Good solid professional advice is a valuable commodity that every business needs at some point — so valuable, in fact, that it’s often quite expensive. But trying to save some money by getting good advice on the cheap is an exercise in futility, QuickFee CEO Bruce Coombes told Karen Webster in a recent discussion. He said that’s more or less doomed to failure by one simple and almost immutable reality: “the most expensive thing you can buy is cheap advice.”
But Coombs added that many entrepreneurs don’t have a choice, because costly professional services from accountants, lawyers, marketing firms or the like is often more than small businesses want to pay for (or can even afford to). And what that ultimately means is that few get the advice and services they need — and many miss out on improving their businesses over the longer term.
Coombes said that’s a real pain point for both sides — businesses that could use professional advice and the professional services firms that would like to have them as clients. It’s a problem that QuickFee, which originally started in Australia but has expanded to the United States, was created to solve.
What QuickFee does is pay the professional services provider up front while putting a large, long-term hold on the client’s card. The client then pays that balance down over time through an installment plan.
That allows professional services firms to offer clients the ability to spread out payments over time, making it possible for more clients to afford assistance. The professional services firm still gets paid upfront and almost in full, giving up just a roughly 4 percent service charge paid to QuickFee. The professional services provider also avoids the interchange fees, which the clients pay instead.
Benefits For Both Sides
Coombes said professional services providers aren’t supplanting existing payment plans with QuickFee, just adding an additional payment option.
He said many firms have never had the option of offering such fully funded payment plans before. And although credit cards aren’t unheard of as a payment method in the space, they’re often viewed more as a necessary evil than a positive good. After all, interchange fees have traditionally made them an expensive payment option.
“When you explain to [professional services providers] that you can actually pass the cost of interchange on to the buyers, all of a sudden it becomes a preferred payment method,” Coombes said.
He said service providers are learning to think a lot more like retailers these days, looking to payments optionality as one lure with which they can draw in more business and revenue.
Moreover, Coombes said that while shifting interchange costs onto the payor might be less common in the United States, it’s not something that will necessarily drive clients away, for two reasons.
First, clients still get the cash-back and points rewards normally associated with using their cards. Second — and more critically — the most important issue that many businesses face in paying for these kinds of services isn’t actually how much they cost, but how much clients must pay at any given time and when.
Consider the example of a business that needs $10,000 of tax work done. The interchange fees on that are going to add up to a few hundred dollars. That’s far less important to the business owner than having the option to stretch that $10,000 payment out over months vs. taking a five-figure hit to the entrepreneur’s cash on hand all at once.
“There was a survey done a few years ago and one of the questions for business owners was: ‘If you could have any amount of money to transform your business, what would it be?’ And the answer was $50,000 — that’s all,” Coombes said. “So in that regard, $10,000 for your annual taxes is an incredibly important amount of money to a business owner.”
Building Better Where Better Is Demanded
Among the first things that surprised Coombes when QuickFee first brought its payments solution to the U.S. market some five years ago was just how persistent paper really was in business payments. There were simply checks everywhere, and it was hard to understand how paper payments managed to hang on so doggedly.
But what QuickFee realized as it grew its U.S. business was that when fixing payments in the American market, it’s not actually enough to just look at the payments part specifically as the point that needs solving. Instead, one has to solve the entire process around it.
“There are payment services, but funded payment plans really aren’t out there,” Coombes said. “It’s one thing to offer payments. It’s another thing to actually fund them. And that’s where we’re quite different in the way we bundle it all together. Our idea is: ‘Let’s give them an ACH. Let’s give them credit cards. Let’s give them fully funded payment options.'”
He said QuickFee’s goal going forward involves looking toward growth. Coombes said the company anticipates that its customer base alone will double in the next year. However, he said the firm aims to not just grow its base in terms of numbers, but also in the range of firms served.
QuickFee has collaboration deals with larger professional service providers like major accounting firms BDO and KPMG, giving the company access to bigger companies that are looking for better ways to purchase and fund professional services. But at the same time, a new partnership with SplitIt should help QuickFee offer its installment plans to Main Street “mom-and-pop” service providers as well.
“The technology to solve this problem is there,” Coombes said. “Insofar as we can help people access the help and advice they need, we think we are making this a much better functioning market.”