How to Promote Online Payments

Where’s your checkbook? Do you have it on you right now? Chances are pretty good these days that you don’t. Americans are writing fewer checks than ever, heavily preferring card transactions in person and online and digital payment options when available. As a result, more and more property management companies now offer online payment options for rent, applications, and other charges. But in an interesting wrinkle, many renters are still delivering a rent check to the leasing office like clockwork, on the first of every month. Where’s the disconnect?

Entrata's ResidentPay team has been looking at ways to bridge that gap, and over the past few years we’ve turned up a number of factors that can help promote online payments so that residents are more likely to take advantage. One of the most noticeable differences come when properties offer a free ACH payment option (as opposed to having residents pay a convenience fee to use online payments).

“There are still some property managers who don’t want to assume ACH processing costs, which are typically less than two dollars per transaction,” explained Kate Hampton, VP of ResidentPay. “However, more and more are realizing that this one step saves their staff time, helps eliminate fraud, and reduces data entry errors every month.” Hampton explained that in recent years more than 60 percent of ResidentPay clients have decided to offer a free ACH option, and that number continues to climb.

That one decision can double the number of residents who choose to pay online, even if you do nothing else. “Our clients whose residents must pay an online convenience fee average about 20 percent online payment participation,” said Hampton. “At the same time, properties offering a free ACH option average nearly 45 percent participation each month.”

If you already offer a free ACH payments, how can you promote greater adoption? Here’s a hint: target your own teams. We’ve worked with a variety of clients over the years to build and support promotions that are aimed at residents, and other programs incentivizing property managers and leasing agents to boost participation. And the data shows that programs that are directed toward property staff are more effective at actually changing resident behavior.

“Enlisting property managers is more effective than print collateral or email and phone reminders aimed at residents,” said Hampton. She explained that, like the rest of us, residents tend to be creatures of habit and will continue to use the payment method they have in the past. Bombarding them with messaging becomes increasingly ineffective – too much and they tune it out altogether. However, when they’re working directly with someone in the leasing office, someone who is familiar and credible and can explain the benefits of online payments, they’re more likely to make the change.

Further evidence comes from two ResidentPay clients who rolled out the Property Solutions paperless payment programs in recent months. These clients had similar portfolios and nearly identical participation rates going in, with just under half of residents paying online. One focused on resident-facing promotions and awareness campaigns, the other established property-level goals and had managers compete over a specified time. While the paperless program helped both portfolios boost online payment participation, after 120 days a significant difference was apparent in adoption rates. “The properties who messaged only residents realized a 25 percent increase in online payment participation,” explained Hampton, “but the properties who incentivized staff saw participation rates grow nearly 42 percent.”

It comes down to the things that influence behavior, and relationships win in the end. More than shiny brochures, email reminders, or colorful posters, a simple face-to-face interaction has the power to make a difference. Properties can motivate leasing agents to help a new resident enroll in the ResidentPortal when they sign a lease, or assistant managers to take a moment to walk a long-time community member through the online payment process when they’ve stopped by the office with a rent-check. These are the properties that are seeing things change. And things are changing fast.

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