Government offices are reopening to accept payments in-person again. Here’s how they can still limit cards, cash and checks from changing hands and slow the spread of the coronavirus.
Governments are bracing for revenue shortfalls from the pandemic, with one model projecting a $900 billion decline in state budgets if the unemployment rate reaches 20 percent. Making matters worse, the pandemic shut down offices — major points of sale for governments — jeopardizing what revenue they’re still able to collect.
Governments are moving their payment processes for taxes, fees and other functions online to maintain cashflow. But with government offices reopening, how are they going to slow the spread of the coronavirus when citizens start making in-person payments again?
Most offices, if they offer off-premises transactions, will see fewer citizens walking in their doors to make payments than before the outbreak. One in four consumers are not at all interested in leaving their homes even as economies reopen, according to a PYMNTS.com survey.
And digital payments are not a new trend. Citizens’ preference for digital payment options was already growing before COVID-19 made those options essential. There’s reason to believe that even once citizens have the option to make in-person payments again, more of them will still be going digital than pre-COVID-19.
Still, citizens who lack access to banks or credit cards will need safe ways to make payments in cash. And offices will still see people coming in who simply prefer in-person transactions.
But government offices don’t need to become hot spots for the virus. Here are some ways they can change how they accept payments in- person to minimize the risk to their staff and their citizens.
Take Inventory of Online and In-Person Payment Capabilities
First, offices should assess what payment options each department still needs. Which critical services don’t currently accept payments online or by phone? Which permits or licenses require citizens to bring a form to the office with their payment? Offices need to ensure these departments will allow citizens to keep doing business with the government agency with minimal disruption to services and cashflows.
Even as offices are reopening, the focus shouldn’t shift entirely to in-person payments. Governments should still consider adding online or pay-by-phone options where departments still need them.
Offices are automating or streamlining other processes to help citizens complete their business remotely. For example, they can use online forms that embed payments, instead of a manual process where the user prints out a PDF, brings it to an office with payment, and the office prints out the permit or license.
Install Self-Service Kiosks
More offices will be adding payment kiosks to help keep cards, cash and checks from changing hands. Some offices have relied on outdoor kiosks to keep cash payments coming while they’ve been closed. But even those that are only now adding kiosks will discover both short- and long-term benefits.
Because they handle routine transactions more quickly than live employees, kiosks shorten lines, which promotes social distancing. Depending on their application, kiosks can help citizens help themselves with many tasks besides payment — completing forms, searching records and billing information, etc. — further reducing their interactions with staff. We’ve seen kiosks save organizations hundreds of thousands of labor hours per year at the customer service counter, making it easy for customers to get in and out the door quickly.
Once social distancing measures are lifted, kiosks will satisfy citizens’ growing desire to self-service. A survey found nearly 3 out of 4 people preferred to use self-service options, like self-checkout, over speaking with a live representative. And that portion is growing year after year.
Like we just saw with digital payment platforms, COVID-19 safety concerns will have government entities rushing to adopt kiosks, but they’ll be enjoying their advantages in efficiency and citizen satisfaction long after that original impetus is gone.
Activate Contactless Payment Terminals
Citizens are wary of touching PIN pads and swiping their cards where many others have. It’s a fair concern: studies found that the virus can live on plastic surfaces for two to three days. In response, more governments are rolling out payment terminals that take contactless payments — where payers don’t swipe or dip their card but “tap” it or use a device like a smartphone in close proximity.
Some governments are actively encouraging payers to use EMV payment, but payers may be switching to contactless payments anyway. An American Express survey found 58 percent of consumers who used contactless payments said they’re more likely to use them now than before the pandemic. The pandemic also reduced the likelihood that consumers will want to pay cash or insert or swipe a card at the point of sale.
While some offices would be installing new hardware to allow contactless payments, many have payment terminals that are EMV-ready — it’s just a matter of upgrading their service to activate contactless payments.
Even if they’re accepting contactless payments, offices will want to keep their payment hardware as clean as possible where citizens touch the terminals — a low-moisture alcohol-based wipe can help. To keep from damaging the devices, staff should avoid using abrasive cleaners or coating them with disinfectant. Offices should also use cleaning cards to disinfect where citizens dip and swipe on the terminals.
What to Consider Before Adding Hardware
Without kiosks or EMV-ready terminals, some offices might use their own touchscreen devices or tablets in their lobbies as a POS. Granted, it takes careful planning and close monitoring of the device to ensure the tablet is providing good service, and the application should be EMV-ready and allow for end-to-end encryption.
In the rush to go digital with payments, governments and agencies added different payment platforms on an as-needed basis to handle different transactions, for example, creating an awkward mix of software they’ll have to untangle going forward.
Unless governments are careful, this can happen again when they add in-person payment systems. Can the existing kiosk or terminal be upgraded to assume the new functions their offices need? Would a new system integrate with the government’s existing software? Can a single platform handle payments both online and in-person?
The pandemic is forcing governments to install more efficient, cost-saving payment processes — albeit on a frenetic timeline. But the benefits go far beyond the short term. The solutions offices are using to keep citizens safer today will also provide them better service tomorrow.
About the Author
Forte Payment Systems, a CSG Company offers government agencies a broad range of payment solutions, including credit/debit card processing, ACH/eCheck origination, check verification, and fraud prevention. Through superior customer service and a modern payments stack, Forte is dedicated to helping governments of all sizes reduce transaction costs, mitigate risk, and increase efficiencies.
For more information on payments best practices or to contact Forte, click here.
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