Online Payments for Schools – Becoming a ‘Need’ rather than a ‘Want’.

We’re often asked ‘Why should our school have a system for taking online payments?’

Well, let’s begin with the most obvious benefit, that online transactions make payments for dinners, school trips, events, clubs and other items simpler for parents, and more robust and auditable for schools. Additionally, children don’t need to carry cash to and from school, or have it with them on the premises. It virtually eliminates the risk of them (or the school) losing money, and has had an effect on theft and bullying too. This has benefits for the parents, the children and the school.

An additional benefit for the school office is that administrative staff don’t need to count and record envelopes of cash and change. More schools are making the decision to go cashless as the continued rise of shopping and banking online has made electronic transactions far more commonplace and both the school and the parents are now far more comfortable with, and trusting of such systems.

Schools can be resistant for numerous reasons; fear of change, perceived difficulty, lack of need, misunderstanding of the benefits. All these objections are easily answered, but schools are increasingly busy environments and we understand that unless given an opportunity to talk through these issues, it’s difficult for them to see the huge benefits of implementing a new system and new processes. Furthermore, some schools are denied the opportunity to take advantage of an online payments system at the Local Authority level.

Other schools think that parents might not want to use it, or might not be able to use it without Internet access at home or on the move from a smartphone/tablet. This isn’t the case. A huge percentage of parents prefer the idea of being able to pay with a credit or debit card, but if they don’t have one, or choose not to, they can still pay with the more familiar cash or cheque at the school, and have those payments entered by the school onto the system.

Good online payments systems will have email and SMS messaging functions, which allow regular communication with parents in order to build engagement and uptake over time.

It is vital that the school uses both encouragement and incentive tactics to get parents engaged in online payments. They need to make lots of things available to purchase online from day one, but also work to make the ‘old’ ways less appealing by – for example – only accepting cash payments for a short time on a particular day. Schools often provide a computer or device in reception so that those without their own equipment can still use the system, view balances and transactions etc.

Schools must not underestimate the savings of online payments, even if taken up by a modest percentage of parents at first. Online payments should be viewed as having immediate quick-wins, but it’s important to realise that it is an endeavour that requires ownership and nurturing in the medium/long term.

When you consider the time currently devoted to collecting, counting, handling, banking, reconciliation and ‘chasing’ for payment out of the equation, it’s clear to see where the benefits are. Online payments are a huge time-saver, allowing administrative staff to then allocate their valuable time to other projects, but at the same time allows better reporting of payments than traditional systems. It’s win-win.

Online payment systems have increased over the years in their complexity from initially logging only meal payments to now being full parent communication systems through which documents can be shared, messages sent, and an almost limitless range of items made available for purchase. This trend is consistent with a growing recognition in schools that generating and managing their own income is certain to become increasingly important.

The main considerations for a school going cashless are to make sure the change is communicated clearly and in good time to parents, and that the online payments provider makes the system ‘foolproof’ from a parental point of view. Then, to ensure there is an initial, and continuous stream of reasons to use the system, making more and more offers to parents online.

The key considerations from an internal perspective are to make sure that your staff all get great training, take things a step at a time, and be certain that your online payments solution has a seamless interface with whatever systems you choose to track and manage your voluntary income. Online payments are not a ‘leap of faith’ for schools, they are proven, efficient and increasingly prevalent.

Schools with online payments are no longer early adopters, it is those without that are lagging behind.

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