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Why are councils teaming up with private companies?

Earlier this month, GoCardless attended the LGA Annual Conference. There, we discovered councils taking an interesting new approach to delivering services.

Because of significant budget cuts, many councils have started looking elsewhere for sources of revenue. Some are now charging for discretionary services, while others are adding completely new services to their offerings.

Alongside our partners Peterborough City Council, we spoke to councils from all over the country, including officers, councillors and leaders of the opposition. Here are some of the key takeaways about councils’ approach to digital improvements.

More efficiency, less spend

In general, councils want to save money by addressing three areas. Firstly, councils aim to get more done with less manual work, using technology to improve processes. They also want to cut back on physical mailing and reduce paperwork in general.

And finally, streamlining back-office processes is key for many councils in their drive to save money and heighten efficiency across the board.

For payment handling needs, GoCardless is well placed to help councils meet all these goals. Using our digital Direct Debit mandates allows customers to sign up online instead of by phone or paper mandate. Our system also removes the need to manually reconcile council payments, making the back office payment handling process slick and efficient.

“GoCardless helped us to set up an online Direct Debit solution in a matter of weeks. The API was really easy to work with and it saved us having to invest in a bespoke solution that would have taken a number of months to introduce.

“We’ve seen around 60% of our customers chose to pay by Direct Debit so next year they won’t have to spend time renewing their subscriptions. It’ll all be taken care of for them,” said Lee Sirdifield, strategic lead of programme delivery for South Kesteven District Council.

 Lessons from the private sector

We also discovered some councils going the extra mile in their drive to maximise efficiency. Some have begun taking tips from the private sector; in particular, teaming up with companies to deliver strategic governing priorities in new and innovative ways.

For example, Peterborough City Council partners with a range of companies, such as Arcus Global for a suite of services, Peopletoo for customer journey mapping, and of course GoCardless for payments.

Peterborough Council already has a digital strategy in place, working with the private sector to bring in new technology to both benefit residents and improve the way its officers work. For example, Peterborough has now moved to Google's cloud-based applications and has become much more agile by adopting Chromebooks.

By partnering with GoCardless, Peterborough was able to implement a reliable, accessible and easy-to-manage way to collect payments from residents for its newly introduced garden waste collection charge. And by introducing the charge the council was able to cover the £800,000 annual cost of delivering the garden waste service.

Peterborough identified Direct Debit as the most suitable way to collect payments, and GoCardless offered easy integration along with real value for money.

“GoCardless was easy to integrate into our online subscription service, and offered value for money for taking multiple payments,” said James Collingridge, partnership manager at Peterborough City Council.

New ways of revenue generation

Over in Camden, we can see a particularly enterprising example of a council emulating the private sector. Alongside other digital transformations, Camden Council is now acting as a marketing agency for other councils, producing print and digital media for them.

The council’s USP is having these cutting-edge digital skills alongside the in-depth knowledge of delivering council services, to understand what a council really needs.

Camden Council aims for this endeavour to not just become self-financing, but also to create a brand new revenue source. At present, Camden’s clients include other councils from all over the UK, such as Havering Council in Essex.

On top of its digital marketing efforts, Camden Council is already generating significant revenue by renting out spaces, for example for film shoots taking place in the borough. It has also developed new policy to allow digital advertising in the borough, to allow buildings and others to monetise space.

Tackling integration challenges

But there are a number of challenges remaining in the drive towards full digital. One of them is the need to consider how digital tools fit in with existing systems, as Councillor Theo Blackwell pointed out in a recent Medium post.

“Legacy systems create a large technical burden when launching and integrating new tools. There’s an opportunity now to rationalise these systems and applications and identify new opportunities through ongoing systems-thinking reviews of each service.”

With our flexible system, built with a powerful API at its heart, councils can integrate our product easily and quickly with existing systems, without having to reinvent the wheel. Overall, the area of payments is ripe for improvement, with Direct Debit and GoCardless leading the way.

Councils are taking a forward-looking approach with their digital first strategies, which closely mirrors our philosophy here at GoCardless, as we work hard to bring Direct Debit into the digital age.

Find out how GoCardless helps councils go digital
Read Peterborough's story
in People

A day in the life of Partnerships Success

Who am I?

I’m Rachel and I’m a Partnership Success Manager at GoCardless. I focus on looking after and growing our existing partnerships - other businesses who offer GoCardless to their own customers.

That often means GoCardless has integrated with another software product. For example, I look after our partnership with Xero, which we’ve integrated with to enable small businesses to take Direct Debit payments via their Xero invoices.

I’d worked in partnerships for about six years before joining GoCardless, but always in the charity sector. So while this job is similar, GoCardless is a whole new environment for me.

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Collecting recurring payments in .NET

GoCardless .NET guides

.NET has been our most frequently-requested client library, and today we're excited to announce that we've released our first version of a .NET library for the new GoCardless API!

