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Promoting card payments

The days of credit and debit cards being viewed as something out of the ordinary are long gone; as it appears is our initial reluctance to use contactless card payments. So much so that the UK banking trade body UK Finance has announced that in July 2019 alone there were six hundred and forty seven million contactless card payments; accounting for 50% of all non-cash transactions.

Not that that means the banking industry is getting complacent about promoting the use of card payments. In the week of writing this article the Royal Mint has announced the launch of a solid gold payment card. At the same time NatWest has started trialling contactless credit cards which use biometric fingerprint recognition technology. If successful, the trial could open up the way to increased contactless limits alongside a more secure card payment process.

For businesses as a whole, the general acceptance of cards as a payment medium represents a significant opportunity. For those which rely on client appointments, the potential benefit is twofold. Firstly, using cards as a method of payment at the time of the appointment both speeds up cashflow and saves time on administration. There are no invoices to raise and post out, no chasing unpaid bills and no waiting for payment receipts.

It has to be acknowledged that, thanks to the rise in card use, payment at the time of appointment has become the generally accepted payment method. But what about those businesses in the health sector and elsewhere which rely on clients attending booked appointments in order to generate income? For these businesses, a missed appointment can result in a loss of income, not to mention the lost opportunity to potentially treat another individual.

In those instances, taking card details at the time of booking could be one way of helping to ensure that appointments are either attended or cancelled in good time. By requiring either up-front payment or pre-authorising the card up to an agreed limit; health practices and others can ensure that even if the client doesn’t show, the agreed payment can still be taken. Payment is secure and if the client does attend the appointment but at the time prefers to pay by another method then the pre-authorisation can simply be released.

Of course, pre-authorisation isn’t the only way that clients can be helped to remember appointments. SMS text or e-mail reminders have also proved to be a useful trigger in reminding clients of booked appointments. This not only increases attendance, it also encourages those individuals who genuinely cannot make the appointment to cancel, thereby freeing up the time slot for the benefit of another client.

The rise in contactless payments partly reflects the growing demand for secure payment methods which are time-efficient. Contactless or not, by accepting debit or credit cards as a method of payment, businesses in the health sector are better able to manage cash flow whilst minimising administration time. And with pre-authorisation allied to appointment reminders, businesses can also optimise treatment times, whilst minimising no-shows.

Paying by card?

£58 billion!

That’s the total spend on all credit and debit cards in the UK in April 2017, the most recent figures available at the time of writing. Credit cards accounted for just short of £17 billion, whilst the debit card spend was boosted by the growing acceptance of contactless payments.

Overall our growing love affair with the card as a form of payment has resulted in a 6.8% year-on-year rise in card spending. Partially thanks to the contactless element, this translates into a 12% increase in transaction numbers.

What does this mean for business? Well for a start it makes it far easier for businesses to move away from cheques and cash and towards card payments. The old arguments about cards and businesses which accept cards being the preserve of the few now simply don’t hold sway. So much so, that this writer was surprised recently to be asked for a cheque in payment. Luckily the request came in advance, saving a round-trip to retrieve the cheque book from its secure drawer.

 Quite simply, card payments are convenient for both customers and businesses. More importantly, they speed up the receipt of funds for the business. Particularly so in businesses which have traditionally relied on the service/ invoice/ cheque payment route. Simply sending out the invoice and waiting for the cheque to arrive in return could easily take up a couple of weeks; and by the time bank clearing has taken place and funds are available for use the original service is a distant memory. Secure card processing generally delivers cleared funds approximately one week after the appointment.

The growing acceptance of cards as a means of payment has also brought further benefits, particularly for those businesses such as health providers which rely on an appointment system. Taking card details at the time of booking, whether on the phone or online, tends to concentrate the mind and that means that clients are far more likely to turn up for their appointments. Particularly so if the health practice operates a ‘no-show fee’ system, charging clients who fail to turn up a percentage of the overall fee.

Adding a further service such as sending out SMS text messaging or email to remind clients of the appointment also helps to ensure that clients either turn up to their appointment or cancel well in advance. It can be all too easy in a busy life to forget the date or time of an appointment so scheduling reminders acts as a handy aid memoire.

When it comes to health services, anything which can boost attendance numbers is welcome. Both in the public and private sectors time is of the essence and resources are stretched. Those who fail to turn up to appointments not only jeopardise their own treatment plan, they also block or delay the chances of treatment for others. So the hidden cost is far higher than simply having a team of health professionals sitting and waiting for a client who has either forgotten or has no intention of turning up.



