Billing and Payments

4 Differences Between General-Purpose and Specialized Payment Solutions

John Lehman
February 28, 2018

When it comes to accepting payments online, you have a wealth of options available to you. A quick Google search will present you with several general-purpose solutions that can accommodate a wide variety of businesses. These solutions process online card transactions for customers and merchants across the globe, including some CPA firms.

If you keep searching, you’ll also come across payment solutions that offer features and functionality designed with specific industries or business types in mind. Solutions like this are available for the accounting industry, too, but you may be wondering what exactly sets them apart from more generalized solutions. Why should you choose an industry-specific payment solution over a general-purpose payment solution?

Here we’ll explore four key elements that make a specialized online payment solution a better choice for your CPA firm.

Targeted software development

By design, generalized online payment processors are optimized for a broad variety of businesses, especially restaurants, retail, and other businesses that use point of sale systems, as these business types are abundant in our economy. For context, there are nearly 1.8 million retail, food, beverage, and accommodation businesses in the United States, compared with fewer than 900,000 professional services businesses.

As such, general-purpose providers aiming to serve as many businesses as possible develop their tools with the features and functionality that benefit these industries most. Unfortunately, these solutions are less ideal for professional services firms like yours, which don’t “ring up” a sale the way a typical retail business does, but instead process payments in a professional setting or invoice clients for payment after services have been performed.

In contrast, product developers designing solutions for CPAs have intimate knowledge of the type of work you do, the services you offer, and the way you run your business. They develop features like billing functionality, customizable payment pages, and even integrations with popular accounting software. Rather than having to make a one-size-fits-all payment platform fit the needs of your firm, you can benefit from a focused product development approach that prioritizes the needs of your business.

Smarter reconciliation and reporting

As a CPA, you’re likely more concerned than the average business owner with the ease and accuracy of payment reconciliation and the availability of flexible, informative reporting options. This is another area where all payment providers are not created equal.

For instance, most general-purpose payment solutions debit processing fees before depositing payments into your bank account, which can make reconciling online payments with your bank deposit statement a headache. Most industry-specific solutions, on the other hand, understand how frustrating this is and design their technology to avoid such headaches. Look for a payment solution that deposits 100 percent of your payments into your bank account, then debits your processing fees the following month. This makes reconciliation much simpler and more accurate.

General-purpose processors may offer an array of reporting features, but their metrics are often more applicable to a point of sale business than a CPA firm. For example, CPAs may not need reports for gift cards, discounts, or cash drawer history, and would benefit from a system with a reporting nomenclature catered more to services than product sales. A solution designed for CPAs will offer more robust reporting with the ability to categorize transactions and export data for further analysis, along with advanced search features.

PCI compliance assistance

As you shop around for a payment solution, you’ve probably come across the term PCI compliance, which refers to the Payment Card Industry security standards that apply to businesses that accept credit cards. There are various levels of PCI compliance a business can meet, depending on the volume of transactions processed in a given year.

General-purpose payment processors may tell you that if you process all your online payments through their portal, your business will be PCI compliant because your payment data is housed on their secure servers and their portal meets PCI compliance standards. But it’s important to remember that PCI compliance rules apply not just to the transmission of payment data, but also to its storage and handling. For example, just because you process through a system that’s PCI compliant doesn’t mean you have a free pass to keep unsecured credit card information in your office.

At the end of the day, it’s still your firm’s responsibility to ensure usage of card payment data is up to standard. The best industry-specific payment solutions not only provide clients with a PCI-Level-1-compliant payment portal, but also facilitate your business becoming PCI compliant itself. Better yet, choose a solution that has Certified Payments Professionals on staff to walk you step-by-step through the process of becoming PCI compliant.

Personalized customer support

Most mainstream payment processors provide online support forums and troubleshooting guides for their customers, with some even providing phone support and live chat. While these support systems can assist with issues that affect most restaurants and retail businesses, they likely won’t have the specialized experience or training to deal with issues specific to professional services industries, or more specifically, the accounting sector.

Customer support teams for professional or industry-specific online payment solutions are far better equipped to answer questions and handle issues for firms like yours. The best professional payment solutions have in-house support staff, reducing on-hold times and making it easy to talk through your questions with a real person who knows your industry inside and out.

The bottom line

As you compare rates among payment providers, an industry-specific payment solution may turn out to be a less expensive or slightly more expensive option, depending on a variety of factors, like the volume and types of transactions you run. However, it’s important to consider what you’re paying for when choosing a specialized processor—a professional solution with features designed specifically for you, supported by experts who intimately understand the accounting industry.

To learn why CPACharge is the perfect specialized payment solution for your firm, download the comprehensive solution brochure.