This new library means it will be faster and easier than ever to build robust integrations with our API if you're using the .NET framework - you can focus on building your business instead of building the integration from scratch.

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Build better, smarter, faster with our API
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Incident response: email reminders incorrectly sent to customers

Yesterday afternoon on the 4th July 2017, between 2pm and 2:35pm BST (British Summer Time), we sent a number of email reminders to end customers (those wanting to pay one of our merchants), asking them to authorise historic direct debit mandates. The emails were sent to individuals who received a request from one of our merchants to set up a mandate, but who never completed the original request.

All our systems remain secure and uncompromised, no third parties were involved, and we have put in place changes to fix the root cause of this issue. We apologise for any inconvenience caused.

What should I do?

What you should do depends on whether you’re an end customer who received an email from us on 4th July or a merchant collecting money through GoCardless.

For end customers

If you haven’t already taken action, please ignore the email you received. We have deactivated the link within it.

If you opened the link and completed the form, and you don’t want to set up payments to the merchant, please contact the merchant or your bank to cancel the Direct Debit mandate, or alternatively contact us if you have any queries.

For merchants

If your customers were impacted by the issue, we’ll be in touch with more detailed information.

We’ll be letting you know which customers were affected, and what options you have for handling any action taken by your customers in relation to the emails.

As always, our support team is happy to help.

In detail: how did this happen?

On the ‘Customers’ tab of our dashboard, we have a ‘Remind all’ button, which sends a reminder to all your customers who haven’t finished setting up a Direct Debit mandate with you.

As part of our phone support service, our staff can trigger these emails on behalf of a merchant.

The combination of a bug in our dashboard API and the way our dashboard works when staff are acting on behalf of merchants led to reminder emails being sent for all merchants that had pending customers, rather than just the merchant the support agent triggered reminders for.

As soon as we found out about the issue, we halted sending any further emails, triaged the bugs, and began working on our response.

We have fixed the bug, and performed multiple tests to ensure the fix is working as intended.

What’s next?

We want to reiterate our apology for the inconvenience caused by this issue.

As part of our incident response process, we’ll be conducting a detailed investigation into the issue and our response to it. We’ll be focused on finding any improvements we can - in both our systems and processes - that will reduce the likelihood and impact of this kind of issue happening again.

If you have any questions after reading this, please feel free to contact our support team.

in Business

Is there room to improve Direct Debit?

GoCardless Direct Debit Guarantee

Direct Debit use in the UK grew by 4.9% in 2016 - but how can we make it even more popular?

Direct Debit has been growing fast over the last few years. Today in the UK, over 90% of personal current account holders and around 40,000 organisations use it - and it’s the most popular way for UK consumers to pay their bills. Recent figures show that 9 out of 10 adults have at least one active Direct Debit and pay around 73% of their household bills this way.

Bacs, (short for Bacs Payment Schemes Limited), the organisation behind Direct Debit, processed over 6 billion transactions in 2015 to a value of £4.6 trillion. This figure included an impressive 3.9 billion Direct Debit payments, an increase of 239 million on the previous year.

But despite the popularity of Direct Debit, there remain areas for improvement. Bacs has conducted research into the current state of Direct Debit, to ensure the product remained ‘relevant and fit for purpose’.

Here at GoCardless, part of our job is educate businesses about the benefits of Direct Debit, so we were keen to understand these insights from Bacs. In this post, we explore some of the issues unearthed in the research, and examine ways to address them.

The consumer view

For consumers, the Direct Debit Guarantee is a key feature giving them confidence and trust in the system. The Guarantee (also known as the ‘Direct Debit Indemnity’) is a method of customer protection built into the Direct Debit scheme. It protects customers against payments made in error or fraudulently, making Direct Debit the UK’s safest payment method.

According to the Bacs research, more than half of consumers surveyed (57%) said they were aware of the Guarantee. But younger and less financially secure individuals are less likely to be aware of it. Over a quarter of consumers said they didn’t know how long the Guarantee was valid for, with a third believing it to be valid for a year or less.

It’s important to convey that the Guarantee is unlimited, as this helps consumers feel more secure in using Direct Debit. Educating consumers about the Direct Debit Guarantee could be the key to building their confidence and encouraging them to pay by Direct Debit.

What’s more, users with less knowledge of Direct Debit are more likely to think money can be taken from their account at any time, without warning. This audience said they would like to be notified when Direct Debit payments are set to leave their account, but didn’t realise that Direct Debit providers are already obliged to inform them of this.

The business view

As far as SMEs are concerned, the research found that only 3% pay their bills by Direct Debit (compared to 73% of consumers). Possible reasons may include the traditional struggle for B2B suppliers to offer Direct Debit as a payment method (due to challenging access requirements from the banks), along with consumers’ tendency to be ahead of the curve in cloud adoption, plus the late payments culture in British business.

