Amelia had a professional-level job in her home country, but because of her marginal English-speaking skills and unfamiliarity with the U.S. employment system, she had been able to secure only a basic, entry-level assembly job here.

     When Amelia came to work for Crown Solutions, they assisted her in taking English-speaking classes at a community college, which helped her apply (and win acceptance) to a paralegal program where she is learning skills in order to return to rewarding, higher-paying work here in the U.S.

     “It’s hard to let her go,” says Kufhta. “But at the same time, we’re so proud of her.”

     “We want to be an incubator for people like her,” says Miller. “So that they can train under our umbrella, grow within Crown Solutions, and then as opportunities present themselves, they can grow beyond Crown Solutions.”

     Their mission sounds like it belongs to a non-profit, and in fact, Miller and his staff originally considered setting the company up that way. But even better, they decided, would be to create a viable business and good corporate citizen with racially and ethnically diverse employees, and helping those employees overcome barriers arising out of their diversity.


Growing Forward

     Credibility is what Crown Solutions expects to continue to build and grow on in the coming years. Within two years, they hope to raise their employment from the current 13 full-time staff to as many as 200.

     They’ve already seen steady revenue growth and expect business to explode soon. Says Kufhta, “I think it’s just a matter of time before the doors come blowing off here.”

     And when that happens, they expect to provide major benefits to their customers and their employees. According to Kufhta, there is a “laundry list” of people waiting to come work for Crown Solutions as soon as there is room for them.

     The wait list of potential employees is as diverse as the current staff, which consists of people of all different racial and ethnic backgrounds. The company is minority-owned and while Miller says he hasn’t noticed that it’s made a difference yet, he expects it to matter a great deal in the future.

     “We are in a unique industry as a minority-owned company,” says Miller. To their knowledge, there is only one other similar minority-owned company, and it is on the West Coast. They expect their company to serve as a role model for minority-owned companies as it gains recognition.

     If we’re lucky, it will serve as a role model to all companies. Crown Solution’s motto, “People, Service, Profit, Community, and Trust,” isn’t just talk. “If we take care of our people first,” explains Kufhta, “they’ll provide unparalleled service and that will bring in the profits that we need to give back to the community, which then leads to trust.”

     And Crown Solutions means to take care of its people. That is, after all, the dream Miller dreamt.

Heather Head is a Charlotte-based freelance writer.
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