Rebecca Paddick asks, are universities ready for a cashless future?
Matthew Cox – Sales Account Manager, MCR Systems
David Robinson – UK Sales Manager, Way2Pay
Liz Marshall – Marketing Manager, AIT
Matt Sewell – Corporate Account Manager, Epos Now
Lisa Dulay – Sales and Marketing Administrator at VMC Cashless Payment Systems
What are the benefits of cashless systems for universities?
Liz Marshall: Cashless systems offer a single cashless platform via which all on-campus spend can be managed. All transactions are recorded in one place, so important information doesn’t have to be held in hard-to-access data silos spread across a campus. A single transaction engine delivers detailed management information from one source and is easily used to inform decision-making, enhance student engagement, increase income and cut costs. Detailed user-level information can be used to deliver targeted promotions – not just for marketing purposes but also for public health and other issues related to staff and student wellbeing.
The benefits of this are easy to see, from the obvious reduced costs of receiving, counting, insuring, storing, reconciling and transporting of cash to the reduced risk arising from theft, fraud and counterfeiting. An 8% reduction in operating costs has been cited by some organisations as a result of going cashless. The need for fewer EMV merchant terminals will also mean a reduction in POS and transaction costs.
Matt Sewell: People aged 18-34 are four times more likely to carry a phone than cash, highlighting the growing importance of the mobile phone as a replacement for all or part of the wallet.
Cash is also a burden for businesses. Cash is more expensive to insure, count, store and generally manage. It is also much more open to fraud and human error. Cash is also slow. At busy times in both retail and hospitality environments such as Students’ Union bars and clubs, slow processes and speed of service lose sales and damage the brand. Human error also massively reduces profits.
Lisa Dulay: Well, there are the obvious benefits to knowing and engaging your customers:
Better control and visibility of student spending; with access to features like real-time reporting university catering teams can monitor behaviour and adapt everything from their staffing levels to the actual food on offer to match the demand.
Ensuring spend is maintained on-campus instead of offsite; with a closed user scheme, funds are loaded onto an account and can only be spent on campus services, and an added benefit for the university is that they can see these funds enabling more accurate forecasting and planning. The top-up function is also considered a more secure funding method for parents/family, in particular for overseas students.
Universities, however, often have other valuable uses for cashless payments on their campuses, from managing catered packages to the distribution and control of bursaries. A cashless application can also manage multi-tariffed offers for staff and students and provide quick and accurate VAT reporting.
How has cashless tech developed in recent years in-line with student demand?
Matthew Cox: Replacing outdated cash loaders and moving the topping-up to online and auto top-ups has ensured that a true cashless environment is achievable as well as more streamlined and intuitive. Apps have enabled the cashless account holder to top up and pay via a smartphone app combined with account history and digital receipts being accessible through the mobile app is all helping with the speed and convenience of cashless account management.
David Robinson: The major drives in technology to match student demand have centred around student loyalty and retention through the smartphone platform and digital advertising. To compete with the high-street institutions are now recognising that offering tailored loyalty schemes can increase system usage and promote customer retention.
Matt Sewell: Not only do students tend to be more technology-savvy, but cash can be more problematic for them. To begin with, young people tend not to know how much cash they have. Also, their purchasing patterns are often concentrated in one area, on and around campus, and can reflect odd hours; therefore, accessing an ATM (and one which is loaded and functioning) may not always be easy, free or safe.
Can cashless systems do more than pay for catering? Which other departments can benefit from this technology?
Matthew Cox: Yes – printing, reprographics, travel, library, sports memberships and laundry are just a few other services on campus that can also benefit from using cashless card and mobile app technology.
Liz Marshall: Cashless systems can be used to pay for any service across a campus including library fines and fees, sports membership, for materials, for booking and paying for equipment hire, to pay for printing and photocopying – students simply load funds into their cashless account and then can use these funds across campus depending on the policy of the university. Bursary payments can be credited to a student’s cashless account and ring-fenced in order that it can only spent on books and equipment, for example.
Matt Sewell: ‘Cashless’, although a commonly used term, is actually perhaps a slightly mis-used meaning in this respect. It’s unlikely that campuses or universities will go entirely cashless in the foreseeable future, but for this purpose the term ‘cashless’ really refers to ‘a lot less cash’.
Under a fully integrated cashless system, a single payment system provides access to goods and services right across the entire campus (and even beyond), incorporating products and services such as the learning environment, library, common amenities, catering, security, shops (on campus and online), and much more.
How good are universities at utilising the latest technology in payment systems?
