Real-Time Data Cleaning Cuts Return Mail 70% for Total Card

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Total Card Inc., an independent service organization for Visa and MasterCard, reduced its returned mail an average of 70 percent thanks to a system it implemented to clean postal data in real time.

Along with taking customer service calls, handling disputes and data mining for MasterCard and Visa accounts, Total Card issues its own credit cards to the subprime market. The Sioux Falls, SD, company markets the cards through various ad channels, including direct marketing, which drives potential customers to or

Customers visiting either Web site complete a short application, and the approval process begins. A key part of that process involves verifying the information entered on the application.

"We do real-time verification of their Social Security numbers," said Mike Wheeler, Total Card's chief software architect. "We validate whether the person has applied for a card. And we flag potential frauds."

To comply with the USA Patriot Act, Total Card also must verify the physical address of people applying for credit, as well as other identifying information.

"We have to be very diligent and careful about receiving the correct address," Wheeler said.

After the information is entered, Total Card is legally required to send a letter confirming the approval or denial.

But the company's problem has been that people frequently enter incorrect address information in the applications, either inadvertently or for other reasons. As a result, "we were getting crushed by returned mail," Wheeler said.

Whenever mail is returned, a Total Card employee must "physically track that person down, by making a phone call or sending a letter out to them, and try to get the correct information," he said. Total Card "knew we needed a solution because we were increasing our marketing, and it just made good business sense, combined with the fact that the law was requiring us to do this."

Wheeler turned last summer to Melissa Data Corp., Rancho Santa Margarita, CA, a data quality solutions provider, opting for its Data Quality Web Service.

DQWS provides real-time address and telephone number validation via the Internet. Information is wrapped into a Web services document and sent to Melissa Data's servers for verification. If the information is validated, the application process continues. Errors are flagged for investigation.

By choosing DQWS, Total Card does not have to maintain large address databases on its servers. Melissa Data is licensed to maintain the U.S. Postal Service database of more than 140 million deliverable addresses.

"We don't have to worry about monthly or quarterly updates of the data," Wheeler said. "And we don't have to set aside gigabytes of space on our servers."

Moreover, DQWS is platform neutral, Wheeler said. Total Card uses open source technology extensively, including the Apache Web server running on Linux and the PostgreSQL and MySQL open source databases.

"We are very security oriented," he said. "Nothing beats Apache and Linux."

But the most important benefit is that DQWS works well. Address verification is the last step in the application process and must be completed quickly and efficiently.

"You don't want people hung up at the end of the process," Wheeler said. "From a sales perspective, once the address is verified, you have closed the deal. From a customer service perspective, we could get hundreds of calls from people saying that they tried to apply for a card and never got a response."

Total Card verifies more than 1,000 addresses daily using DQWS, with "no degradation in performance" despite the volume, Wheeler said. DQWS is supported by multiple servers using load-balancing technology to guarantee a real-time response.

DQWS has served its purpose. Wheeler said that in September, the first month of using the address-cleansing solution, credit card packages returned due to bad addresses decreased 70 percent from August figures, and that figure is now the average.

Melissa Campanelli covers postal news, CRM and database marketing for DM News and To keep up with the latest developments in these areas, subscribe to our daily and weekly e-mail newsletters by visiting


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