So you’ve got your online bill pay system in place and now you’re faced with what payment methods to offer. This includes which credit cards to accept and, more importantly, whether or not to accept echecks.
What is an echeck?
Echeck payments provide your customers the opportunity to enter their bank routing and account numbers and submit a payment to be electronically transferred from their bank account. This process is essentially the same as a bank draft, except the customer initiates the process rather than your office sending an ACH file to the bank.
Advantages of echecks
First, let’s examine why you might want to accept echecks. For starters, transaction fees are generally lower for echecks than credit cards. This means, if your utility absorbs the cost of processing online payments without charging a convenience fee, it costs you less to process an echeck than a credit card payment. If you charge a third party convenience fee, your customer will pay less than if they were to pay using a credit card.
Another reason to consider accepting echecks is some customers have checking accounts but no debit card so, without the echeck option, they wouldn’t be able to pay online.
Disadvantages of echecks
As was posted last week on one of the listservs I follow, echecks are subject to being returned if the customer incorrectly enters the echeck information.
This is because, unlike credit cards, there is no validation of the routing or account numbers as your customer is entering the payment. Likewise, there is also no verification of funds availability.
What this means is, unfortunately, echeck transactions are subject to honest mistakes in entering the information or, in some cases, outright abuse. I have had utilities tell me they are certain they have had customers intentionally enter erroneous echeck payments just prior to cut-off day to avoid being disconnected. This can work to the customer’s advantage if your returned check fee is less than your cut-off or reconnect fee.
The only real solution is to not accept echeck transactions and encourage your customers to use a debit card to pay from their checking account.
A reminder for North Carolina utilities
If you work for a North Carolina water utility, you should have received an invitation from the Environmental Finance Center to participate in a Utility Management Survey conducted by the EFC and North Carolina League of Municipalities.
If you, or someone at your utility, didn’t receive this invitation, please email the EFC directly at firstname.lastname@example.org and they will provide you with the specific survey link for your utility.
Should you offer additional payment options?
Do you ever wonder if your office should offer additional payment options? If so, please give me a call at 919-232-2320 or e-mail me at email@example.com to learn how a business review could benefit your utility.
© 2017 Gary Sanders