What to look for when choosing an online payments system in school


The development of multi-channel banking has caused a huge increase in phone and Internet banking. In fact, 21.5 million customers now bank online, with half of these customers using it to make online payments.[1]

This caused a major change in the way organisations and schools receive money. Since 2010, schools have offered online payments options to parents, enabling them to pay for trips, uniform and dinners for their children. Schools have reported massive benefits to the management of their school funds with online payments. In the finance office, money can be taken instantly and securely.  This reduces the administrative burden of handing cash and cheques and enables staff to use their time more valuably on other tasks rather than having to engage in the tedious and time-consuming chore of manually inputting each and every transaction into an accounting system. For parents, it provides them with an additional payment method which is extremely convenient compared to traditional methods of cash or cheque payments.

This has led to an upsurge in schools purchasing online payments systems, which, in turn, has encouraged a rise in the number of online payments providers. It is important that schools purchase the right system to meet their needs, but with so much choice it can be a particularly daunting challenge.

There are many factors that need to be considered when looking to implement an online payments system. The questions below offer a framework to help you choose the right system.

What can parents pay for online?

Online payments systems typically enable parents to pay for trips and uniform, but there are additional modules that can be purchased to manage catering finances and feed into your cashless catering system.

Where do you want this money allocated? Is it all going into one account or separate accounts?

Many online payments providers can only allocate the money to one account. If you have multiple accounts in which you want the money to go then make sure the provider can handle this request.

How comprehensive would you like the system be?

There are functional differences between online payments systems so you need to decide what you need the system to do to meet your needs.  You will need to consider how you will produce reports, take payments from the parents who do not have access to the Internet at home, manage multiple accounts and administer your catering finances.

When does the money reach your school account?

The credit of payments into your school account ranges from every few days to once a week.  Check individual providers and make sure it suits your school’s cash flow requirements.

What are the transactions charges?

It is typical that you will have to pay an online transaction fee for each online payments made.  Some providers enable you to decide whether your school or the parent pays the fee.

Does the provider integrate with any other systems?

There is a saying that we should not put all our eggs in one basket – and this is pertinent advice when it comes to choosing an online payments system.  Some systems do not offer integration with existing accounts and systems.  This can burden your finance office with time-consuming workarounds and it significantly restricts your future options for developing the functionality of your accounts and banking practices.  Consider whether you require system integration to give you ease in use and added flexibility for future development.

Does the provider offer any other services?

It is always beneficial to find out what other products or services are offered by the provider. At present, most online payments providers only enable schools to send offers to a parent’s portal and then any payments received are imported into an Excel spreadsheet or a similar reporting tool with limited functionality. Many schools have signed on to online payments systems only to realise that there is no way of inputting manual transactions next to online transactions.  It is therefore beneficial to select an online payments provider that offers the ability to receive and record payments manually in the same account as online transactions as well as additional modules such as cashless catering. Training and ongoing support is also important to help you make the most of your online payments system.

What is the level of support like?

Make sure that your provider gives you access to training and support in a way that suits your learning style. Telephone, email and on-site support are all important so check the details of your support contract.

How secure is the online payments page? Is it Payment Card Industry (PCI) compliant?

PCI data security standard ensures that clients and service providers are protected from credit and debit card fraud. This is essential so that both your school and your school’s parents are paying online securely.

Does it allow the functionality of banking, such as the payment of receipts to the bank and reconciliation?

The new Schools Financial Value Standard (SFVS) means that schools need to implement more effective financial management tools to manage their school funds. Online payments systems that offer integration enable you to pay receipts to the bank and reconcile your accounts. This adds great value to the system over and above the ability to receive online payments from parents. As such, it is important to consider how your online payments system will offer a practical and cost-effective solution to the management school funds in response to the SFVS. It is the perfect time to consider the future of your school finances.

What is the overall cost?

At the end of the day, you must make sure that when purchasing an online payments system, you are getting value for money. Any assessment of cost should include your software license, training, ongoing support, the ability to integrate with existing systems, opportunity for purchasing additional modules for added functionality, and long-term sustainability.

If you reflect on these questions and consider the real needs of your school – now and in the future – then you should find your perfect provider.

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