Keeping up with how payments are changing in the public sector

Wednesday, January 23, 2019 12:58 pm EST


Marlen Prato, Head of Strategic Markets, Public Sector, Elavon

The rapid pace of technological change and digital innovation is occurring across every industry, including state and local government and higher education. Although the public sector certainly has its unique challenges like limited budgets and resources, in many cases the advantages to maintaining the pace of innovation, especially in payment acceptance, are worth the investment.

The way payments are made and received is constantly evolving, adding new conveniences that the public wants and merchants can use to streamline their services. Some of these you might already know, like Apple Pay, but there are others to consider that could benefit your agency. Here are four key trends to know that are relevant and useful for the public sector:

1. Omnichannel acceptance. Nowadays, shopping decisions and actions happen both online and off. In industries such as retail, services, food and beverage or hospitality, this means businesses must satisfy the customers’ needs at every possible access point – whether it’s brick and mortar, online shopping on a desktop, or in the mobile world with a dedicated app. These multiple touchpoints with the same company allow customers to shop and pay in whichever environment they want, with a convenient and seamless experience.  

This is a concept known as omnichannel. But while many public sector organizations may not be there yet, people are used to how payments are made in private industries, so they have the same expectations for the public sector. More than meeting people’s expectations, there are tangible benefits for public organizations adopting an omnichannel payment strategy. When payments can be made online, citizens are likely to settle them more quickly and more frequently, thanks to the added at-their-fingertips convenience. For example, instead of heading to the DMV to renew their license plates, people can submit for renewal and pay the associated fees online, saving them a trip out of the house and preventing them from driving around with expired plates for months. This means less back-office work trying to reach late payers and quicker reconciliation.

2. Paying for convenience. People are generally willing to pay a little bit more for convenience, like being able to make a payment online by credit or debit card rather than having to complete the transaction in person. This means it’s possible to offset the cost of payment acceptance by charging a small service fee to constituents. You can easily incorporate service fees with Elavon’s payment processing platform, Converge. 

It’s important to note that service fees can help balance the books short term, but in the long term taxpayers stand to reap significant savings with omnichannel acceptance. By streamlining payments online, parking, water, utilities and other government agencies can save on resources like time and labor while improving efficiency. Data is also extremely powerful and important when working with the public, and a more advanced payment processing system can give you extensive insights on constituents’ practices and behaviors.

3. Payment security. We all know data breaches are expensive. But even the suspicion of a breach of customer payment data requires a forensic audit by an approved PCI DSS forensic investigator. Forensic fees can range from $12,000 to $100,000 per investigation, based on size, complexity and extent of the breach. Beyond the monetary costs, public confidence and reputation can suffer too.   

This is why a strong focus on payment security is essential in today’s environment of security breaches and hackers. Your constituents simply expect it and need to know that any payments they make to a government office are safe and secure. To ensure public trust, make sure you have the latest security features available.  Right now, best practice is to invest in EMV, or chip card technology and chip readers combined with encryption and tokenization. 

For an extra layer of security, experts recommend a PCI-validated point-to-point encryption (P2PE) solution. Provided by a third-party solution provider, P2PE is a combination of secure devices, applications and processes that encrypt data from the point of interaction (when payment card gets entered) until the data reaches the solution provider’s secure decryption environment. If a solution has been validated by the PCI council, agencies will have a reduction in scope for the annual PCI DSS certification. 

4. Flexible options. As the market develops and perfects new innovative payment solutions, organizations that accept credit and debit card payments need to keep up with consumer preferences. This includes giving people the ability to pay with whatever method they prefer and in both online and in-person environments. It’s simply the flexibility and convenience constituents are used to and expect. Besides being more convenient for the public, offering payment flexibility often means an increase in prompt payments of fees and services. 

Giving payers the flexibility to pay with all credit and debit card types is also important. In fact, Elavon has a new American Express acceptance program that makes it easier for merchants to offer American Express as a payment type. The new program simplifies acceptance by paying merchants at the same time as other card brands, using single simplified statements and giving the agency a single point of contact that specializes in the public sector.

These are just a few of the key ways payments are evolving, and why it pays for the public sector to adopt these new technologies. To learn more, visit

About the author:
Marlen Prato is head of Elavon’s Public Sector vertical supporting Elavon’s Strategic Markets Account Management team under our Public Sector portfolio.  She brings over 20 years in payment processing experience with various roles supporting eCommerce Products and Strategic Operations for National and Midmarket customers. Marlen has demonstrated success in strategy, leadership, business development, and client facing roles with core competencies including critical thinking, problem solving, process design, transformation execution, program development, expense rationalization, planning, and business analysis. Marlen has also worked with many strategic customers across other product/service categories.   

Elavon’s Media Contact:

Cara Crifasi 
Corporate Communications 
+1 303-268-2412

back to top