Smarter Payments

Its end has been long predicted but we may now be seeing the final death throes for the cheque as a means of payment. It’s not going to go quietly, after all the first cheque was recorded in 1659 and by 1717 the Bank of England pioneered pre-printed check forms, but it seems as though the inevitable is happening and the cheque is giving way to the march of technology.

In fact, it may not just be the cheque which is on its way out. Cash too is under threat as contactless and card payments rise in popularity. So much so, that a report from UK cards Association comments that ‘consumer spending has undergone a revolution in the past decade.’

Highlights of the report include the fact that in the ten years to 2014 card spending has risen from £270 billion to £566 billion with supermarkets, pubs and restaurants being among the key gainers. Interestingly, 71% of card transactions are now made using debit cards, a rise on the 58% seen in 2004 and an indication of the way in which we are increasingly looking to contactless payments as an alternative to cash. Speaking about the results Richard Koch, Head of Policy at The UK Cards Association, said “Cards are accepted in more places than ever before and with innovations such as contactless cards and digital wallets, this trend is sure to continue.”

Whilst high-street stores may be leading the way, the increased acceptance of cards as a means of payment benefits businesses across the board. For example, health professionals are increasingly looking to card payments as a means of settling treatment charges. Thanks to initiatives such as digital wallets and mobile payments which are supported by the card system, even sole practitioners can collect payments from their customers by card. And by using other initiatives such as the Clinic Appointments secure card payment processing system, health professionals and their customers can take advantage of a secure payment system linked to an online booking service.

Moving to a direct card payment system brings multiple benefits for patients and healthcare professionals alike. For a start, paying by card is quick and simple for patients; moving them away from the treatment/invoice/payment cycle which can be time-consuming and lead to confusion over payments due.

For the health practice, not only are card payments quicker, they can also lead to a smoothing out cash flow. But the ability to take payments by card can also help to ensure that clients who book treatments actually turn up for them. Taking card details at the point of booking enables health practices to charge a ‘no-show’ fee in accordance with their advertised procedures. And if clients know they will be charged even if they don’t turn up, they are more likely to ensure that their appointment is kept.

In fact, card payments are such a win-win scenario that the only real surprise is that they have as yet to be universally adopted by those health professionals such as physiotherapists and chiropractors who charge directly for their services.

Card Acceptance

Has the idea of a cashless society finally moved away from the theoretical and into the plausible? It would certainly seem so if a number of surveys in 2015 are to be believed. According to the Payments Council, in 2014 for the first time cash became less popular than cards as a means of payment although it still did account for 48% of all transactions.

A separate survey by the Halifax in April of this year revealed that amongst its customers cash withdrawals accounted for just £18.33 of every £100 spent. Debit cards at £30 and faster payments at £15 were also proving increasingly popular according to the Halifax analysis.

The UK may not have gone as far as Denmark which earlier this year proposed a law which would allow businesses to refuse to accept cash for transactions but it does seem that we are well on the way towards seeing cash as simply one method of payment rather than as the main payment option. The launch of Apple Pay in the UK last week can only add to the range of payment options and encourage people to choose the most appropriate payment method for each transaction.

The increased acceptance of cards as a payment method is also good news for those organisations which seek to move their customers away from cash and cheque and towards alternative payment means such as credit and debit cards. Being able to take card details at the time of booking helps those businesses which rely on appointments to secure payment. This is particularly appropriate in the independent health sector where no-shows can cost physiotherapists, osteopaths and others both time and income.

Interestingly it has been found that taking card details at the time of booking helps to improve attendance rates.  It seems as though there is something about having handed over card details that acts as a reminder to attend booked appointments.  Add on an appointment reminder either by SMS text or phone and the chances of clients turning up for treatments are increased; or at the very least clients may be prompted to get in touch to cancel, enabling replacement bookings to be made.

For those few who still fail to make it to their appointment, the fact that card details have been taken in advance enables the practitioner to take a no-show fee in accordance with advertised practice. Once card details have been taken either on the telephone or via an online booking system, the card can be pre-authorised, effectively reserving a balance to be taken once the appointment has been completed. Should the client opt to use a different card or pay by cheque on the day, the preauthorisation can simply be cancelled.  Either way, the invoice delay time is effectively eliminated, helping to streamline cash flow.

