Goodbye, Checks: Associations Look to Alternative Payments

a pen and check Associations Now March/April 2017 Issue By: Tim Ebner

Associations are making it quicker and easier to pay and renew membership dues, which means checks are quickly becoming a thing of the past. Both technology and consumer demand are helping to fuel the rise of alternative payments as popular options for dues payment.

Sometimes the biggest barrier to landing a customer—or a new member—can be the time it takes to pay.

Take, for example, the e-commerce behemoth Amazon. The company that introduced us to one-click payments and same-day shipping is about to launch Amazon Go, a grocery store where customers can walk in, scan their cellphone at a kiosk, pick up items off the shelf, and walk out without standing in a checkout line or swiping a credit card. Charges go directly to the customer’s Amazon account.

That’s the latest from the retail space, but payment speed is becoming critical in a wide variety of commercial transactions, including in membership services, says Darryl Hopkins, director of product management at Abila, a software solutions provider.

“We work with hundreds of associations to expedite and expand their payment options,” Hopkins says. “But you would be surprised, there’s still a small fraction of associations who don’t offer any form of electronic payment. It’s simply check or money order.”

There's a natural tendency for associations to be slow to adapt, but that could come at a cost to your membership.—Darryl Hopkins, Abila

It’s probably safe to assume that most of your members won’t reach for their checkbook. Cashless payments are on the rise, and that’s part of the reason why associations are making the leap to alternative payment types, including PayPal and Automated Clearing House (ACH) payments.

In 2015, Abila tracked all electronic payments made using its association management system, netFORUM Enterprise. In all, there were 2 million transactions totaling more than $900 million. According to Hopkins, 93 percent of those transactions came from credit cards, 6 percent from ACH, and less than 1 percent from PayPal.

“Gradually, associations have changed,” he says. “What you’re seeing is that a lot of associations are moving away from checks.”

Hopkins says that tech-savvy and internationally focused associations are prime candidates for alternative payment options. The Association for Contextual Behavioral Science has more than 8,000 members, half of which reside outside the United States. ACBS uses PayPal to speed up payment processing and avoid currency conversion fees associated with credit cards.

“There’s a natural tendency for associations to be slow to adapt, but that could come at a cost to your membership,” Hopkins says. “You wouldn’t want to get in the way of someone joining, so you’re seeing associations test things like mobile payments, recurring payments, and pay-by-app. … Alternative payments may seem exotic right now, but they are being driven by your members.”

[This article was originally published in the Associations Now print edition, titled "Goodbye Checks."]

Tim Ebner

Tim Ebner is communications director and press secretary at the American Forest & Paper Association in Washington, DC. He is a member of ASAE’s Communication Professionals Advisory Council and a former Associations Now senior editor.