Matthew Cox: Universities have always strived to be at the forefront of EPoS and Cashless technology when it comes to ensuring their student experience is as seamless as possible. They were really the first sector of catering and hospitality to push for a fully cashless environment, which we have only just recently seen being adopted on the high street.
Many universities have traditionally used card systems but many are now offering payment via mobile app in addition to, or as an alternative to, card. The MCR SymPAY app also incorporates loyalty and pre-ordering options making it a powerful customer engagement tool, adding value and innovation and the FE/HE sector has and continues to be at the forefront of driving this technology forward.
David Robinson: At the moment UK universities are at a crossroads with many systems, and a mixture of payment methods detracts from the benefits of cashless payments. If HE follows the European model and embraces truly cashless campuses, the full benefits can be achieved. Hopefully soon, someone will take the plunge and I am sure the rest will follow!
Liz Marshall: In our experience ‘going cashless’ is a big project and sits across multiple departments, it is a definite area of interest but often viewed as a nice-to-have rather than essential. So there is room for improvement. Perception is often because a university or college has cashless catering they are cashless – however, we’d argue there is much more opportunity outside of just catering, and once the project is up and running there are significant benefits to be had in terms of reduced management overheads, savings on transaction fees, enhanced student experience and engagement, increased on-campus spend, improved security (less cash to manage) and cost of insurance reduces.
Lisa Dulay: There is perhaps still a lack of knowledge around what cashless can do and where it can be applied in the HE setting, with a mistaken perception that it is only useful for the catering function. Special focus groups in the UK like HESCA (Higher Education Smart Card Association) are working hard to share the latest knowledge and developments, and help universities learn how to improve their campus experience with this technology. There are, however, some great examples of successful and extensive cashless campus schemes in the UK.
If HE follows the European model and embraces truly cashless campuses, the benefits can be achieved
How do you think cashless tech in an HE setting will develop further?
Matthew Cox: MCR are currently working with a third party to deliver full integration at the University of Reading, offering a single purse for cashless loading and payment for all catering, library, sports memberships, print services and travel.This will enable the student population to do away with the pinch point of having to load up different purses and use different cards/apps when utilising all paid services across campus. It will also increase spend in catering as students or staff can tap into funds from elsewhere.
The ability to utilise your account at vending machines and self-service kiosks, eradicating the need for cash to be stored remotely and to quicken service and reduce staffing costs will also become more widespread over the next few years.
David Robinson: The landscape is constantly changing in an effort to embrace new technologies born mainly from the retail world. The biggest moves will centre around early student engagement at open days and careers fairs. Capturing the student details early will allow universities the opportunity to market to the potential students in this competitive field.
Liz Marshall: Moving from ID cards to mobile ID that uses a student’s mobile phone as a virtual ID card from which the student can run their campus life including payment for goods and services. Integrating mobile wallets.
Matt Sewell: There is growing pressure for universities and colleges to save money. At the same time, they must compete more intensively and in a global market. Institutions must find increasingly innovative ways to deliver efficiencies. Going cashless can deliver both cost savings and an enhanced student experience.
The use of mobile devices to make in-store payments has been growing steadily since the UK launch of Apple Pay in 2015, but it is only really in the past 12 months that the technology has begun to gain widespread acceptance beyond ‘early adopters,’ further fuelled by the launch of Android Pay in 2016 and Samsung Pay earlier this year.
Monthly spending on mobile devices has risen by 57% in the past six months (£46m spent using mobiles in January 2017, compared to £74m in June 2017), while mobile’s share overall in-store transactions has risen from 1.18% at the end of 2016 to 2.04% in June 2017.
How does/can EPoS tech enhance the student experience?
David Robinson: Students want to feel valued by the institutions, a properly structured and executed loyalty programme backed up by a market-leading EPoS system can provide increased patronage and engagement with students but also give a sense of the institution giving something back.
Liz Marshall: Using a cashless solution will improve the student experience – offering a one card/one account managed via one portal, offers students a simple way to access and manage how they pay and top-up a cashless account, and their parents can even login and add funds for them. They can then use this account to pay for many services on campus, from buying food, paying for laundry, accessing rooms, booking a squash court, buying chocolate from a vending machine or paying library fines – the list can be endless and all without the need to carry cash. In addition, because it is so easy to use funds loaded onto their ID card they are more likely to stay on campus.
Lisa Dulay: In simplistic terms, the best EPoS systems enable the sellers to get their offer right. With the ability to fully analyse sales they will know at the touch of a button what the students like and what they don’t like.
They can track trends and ensure that their offer is adapted to meet the student’s needs at the right time and in the right place.
And, of course, the ability to program sometimes complex meal deals, promotions or loyalty schemes, means that the till sale is quick and accurate for the end users.