We may have some way to go until we are a fully cashless society but the more that options such as secure card payment processing move into the mainstream, the closer we will get; whilst at the same time having the added bonus of enabling businesses to reduce no-shows and smooth out their cash flow.

Streamlining payments

The days of making manual payments are numbered if a report by Juniper Research is anything to go by. According to the report’s press release the number of household bill payments made via PC, mobile or tablet is expected to top 20 billion this year (2014) with the UK having 16% of the global market.

Driven by Generation Y users, the growing acceptance of mobile payments is only expected to expand further as fears over security are lessened and additional mobile devices come onto the marketplace. Interestingly, when it comes to larger payments, users still seem to prefer the security of a larger screen with PCs and tablets leading the way.

Whilst this report concentrated on household bills, the acceptance of online payments generally is also on the increase. Shopping or booking events or holidays via the internet is also on the up and this means that consumers are far more accepting of the idea of providing credit card details whilst online. And the more accepting we become, the more that online payments becomes part of the mainstream.

That creates tremendous opportunities for health professionals who are looking to streamline administration and payments.  With a ready acceptance in providing card details; when someone makes an appointment to see a physiotherapist or other health professional the next logical step is for them to confirm the appointment by providing payment card details.

Having an appointment confirmed in this way has two benefits for the health professional.  Firstly, the act of providing card details tends to fix the appointment in the patient’s eyes, making it far more likely that they will turn up for their treatment. This not only helps to ensure a full treatment schedule it also makes it more likely that the patient will receive a full course of treatment at the time when it is most needed. Secondly, with card details to hand, it is simple for the health practice to process payments, either in full once the patient has attended or to take a payment on the card in line with the practice’s stated cancellation policy.

Payment card details can be taken at the time of booking an appointment either online or via the telephone. At that stage the payment amount is simply pre-authorised which means that the payment amount is ‘reserved’ against the card. Once the appointment has taken place, should the patient choose to pay by other means the reservation can simply be cancelled.Otherwise the payment is taken at the time of the appointment; speeding up receipt of funds and saving the invoice/cheque/bank clearance cycle.

With time at a premium, anything which helps to reduce administration and speed up payments is a winner in today’s health practice. Pre-authorisation of cards means no delay in payment collection and no need to spend precious time in sending out and chasing bills on a regular basis. And with pre-authorising reducing no-shows and therefore increasing the likelihood of patients receiving the treatment they need when they need it, pre-authorising is a win-win solution for patient and health practitioner alike.

Tackling Late Payments

The economy may be improving but late payment of invoices is still a problem for small business.  So say the Forum of Private Business (FPB) whose latest survey revealed some worrying statistics in respect of late payers.

According to the survey 23% of respondents say that they have seen an increase in the number of late payments whilst 29% report that the number of days payments have been delayed beyond the deadline have also increased.  In the light of this, respondents have called for better publicity in respect of late payment issues as well as a range of sanctions for late payers to include barring persistent offenders from government contracts.

Responding to the survey’s findings, FPB Chief Executive, Phil Orford MBE said “upwards of £30 billion remains tied up in late payments, costing a typical small business 130 hours a year to chase and meaning that a third are forced to seek external finance to cover the gaps in cash.”  Tackling late payments is a challenge which potentially affects every business and even those within the health sector are not immune.  In fact, businesses such as physiotherapy and osteopathy which rely on patients paying for treatments not only have to cope with potential late payers but also with a loss of income from those who fail to turn up for appointments.

Alongside diary management and appointment reminder solutions which aim to cut down on missed appointments, health practices may also wish to turn to secure card processing as a means of ensuring swift payment for treatments.  With booked appointments backed up by a pre-authorised card payment the health practitioner knows that they will receive prompt payment following the appointment.  And if the patient fails to turn up, a card payment can still be taken in accordance with the practice’s cancellation policy.

Pre-authorising a card at the time of booking doesn’t commit the patient to using that card following their appointment.  If they choose to pay by cheque or cash or to use another card then the pre-authorised amount can simply be cancelled.  This means the patient retains payment flexibility whilst at the same time the practice receives prompt payment; helping to smooth over cash flow issues.  The simple fact that a payment has been pre-authorised also helps to act as a spur to patients to keep their appointments, helping to reduce the number of gaps in a practice diary and ensuring that those who need treatment receive it promptly.

Contact us today to discover how Clinic Appointments can help your clinic. Book your free demo call now to learn more.