It was soul destroying, trudging around schools up and down the country in the early days showing bursars and office staff my new idea. All were very polite but most simply laughed, saying online payments would never take off in schools.
Just occasionally I would meet a risk taker, a pioneer, a school that wanted to lead in the technology stakes. My baby ParentPay was born; a baby that would become the largest online school payment system in the UK. Like every good parent, and after years of nurturing, I allowed my baby to develop further without me. Although I’ve not been part of the ParentPay organisation for some time I still follow the industry with great interest and carry an in-depth knowledge of online payment systems.
It’s now 2017, 15 years have passed since I created the first online payment system for schools. Payments and mobile technology have advanced beyond recognition and yet there are still schools that choose to take cash and cheques. How can this be?
My aim in 2002 was to make every school cashless, and today this should be a reality. Few in the generation that have children in schools use cash and cheques elsewhere. All are experienced users of online payment systems and there is an expectation that every school should now accept online payments. However, with tight budgets and heightened security expectations it is vital that schools choose the right payment system.
There are plenty of systems from which to choose. However, be sure to ask the following questions before you select the best payment system for your school and parents. You may wish to re-evaluate your existing package to see how it compares.
- How much will/does my online payment package cost the school to run?
No matter which supplier you use there is a cost to online payments and someone must pay. Here are the costs to consider:
- Supplier annual subscription
- Transaction costs, e.g. bank transaction fees + gateway fees
N.B. transaction fees and gateway fees are often bundled as one charge
- Message costs
- Can you pass the transaction costs and/or other costs on to the payer?
Transaction fees must be considered alongside subscription and support charges. Low transaction fees may suit schools with high volume payments but not others. Do the maths!
- Is the supplier a trusted, well-established organisation that is familiar with parental communication?
This is a very important consideration. Not only will the payment supplier be working with school staff but will also be associated directly with parents. Working with parents requires sensitive and knowledgeable management. Only choose a supplier that has proven experience in this field.
- Is the payment engine fully secured?
Every payment engine MUST be secure. It would not pass bank and card acquirer tests if it was not. Be wary of any online payment provider that only offers this basic security standard as its only security credentials.
- What security standards has the supplier demonstrated?
Only choose a supplier that demonstrates exacting standards throughout their business activities. Ask what accreditations they have received or are working towards. Look for standards starting with ISO – these are demanding and rigorous, and only awarded to worthy companies.
- Does the payment supplier guarantee safety of your funds and how often are funds settled?
Unless you receive direct settlement from the bank, your money will be paid into a holding account managed by the payment system supplier and funds will be distributed periodically. Ask for details of the holding client account and how the bank protects your money. Don’t be frightened to ask what would happen if the supplier went out of business.
It is important that money gets to your bank quickly, settlement should happen ideally at least every week.
- Is the payment process linked to a quality messaging service?
Before parents make payments, they need to know what they are paying for, how much and when a payment should be made. It is essential that the messaging service used to request payments is trustworthy and effective. It follows too that information distributed after the payment is sent and stored for parents’ reference. When choosing a payment system ask to see the messaging service associated to it.
- Does the payment process link to cashless tills?
Most secondary schools and many primary schools have cashless tills in the school canteen. If a parent wishes to top up a school meal account it is essential that school payment systems report seamlessly to the tills. It is also very useful to parents to see an indicative balance so they know when to top up the account.
- Is the package simple to use for both parents and the school office?
Today’s online systems should require no training for school staff or parents. Staff training may be needed for processes involved within the software but not which buttons to press. If parents need help to make a payment then the package should be avoided.
- Can it mirror your existing practices without creating disruption to the methods you know works for you?
Online payments should replace methods you collect money but not disrupt your preferred practices. Once fully integrated with an online payment system you may wish to review and streamline your methodologies. One thing I learned very early in my work in payments is that NO two schools work the same. Your online package must be your servant, not your master.
- Does the payment system use the most up to date technology and will our parents like it?
Online systems must be useable on every size device - avoid any system that is not responsive and/or does not have an iOS and Android app.
Will your parents like your new online payment system? Of course they will, they’ll love it!
Making your school 100% cashless is a decision you will never regret. Ask any bursar who has made that leap, “Would you go back to taking cash and cheques?” The answer will be a resounding “NO”.
Lynne Taylor ParentPay Founder