How schools can manage risk and create efficiencies with Commercial Cards
Read time : 5 mins Added: 17/03/2022
How payments are made in schools is shifting. An increasing number are forgoing cash altogether, with research by Parent Pay showing 60% of UK schools are already cashless, and a further 23% planning to make the change in the next two years.
Money coming into schools now typically does so via apps which allow parents and carers to pay for everything from school dinners to trips and equipment. And less physical cash coming into schools means many school finance teams are exploring new ways of making their own payments.
Commercial Cards can bring a number of benefits for schools, including reducing risk and creating greater financial and operational efficiencies.
School purchasing is extensive and hugely varied, from food to stationery and equipment. And there are typically a number of people making purchases. This can result in hundreds of invoices across the year, many for relatively small amounts. Dealing with each of those invoices can be incredibly time consuming compared to embedding a Commercial Card with each supplier and paying off one bill at the end of the month.
Commercial Cards also remove the need for extensive approval procedures – the structure can be set up to mirror a school’s management structure – making ad hoc and planned purchasing much more time efficient.
Research by the British Educational Suppliers Association (BESA) shows that 92% of schools are facing budget uncertainty for the next academic year and while using Commercial Cards won’t increase school funds, it can help manage them more effectively.
Senior personnel within the school, or central programme administrators within multi-academy trusts, are able to maintain oversight of all spending, setting limits and controls as appropriate. They also benefit from full financial reporting on their card spend to help inform future spending decisions.
Using cards also makes it easier to buy online and shop around for the best offers, rather than using the same suppliers all the time. Or, if a school does have preferred suppliers where they can access favourable deals, it’s possible to put controls in place so that cards can only be used with them.
Using Commercial Cards to make payments rather than relying on petty cash is not only more physically secure i.e. there’s less chance of money being misplaced or even stolen, it ensures that all expenditure is accounted for and that there is a clear paper trail when it comes to audit time.
Cards also offer an extra layer of chargeback protection, meaning if goods don’t arrive or there are quality issues, the school will be able to claim their money back and won’t be left out of pocket.
More and more schools are attracted by the added security and additional controls virtual card accounts can offer for B2B spend. When a supplier needs to be paid, a virtual card number is raised to the value of the invoice and then pre-approved in line with internal policy. Virtual card accounts are exempt too from Strong Customer Authentication regulation which goes live this month.
A variety of limits can be placed on cards to help prevent misuse, including spending limits or restrictions on the types of outlets they can be used in. It is still common for teachers and school staff to use their own cards to pay for items. Not only does this place a financial burden on staff who then have to wait to claim their money back on expenses, it adds a level of risk as the school has no control over where money is spent or how much is being spent on certain items. Using corporate charge cards can remove that risk.
There is, of course, still a risk that cards can be lost or stolen, however, they can typically be blocked very easily and often with no disruption to other cards on the account.
While Commercial Cards offer a greater level of control, they also offer much-needed flexibility. Limits can be flexed and raised as needed, for example, if a teacher needs funds while on a school trip or if a site manager needs to make repairs during the school holidays and there is no one in the office.
During the first lockdown in 2020 when schools needed to provide food for children entitled to free school dinners, schools with Commercial Cards were able to easily purchase vouchers online and send them directly to the families in need.
Changing payment processes to Commercial Cards can seem challenging, especially in schools without a full finance team or if existing suppliers are reluctant to accept card payments.
However, there are numerous options available to explore, enabling each school to find the solution that suits their particular payment challenges and needs.
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