I’ve spent a lot of time in my first year here listening to current and former Members voice concerns. Many of those concerns seemed justifiable, and as I listened, I mentally put myself in their circumstances because I wanted to not only listen but also understand where they were coming from.
Unfortunately, too many times I have simply shook my head and had to agree with their frustrations.
Too many of the frustrations expressed seem preventable, and that is something I have committed to making right for both residential consumers and businesses in our service territory.
Recently, “shop small” was observed to help remind us of the value local businesses help bring to our local economy. Businesses that operate here pay local taxes that help our schools, pay local taxes that support our first responders, sponsor local charities and other worthy causes, employ citizens in our community to provide job opportunities… and so much more.
Because we do acknowledge the value business and industry has here in Morgan, Marshall and Cullman counties, I want to tell you about some of the modifications recently made to encourage a more “business-friendly” cooperative.
• We’ve dug into the applicable regulation that governs the required security for commercial and industrial electric service accounts to ensure we only require what is appropriate and that this standard operating procedure is consistent across all businesses.
Everyone can see the details on our website under the “resources” tab by selecting “standard operating procedures.”
I personally invited TVA to review these to help consider all possible scenarios that may unfold. The fact is that a lot of small businesses have difficult time in the first few years maintaining adequate cash levels, and anything we can do to help may be assisting their initial survival chances until their business really gets established.
• AEC strongly encourages business owners to consider offering a surety bond or irrevocable letter of credit from a qualified insurance company or bank respectively. These tools allow the business owners to keep more or all of their cash in their pockets instead of asking us to hold it for a deposit.
Banks typically charge a fee for irrevocable letters of credit, but in some cases, insurance companies can offer their insured a surety bond for little or no cost if the business owner already has acceptable coverage.
I am confident that both your bank and your insurance company will be happy to discuss these products with you.
• Should a business owner need to or prefer to use cash instead of the instruments listed above, AEC now pays interest on those commercial deposits. This was actually required to begin in 2015, and we just recently became compliant with this regulation.
The interest paid on these accounts will be comparable to the interest rate on a local savings account, and while that may not make anyone wealthy, it is at least being respectful of the fact that the cooperative is holding your businesses’ money.
By the way, the interest accumulated on commercial deposits was applied retroactively to 2015 where applicable because that was the right thing to do.
You need to do nothing to obtain the interest. When you shut down, move or sell your business, the final bill will have the deposit applied (as is typical).
It’s only different in that your deposit will be slightly larger than you originally left with AEC.
• Finally, commercial deposits, whether provided by cash, surety bond or irrevocable letter of credit will systematically be reviewed annually going forward. This will ensure that if too much security or cash was required for a deposit that the overage can be refunded without the business owner needing to chase us down for it because we are just going to do it without being asked to do so.
It’s your money, and we are showing consistent and appropriate respect by safeguarding it as if it were our own.
I realize making our commercial deposits as appropriate as possible will not cause a wave of new business to locate to our service territory.
These efforts are not so much about being conducive to new business as much as they are about working well with the businesses that did decide to make this their home.
Hopefully more will come, and when they do, we will be as pro-business as possible.
That will include future efforts to honor their time as well as their money. The next wave of efforts to transition to a more business-friendly cooperative will include both technology and in-person contact opportunities to ensure we are as easy to work with as possible.