ePAYMENT: THE TIME IS NOW
Even companies rooted in tradition can modernize how they do business
Girl Scout cookies have been a staple of American culture since the Girl Scouts of the USA began selling them in 1917. Not much has changed about the delicious treats—today there are more varieties to choose from—but one key factor has affected how they’re sold: The Scouts have implemented a mobile payment option.
The tactic seems to have paid off. A 2016 article on retaildive.com said that, at that time, more than 3,800 Girl Scout troops in the United States were using mobile payments to sell cookies. Girl Scout councils that used a mobile payment solution to sell cookies using smartphones and tablets increased by 25%—from four to five—the year-over-year number of boxes sold per transaction.
The lesson here is glaringly obvious. If an organization as rooted in tradition as the Girl Scouts is modernizing its entire business model, the rest of the world, especially the independent agency system, should do the same. The time for mobile payments is now. The proof is in the pudding, or in this case the cookies.
[W]hen the whole world can virtually fit in your back pocket, it’s hard to justify not embracing an electronic payment solution.
The use of paper checks—once the most popular way to accept payments from insureds—has been on a steady decline since 1999. The new millennium saw consumer preference for paper checks drop from a reported 86% in 2000 to 34% in 2006. By 2014, that was down to 3%. Usage numbers confirm that people acted on their preferences. A 2013 Federal Reserve study shows that the number of checks paid in 2012 was less than half that of 2003.
Naturally, as check preference and usage continue to decline, the preference for electronic payments, and the organizations that offer them, is on a solid and consistent rise. A 2017 supplement to the triennial Federal Reserve Payments Study reported that credit card payments registered the highest growth rate (with a 10.2% increase) among core payment types from 2015 to 2016. ePayments provide consumers with options and merchants with solutions. For instance, customers can pay via credit card, debit card, or e-check, to name a few. And business owners can track and reconcile funds much more easily and efficiently.
From speeding up receivables to cleaning up accounting, electronic payment solutions enable insurance professionals to streamline processes across the board. It’s not just about giving insureds extra choices. It’s also about adapting to technology to improve business operations and stay ahead of the curve.
It’s not hard to see how benefits that other businesses realize relate to the independent insurance agency arena. Agencies can track and reconcile funds much more efficiently and can bind business more quickly and easily. It’s hard to deny the positive features of mobile payments or the shifting landscape of insurance and technology.
A client of ours, Russ Goldstein, president of Agile Premium Finance, sums it up pretty nicely: “In our space, if you don’t have an electronic payment solution, you’re way behind the times.” Of course, I agree.
We know that independent agencies historically have operated on a face-to-face basis, and the emergence of new technology can be off-putting to some agency professionals, especially those who’ve been in the business a long time. But it doesn’t need to be a daunting or scary concept.
In the end, accepting electronic payments is simply another way for agencies to improve their bottom line.
Before, when insureds needed to make a premium payment, the options were to pay via cash, wire, or paper check. Cash would typically be delivered in person. Paper checks usually are mailed and could take days to arrive and be processed. Wire transfers are costly and require a lot of manual work—not to mention the fact that both participating banks require authorization by phone to initiate the transfer. What if there were an emergency and the agent needed funds immediately?
Every agent has been there: It’s 4:45 p.m. on Friday and there’s nothing to do but watch the clock tick while waiting to bind the policy. What options are available at 4:45 p.m.? The banks will close soon, traffic is already bumper to bumper, and the sun is setting on the work week. A mobile payment option would help prevent the policyholder from going uncovered through the weekend with a lapsed policy.
For insurance professionals and customers, the availability of electronic payment processing flips on its head the entire process of making and accepting payments. Funds can be remitted in seconds and deposited into a bank account just as quickly. Instantaneous results are the norm for customers in 2018.
Increasingly, insurance professionals want a seamless, end-to-end solution for tracking and reconciling payments. It’s true that old habits die hard, and the independent agency system is no different. But when the whole world can virtually fit in your back pocket, it’s hard to justify not embracing an electronic payment solution.
With mobile payments, the question isn’t “Why?” It’s “Why not?”
Todd Sorrel is co-founder of electronic payment processor ePayPolicy. The firm facilitates the acceptance of electronic payments via credit card and ACH with transaction fees being passed on to the consumer.www.epaypolicy.com