For SMEs, perceptions about the Direct Debit chargeback rate have been largely inaccurate, with figures showing consumers charging back less than one in every 4000 Direct Debit payments. What’s more, it’s fraudulent to falsely charge back payments. Awareness of this is important for setting small business owners’ minds at ease and making them more likely to use Direct Debit to take payments from their customers.

Improving Direct Debit for all

For many people, Direct Debit is a trusted payment method due to the Guarantee.

But this research has uncovered opportunities to improve understanding: both among consumers so they’re more willing to pay by Direct Debit, and among businesses so they are more comfortable in offering it. In turn, this points to an opportunity for Direct Debit growth in both B2C and B2B, leading to improved cash flow for everyone.

Having brought Direct Debit into the digital age, GoCardless is well-placed to deliver further improvements, as well as helping to educate consumers about the many benefits of taking payments by Direct Debit.

Learn more about how GoCardless is helping companies improve Direct Debit.

We're helping companies do Direct Debit better
Check out our customer stories

Why is GoCardless launching the Open Banking Hub?

GoCardless Open Banking PSD2

Open banking is one of the most important emerging trends in the world of finance today.

It involves using technology to transform the financial services industry, levelling the playing field and giving consumers more control of their data.

This all stems from the introduction of PSD2...a term that may already sound familiar. PSD2 is short for the ‘Payment Services Directive 2’ and was designed as a pan-EU project, involving a range of countries within the bloc.

Together, PSD2 and open banking are gearing up to revolutionise the payments industry. The new directive is likely to affect everything from how we pay online, to the information we see when making a payment.

As part of this change, banks will be required to offer open APIs to allow third party developers to build apps around various elements of the financial services industry.

Fintech companies and other innovators will have the chance to leverage data in ways that benefit the customer.

But in reality, Open Banking is about more than APIs…

We believe technology has the power to unify and simplify finance.

That’s why GoCardless is launching an Open Banking Hub. Our goal with this platform is to disseminate insightful and informative content to help our audiences better understand the many benefits of open banking, for both their firms and their customers.

The GoCardless Open Banking Hub will also be useful for keeping track of how the open banking trend will impact us all. For busy senior executives in the financial services industry, projects such as implementing PSD2 requirements can become just another sprawling management concern.

Success of those projects hinges on how well you serve your customer. Everything published on the Open Banking Hub will be written with that philosophy firmly in mind.

The Hub will aim to provide some all-important context for understanding open banking. To do that, we’ve created a comprehensive timeline of the PSD2 project.

What’s more, the open banking revolution is full of acronyms and complex terms. To help you navigate this new world with ease, we’ve created one of the first open banking glossaries, which we’ll continue to update as new terms emerge.

Our Hub will feature a wide range of content, including interviews with key stakeholders — banks, investors, industries around the world, along with summaries, news and reviews of key events and announcements, plus deep dives into the various technology that’s driving the open banking revolution.

In addition, the Hub will offer a range of expert insights into how the latest developments in regulation and compliance are being shaped, and how organisations can use them to gain a competitive edge.

We’ll be talking to everyone from investors and entrepreneurs to industry organisations, in a bid to uncover how open banking will impact the financial services industry and beyond.

Find out more about open banking and PSD2
Check out the Open Banking Hub
in Business

Maximising business freedom - Takeaways from Zuora Subscribed 2017

Last week, some of the GoCardless team headed to San Francisco to attend the Zuora Subscribed 2017 event.

Freedom was the overarching theme for Subscribed this year. Discussions revolved around the move from a world where customers bought products to a world where subscriptions to services offer maximum freedom for the end-customer.

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in People

A day in the life of GoCardless Customer Success

Who am I?

I’m Avani Painter, and I joined GoCardless around 11 months ago as part of the Inbound Sales team. I then moved over to the Customer Success team, where I am today. My role here involves working with our biggest clients, making sure we’re managing our existing relationships effectively and finding growth opportunities.

Before joining GoCardless I worked in finance, while working on my own startup idea. When I was looking for my next career move, GoCardless seemed like the perfect combination of the two!

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in Business

On a global post-Brexit stage, what’s next for London tech?

In this turbulent era of market uncertainty, political changes and new economic powerhouses, what might London’s future place in the global tech scene look like? And how do those who are funding London’s hottest tech innovators view the capital’s role in changing times? Where better to seek answers to these big questions than at an event full of angel investors, VCs and world-leading entrepreneurs? We attended the Tech London Advocates Investor Showcase this week at Here East hoping to learn more.

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in Business

Accountex 2017: How accountants must meet the new digital reality

For those looking to transform and revitalise their accountancy practice, Accountex 2017 was the place to be this May. Held at the ExCel centre in London’s Docklands, the cream of the UK’s accounting world came together to discuss everything from the latest tech to the future of the industry.

What did you miss? In short, one very simple buzzword featured heavily across all the presentations, panels and exhibitor stands at this year’s event...

...and that word was ‘Digital’.

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