Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Meet Your Escheator: 10 Questions with Missouri State Treasurer Clint Zweifel

We at Escheatable are happy to announce a new feature on this blog called "Meet Your Escheator," where we will interview state officials responsible for unclaimed property administration. We are happy to have as our first guest Missouri State Treasurer Clint Zweifel.  We've featured several of Missouri's owner outreach programs on this blog (such as Operation Extra Mile, the state's e-mail notification program, and its new unclaimed property kiosks) and are grateful to Treasurer Zweifel and his staff for their participation.
1.  Escheatable:  Thank you for taking the time to answer these questions.  By way of introduction, can you give us an overview of your background prior to becoming State Treasurer? Had you any experience or involvement with unclaimed property and/or escheat laws prior to that time?

Treasurer Zweifel:  Prior to being elected State Treasurer, I served in the Missouri House of Representatives for six years. As the policymaking body for the state, I was involved in all parts of state government.
2.  Escheatable:  Can you give us background statistics on how much money Missouri is holding? How about the number of claims per year?
Treasurer Zweifel:  I currently hold over $600 million in Unclaimed Property for over 3.5 million owners. My team is having a record breaking fiscal year – paying out more than 100,000 claims in fiscal year 2011, surpassing the prior record set in FY2010 of over 92,000.
3.  Escheatable:  We have mentioned Missouri's owner reunification efforts many times on this blog, because it seems that your office is taking many novel approaches to paying out unclaimed funds. What has made you focus on these additional efforts?
Treasurer Zweifel:  My priority is returning as much property as I can as quickly as possible. As part of that priority I continually look for efficiencies in the claim process and diligently try to identify owner subsets that are not being reached with our existing outreach efforts. The addition of paperless processing, email alerts and more effective advertising has let us reduce wait times from 43 days when I took office to about 20 days now.
4.  Escheatable:  What error do you see holders making the most? What would you like them to improve?
Treasurer Zweifel:  I believe that both of these questions revolve around the same answer, which is to provide complete owner information. I would like to emphasize the importance of holders providing me with all of the owner information they have available. The more owner information my team has the more likely we are to reunite the owner with their property.
5.  Escheatable:  Does your office perform or participate in unclaimed property audits? If so, how do you select the companies that get audited?
Treasurer Zweifel:  My team participates in audits with third party contractors. When holders are identified for an audit by another state or a contractor I determine if participation in that audit will result in identifying additional property for Missouri account owners.
6.  Escheatable:  In the past several years, we've seen more interest among both holders and states with regard to IRAs, rebates, and gift cards. What areas do you think your office will focus upon most over the next few years?
Treasurer Zweifel:  My sole focus is returning as much property as possible as quickly as possible. Whether that is a rebate, gift card or investment account, I want to get back to owners. This is not the state’s money, and putting back in the owners hands is better for the economic health of Missouri.
7.  Escheatable:  What has been your biggest unclaimed property accomplishment as Treasurer?
Treasurer Zweifel:  My proudest accomplishment is that Unclaimed Property is being handled more efficiently than ever before. I have done that by focusing on innovations that have results for taxpayers. The 100-percent paperless claims process has drastically reduced waits times. Providing the ability for citizens to sign up for email notifications that email them when they have Unclaimed Property was a big step forward in customer services. I was honored to be able to visit with military veterans in Cape Girardeau, Mo., when I announced the implementation of the Unclaimed Military Medal Protection program. In 2010, I developed legislation that is now law that makes it illegal for any future State Treasurer to auction off Unclaimed Military Medals. These medals and other military insignia deserve special protection. Since that legislation became law, I have returned 21 pieces to owners and heirs. Most recently, I placed an Unclaimed Property Search Kiosk in Columbia, Mo., at the driver’s license renewal office. This kiosk lets those without access to Internet and those who may not know about Unclaimed Property find and claim their property on site. Launching soon will be our online holder report system that will allow holders to report property to me electronically. I look forward to this reducing paperwork for the many holders who work hard to report property to me.
8.  Escheatable:  What is the unclaimed property area where your office has the most work to do?
Treasurer Zweifel:  We are constantly focused on improving our processes, cutting red tape and removing bureaucratic barriers. Missourians expect this from me, so I will continue to invest in technology and be focused on improved customer service. I want to return all $600 million. Until that is done, we will always have work to do.
9.  Escheatable:   If you could give one piece of unclaimed property advice to the owner community, what would it be?
Treasurer Zweifel:  Please check for your name on my website and register for our online owner notification. Even if you do not have property now, you may in the future. I talk to countless Missourians who did not have Unclaimed Property six months ago, but do now.
10.  Escheatable:  If you could give one piece of unclaimed property advice to the holder community, what would it be?
Treasurer Zweifel:  I would ask the holder community to provide owner information electronically and provide as much owner information as possible. This makes the process smoother and helps me return property as fast as possible.


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