Digitizing the chaotic world of school payments

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As any stressed-out parent knows, kids can be quite bad at communicating what they need for school.

"It's 6:30 in the morning and a family finds pieces of paper in a backpack for a field trip and a request for money, and it's the last minute to make that payment," said Jerry Banks, CEO of Bursari, a Cocoa, Fla.-based software company that powers digital school payments. "You've always wound up with crumpled paper and cash in a Ziplock bag in a case like that."

Bursari has added a software development kit to improve its ability to accept and process one-time and recurring payments to schools through a variety of means—mobile apps, websites and other digital options. For school administrators, it works similar to Bill.com by offering a dashboard view of events and incoming payments based on the district employee who is using the program.

Banks says payments automation can solve the confusion that accompanies last-minute field trip preparations, fundraisers, prom payments, class productions, or any other reason a school may have to collect money from parents or students.

These stresses exist on both sides, Banks said. School administrators and teachers have difficulty organizing, tracking and processing payments in a system that still relies almost entirely on paper forms and checks, if not cash. And parents are often hit with unexpected payments that are not necessarily cost prohibitive, but a pain to handle when preparing kids for the school bus.

The company's model is a lot like an e-commerce site or an e-billing site, but tailored tightly to grade and high school needs. The difference between Bursari and general payment sites, according to Banks, is Bursari is nearly white label. The user interface allows users to build a payment site that looks and feels like a school's website, with a Bursari label in the corner. And the functions are more specific to school needs than a general person-to-person payments site. Administrators can assign staff and managers to collect payments, and can set permissions or responsibilities based on their department's needs. Campaigns can also be added and dropped quickly, Banks said.

Bursari was founded in 2013 and launched nationally this past summer. It makes money through transaction fees, does business with about 500 school districts, and Banks contends 80% of students or their families opt into the system within two weeks of launch.

The addition of the software development kit, Fiserv's Digital Payments SDK, will support near real-time ACH transaction processing and will help districts offer installment payments for larger ticket items, as well as improve its ability to quickly change and update programs that require payments from parents or students. That will take the product's use cases beyond field trips and lunch fees to larger ticket items such as proms or athletic and music equipment. "Not everybody can pay several hundred dollars right away up front. This will help with that," Banks said.

The product falls into Nacha's vision for how faster and real-time payments can aid organizations such as nonprofits.

"This is an interesting niche-market approach for whatever appears to be a request for payments or push payment application through ACH and real-time networks," said Sarah Grotta, director of the debit and alternative advisory service at Mercator. "This is often applied when the payor sends request to the payee for a specific one-time amount or recurring transaction…schools and charitable entities can successfully make an appeal to the payee that using a direct to checking account transaction is less costly than card transactions, making their funds go further."

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