Schools could revolutionise payments

CONVENIENT: PaySchool allows schools to run online shops where parents can kit out  their children.
CONVENIENT: PaySchool allows schools to run online shops where parents can kit out their children.

Schools' financial relationships with parents are set for a revolution, claims the founder of an Australian company with an eye on New Zealand.

PaySchool, founded in January last year by British expat Richard Wyrill and Victoria-based advertising specialist Rohan Johnson, is a payments platform which lets schools run online "shops" through which parents can pay for lunch orders, buy uniforms and stationery, make school donations, pay for trips, and contribute to one-off fund-raising drives.

For parents, the system functions like a cross between an online store and a secure portal through which they can keep tabs on the financial demands being made of them and make payments when they need.

Wyrill, who has a finance background, was inspired by the inefficiency he personally experienced when dealing with his kids' schools. When he started digging into the online concept, he realised there was money to be made.

He said that there were an estimated 2.5 to 5 million cash transactions taking place in Australian schools each week, requiring significant human resources to collect. He started building a system schools could contract to use instead.

Handling lunch orders is just one of the transactions families have with schools, which typically now ask parents for money several times a year.

These transactions also result in a flurry of printed notices, receipts and forms going back and forth between schools and homes.

That's an administrative burden a system like PaySchool can alleviate and Wyrill says there are currently no local competitors though some schools have built their own proprietary systems.

"What it does is provide each school with its own virtual shop," he said, and eventually promises the possibility they will one day be cash-free operations.

The system also reduces schools' administrative burden, he says, by providing reports that let them track and manage transactions.

Text and email functions will allow schools to communicate more easily with parents.

Teachers will no longer have to handle cash, and he says schools' bottom lines will improve.

"It literally saves thousands of hours per school, per year," he said, "but it's also hugely convenient for parents."

The virtual shops are split into four areas, Wyrill said: Food orders, fundraising for special projects, donations (including payments for school trips), and merchandise like uniforms and stationery.

As well as handling the money, the system also allows parents to provide consents for trips online, removing another headache.

Schools have the freedom to directly contract the services they need. And while it is the schools that contract for the platform, parents also have to sign up to use it providing they have a credit or debit card. Those parents who want to remain in a paper-based world, can do so.

"You will never get 100 per cent of parents taking it up for two reasons. One is, though they are few and far between, there are still people without broadband connections, and two is people who do not want to provide their credit or debit card details."

The cost to schools is a monthly fee of $29.95 to $69.95, though PaySchool also earns an income stream from each transaction of around 30 cents per transaction from parents and 2.4 per cent of each transaction from the schools.

Wyrill has focused on selling the system to Australian schools but has also been contacted by New Zealand schools.

Allan Vester, principal of Edgewater College in Pakuranga, Auckland said: "My guess would be that for a number of schools, it would be a popular option."

Many payments to schools are made in cash, which is often brought in by children. That money had to be collected in, counted, accounted for, and receipts written and sent back.

"It does tie up quite a lot of support staff time," Vester said.

And, he said, on the occasions where schools suffer theft by staff, it is often from cash takings.

Vester did not think all schools would be interested, however, and it could be that schools with richer, more technologically-savvy parents would be those most attracted by such services.

Independent Schools of New Zealand's Deborah James said fee-funded schools were very focused on customer service, and a "one-size fits all" platform may not be of interest to them.

Sunday Star Times