The UK higher education sector boasts over 2.5 million learners and almost half a million staff
With so many people spread across multiple sites and numerous departments, managing spend and expenses can be a huge burden on financial and administrative staff.
Cash payments are a particular headache – they’re difficult to track, a pain to reconcile, and require in-person chase up to collect physical receipts. More worryingly, they could also put universities at risk of falling foul of Anti Money Laundering regulations if they accept cash payments. Universities accepted £52million in fees paid in cash over the past five years, including funds from China, India, Russia and Nigeria, risking complicity in laundering the proceeds of illegal activities in these countries.
It’s no surprise, then, that higher education institutions are working to reduce their reliance on cash payments and promote alternative options in multiple areas of their organisations. The rise of contactless payments driven by COVID, as well as generational differences in attitudes to cash (teenagers are 4 times less likely to use cash than the general public), are set to accelerate this shift even further.
A university-wide prepaid card scheme is a powerful method of accelerating the shift to cashless payments across campus. Here are some of the ways universities could benefit from launching their own card scheme:
Prepaid cards can make managing staff and departmental expenses a breeze, taking pressure off the finance team and giving staff more control and autonomy, whilst making it easier than ever before to keep track of spending on everything from travel expenses to petty cash and materials.
Cards make it easy to ensure that spending fits with their intended use. They can be configured to whitelist or blacklist certain stores based on approved supplier lists, for example, or restrict ATM or online usage if cards are intended only for travel expenses.
Budget can be applied to a pre-paid card in whatever increment is most suitable, with the option to set auto-top ups to bring cards up to a set amount on a regular basis, plus the ability to manually load cards with higher amounts when required.
For staff, contactless pre-paid cards offer the flexibility to shop at a wide range of locations, as well as a secure cardholder app to keep track of card balances and upload photo receipts.
Pre-paid expense cards also offer powerful reporting features – a central management platform provides real-time data on balances, allows transactions to be categorised by department or accounting category, and integrates seamlessly with your accounting software for easy reconciliation.
Visitors and Volunteers
Prepaid cards don’t need to be limited only to registered staff and students – they can be a great way of welcoming visitors or volunteers and making sure that they’re taken care of during their time on campus.
Cards can be ordered ahead of time and kept on-site ready for activation and loading. So, for example, volunteers or student ambassadors supporting with events could be given a pre-paid card when they sign into the university with money to purchase lunch, usable at any of the university’s stores or concessions. Alternatively, at the end of the day, volunteers could walk away with a prepaid card to show they are valued and appreciated.
With Gen Z far more likely to rely on cards than cash in their day-to-day life, cashless payment is likely to be an expectation for their university experience too.
Prepaid cards can form part of a recruitment and engagement strategy for prospective students – by offering expenses or on-site meal funds via a pre-paid card, potential new students would have an enhanced experience of visiting campus open days, and a lasting reminder of their visit in the form of the card, which could be used as a future incentive for ongoing engagement with the recruitment process.
For current students, prepaid cards could be a longer-term method of driving engagement and participation with volunteering or university activities – with the added bonus that restrictions can be placed on card usage to prevent funds being spent on alcohol, gambling or other things which might not be considered desirable.
Prepaid cards can also be a perfect method of funding student events and club or society activities. Student union and society fundraising activities can often leave students in charge of large budgets, and ensuring that funds are used appropriately can be a challenge. Giving society committee members pre-paid cards puts them in control and gives them the power to lead and manage society activities independently, whilst ensuring that funds are secure.
Scholarships and Support
Pre-paid cards can also be used to support students through more challenging times. Paying student hardship funds or other bursaries via pre-paid card is efficient and cost-effective, and payments can be scheduled to ensure that money reaches students at the right time, or even sent via a virtual card if support is needed urgently.
A pre-paid card gives students the flexibility to withdraw or spend their money at millions of locations worldwide. This makes it a perfect method of transferring funds to international students, who may not have access to a UK bank account, without incurring foreign transaction fees.
How could prepaid cards work for you?
While many universities were already working to reduce their reliance on cash payments, COVID has unsurprisingly accelerated this even further. Prepaid cards can go a long way towards streamlining and tightening up finance processes, and can have wider benefits on student and staff experience, too.
To find out more about how we work with universities and how we can help you, call us on 020 3137 3420 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.