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Sooraj Shah

Contributing Editor

Sooraj Shah is Contributing Editor of New Statesman Tech with a focus on C-level IT leader interviews. He is also a freelance technology journalist.

IT Leaders: C of E’s Nicolas Jenni on bringing contactless payment to churches

The Church of England does not operate in the same way as most public sector and private sector organisations, or in the way that many people may assume.

Rather than being a large organisation with numerous local offices and subsidiaries, the Church of England consists of a group of churches that are independently run. There are 12,500 parishes in the country, each of which has a board of trustees.

“The way we work with those parishes is by offering them centrally negotiated contracts via our parish portal, the Parish Buying Service,” the Church of England’s director of procurement, Nicolas Jenni, explains.

“They can then decide if they want to [be a part of the contract] or not,” he adds.

There are also 42 cathedrals and other church bodies that can use the Parish Buying Service.

Jenni, who is one of three Church of England procurement directors, is not a typical IT leader, and this is because there is no central IT function. Instead, there is a parish-facing website and CRM but no IT strategy as such. However, Jenni does look after many of the technology projects for the Church of England, and has experience of working with projects that are heavily reliant on IT.

One such project has been to bring contactless payments to churches across England, so that churches can accept donations in a more accessible and easy way.

Jenni explains that the organisation decided to undergo a procurement process because nearly two and a half years ago there had been new entrants onto the payments market with new business models.

“Traditionally if you wanted a card reader, you went to a bank to say you wanted to become a merchant and signed up for a monthly contract, with a card reader. Now it’s a whole set of new companies which offer a one-time purchase, and the company takes a percentage of the value of transactions,” Jenni says.

This suited the Church of England because the barrier to entry was low.

“It’s not a major cost; the charges are reasonable and most importantly there was no commitment to pay monthly apart from the percentage of turnover on card transactions,” he states.

Four companies were approached to make proposals, three of which made it to the pilot stage with 60 parishes involved.

The Church of England then surveyed parishes, asking them how easy the technology was to use, how easy it was to sign-up to, along with other user feedback, and the outcome was that London-based Fintech organisation SumUp came out on top. SumUp’s card terminals work with an app for smartphones and tablets, and can be used to take contactless payments, Apple Pay, and Google Pay, as well as Chip and PIN, and are capable of supporting 500 transactions without recharging.

Chosen alongside SumIp were Swedish fintech company iZettle.

The card readers can fulfil a wide range of needs for parish churches, accepting payments for hall hire, fees, event tickets as well as donations.

According to Jenni, the number of parish churches to have taken on the card readers is “in the low hundreds” but the Church of England is hopeful that this number will grow.

“We have to market to parishes, and it’s not just a question of pushing a product, but making them aware of what it is and its advantages,” he explains.

The next step for the Church of England is to evaluate suppliers who have responded to its telecoms tender, which includes a wide range of connectivity solutions for parishes.

“There is broad range of reasons for parish churches to need and want connectivity,” says Jenni.

This includes the need for live-streaming of services, a remotely monitored alarm system, controls for lighting, heating, access and sound, and better connectivity for visitors. Access to social media for engagement and to other communications for emergency purposes are other priorities for the Church of England.

While it may not operate in the same way as other organisations, the Church of England does require new technology to keep up with the times, and to find new ways of engaging with visitors and communities.