How SMS can cure the headache of cash payments for schools.

Stephen Casey
On: 23 May 2019
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SMS Schools

As the cashless society draws closer, schools are one of the last bastions of notes and coins. The school year is measured out in requests to pay for voluntary contributions, extra tuition, book rental schemes, school trips, or bus fares. This creates a three-part problem. Parents have to find the often scarce change, since the payments are usually less than €10. Their children need to carry this cash in an envelope and deliver it safely. The school office then needs to process all of that money, account for it, and deposit it in the bank.

In today’s terms, you’d say this process is ripe for disruption.

One part of the problem is ensuring parents see messages and payment reminders in a timely manner. Slips of paper stuffed into school bags can easily go astray. Some schools have looked to address this by sending email alerts to parents or rolling out apps to keep the lines of communication open.

The problem with using email and apps to send messages to parents is that messages may not always be seen – the high volume of emails received via in-boxes each day means that it’s very easy to miss important emails in the midst of the clutter. Apps suffer from the same problem; many people disable notifications on their smartphones so there’s no guarantee they will see urgent messages in time.

SMS: proven, immediate impact.

Ironically, the technology best placed to address these problems has been with us for almost 30 years: SMS.

Nothing beats the text message for immediacy; it delivers higher response times and in turn it prompts faster action. According to research from Oxygen8, the open rate of SMS is 98%; 90% of SMS are read within three minutes of delivery; 90 seconds is the average response time to an SMS; and 81% of consumers prefer SMS to using apps.

What’s more, text messages are universal. Whether you own the latest smartphone or still rely on a 1990s Nokia mobile, anyone can receive an SMS. From a social inclusion perspective, if a school is using an app to handle communications and payment reminders, any parent who doesn’t own a smartphone is immediately left out – and their child is potentially losing out, too.

Removing barriers from the payment process.

The payment process when paying online via a school website or an app can often be unwieldy and time-consuming, with multiple stages required to complete the transaction.

With an SMS-based payment system, the process can be much shorter: every parent receives a text message with a link embedded. By clicking on that link, they’re brought through to a simple verification process. Instead of being prompted for a password they need to remember, they just enter the last four digits of their mobile number. From there, they go straight to the payment window. In a matter of 15 seconds, they have paid their bill.

And there are obvious benefits for students who no longer need to carry cash around with them in school.

Driving higher response rates.

Anecdotal evidence from the Irish market is that payment levels are much higher with SMS versus email prompts. On average, around 60 per cent of people follow through to make a payment after receiving the first text message, compared to just 40 per cent for email prompts. The higher response rate for SMS, which I referred to earlier, results in lower administrative overhead for the school office support team.

That’s proven especially useful in schools that have large numbers of pupils. Office staff save time having to print and issue notes to pupils and manually record the payments in a spreadsheet. Since all payments via an SMS-based cashless system are online, they are automatically recorded and available via a management screen that quickly shows payment records against each school activity. This way, a principal or secretary can quickly track who has paid and who hasn’t.  

Lastly, for schools keeping a close eye on their budgets, I expect SMS to become more prevalent as a way of communicating with parents, since it offers very competitive rates compared to the rising cost of postage. It is a well-established communications technology that can help schools provide a simple, convenient way to let parents pay for activities throughout the year, while eliminating the burden of handling cash.

With easier administration, fewer outstanding payments to chase, and no need to collect and count money, the school staff are free to dedicate more time to focus on what matters: supporting parents, students and teachers.

Interested in discovering more ICT trends? Visit Three’s Business Learning Centre.