Society Exchequer Explains Policy on Electronic Payment for Events

Mistress Ghita (mka Susan Earley), the Society Exchequer, has published a detailed explanation of the current testing status and policy on use of credit cards, PayPal(tm), and other electronic payments for local event preregistration. Greetings to the SCA populace from Susan Earley, Society Chancellor of the Exchequer.

You may have seen in a forwarded post a notice regarding the Ansteorran Credit Card Event Payment System (ACCEPS). This looks like a Really Good Thing, and I'm certain that people are wondering a) why their Kingdom isn't doing it (or something similar) and b) when they can do something similar. I want to make it clear that ACCEPS is currently in an experimental phase, and explain what this is and why we have some policies currently in place preventing branches from doing similar things at this time. I've already seen some misinformation posted and I want to clear things up.

There is a policy in place that we CANNOT use PayPal or other on-line bill payment systems, or personal credit card accounts, for doing SCA business. This has been in place for several years, and is available at http://www.sca.org/docs/finpolicies/SocietyExchequerPolicies.pdf . The relevant policy states: "Use of online credit card acceptance companies (Paypal, Billpoint, etc.) by SCA groups is not permitted until further notice. SCA groups are NOT to use the personal credit card acceptance account of a member under any circumstances, as this violates our policy of no commingling of funds. (Requested by Carolyn Richardson, approved July 2000)" This was included in the latest version of the SCA Exchequer's handbook, so every Exchequer should be aware of this.

At the time this was done, Carolyn Richardson evaluated PayPal and a few other systems, looking to see if they could be used according to our policies and procedures. She did a lot of research, and found there were significant safeguards we require that were missing and unable to be replicated in those on-line payment systems. Therefore this policy was made.

Anyone using PayPal (or other on-line payment system) linked to an SCA account is instructed to stop immediately and disconnect the SCA account from the service.

We can't use personal credit cards to take reservations because we can't have money for the SCA go through another account - personal or merchant (Pennsic is the ONLY exception).

Anyone using personal or merchant credit card accounts to take reservations for SCA events is instructed to stop immediately.

In 2003, the Gulf Wars autocrat wanted to set up on-line reservations using credit cards. They had to create and submit documentation for their process to me, the Treasurer, and the Board to get approval to try it out as a test. They received permission to try to do credit card reservations using a pilot program for the 2004 Gulf Wars event. They had some fairly serious problems, some with the technology, some with the communication between systems, some with the assumptions they had made about the whole thing, and some with the services they selected. It worked, but it could be much improved.

Ansteorra started designing ACCEPS last year as well. A former Board member who works in computer applications and his wife, a former Kingdom Exchequer, designed the process. As a computer application developer and database geek myself, I wanted to make sure that they were developing a professional production application with the process designed and documented (not just the computer stuff), just like I would have to at work. Because it's dealing with money, we have to be VERY careful. They have satisfied all my requirements and I think it's a good system.

ACCEPS is the ONLY credit-card event registration system allowed right now. IF AND ONLY IF it is successful in the pilot phase will it be allowed to expand to branches in Ansteorra.

They have set their process up so that the treasurer in charge of the SCA account dedicated for this is a warranted Exchequer, and the process follows all our rules for money handling. They waited for the Gulf Wars trial results to see if they needed to make any changes. They made those changes, and are now in their own pilot phase, using a test plan. Their large stress test will be the Ansteorran Argent Anniversary event. Once that event is passed, and the process has been judged a success, it will be opened up for any Ansteorran branch to use for their events.

If you've read this far, and you don't live in Ansteorra, you're probably wondering, 'What about MY kingdom?'

The volume required for a program like this to make money is larger than any one kingdom can provide. That's not an issue keeping this from Known World use.

The main issue is that there will have to be a significant time commitment from whoever volunteers to manage this service. Someone will have to set up the web page to take the reservations, monitor the activity, deactivate the web page at a certain date/time, and produce the funds and reservation list to send to the event staff to ensure that it gets there BEFORE the event starts, as well as manage the relationships between the vendors involved. This could easily be the equivalent of a part- to full-time job with required skill sets should this be open to the Known World. We won't know how much time will be required until it's been up and running for several months in Ansteorra.

My hope is that we can find a way to either use this system, or make it possible for other kingdoms to duplicate the system, without making it into another office where it becomes a marathon to make it through the term and burnout and/or life attacks are large risks to the success of events everywhere. Please be patient - this sort of thing takes time to work out the kinks, and anything financial has its own baggage that must be cared for in order to be successful. We're being careful, and taking baby steps.

Please be assured that I'm watching this very closely, and am VERY interested in it being a successful tool for autocrats. I hope this answers some questions. If you have further questions or comments, you can direct them to me at exchequer@sca.org .

Susan Earley
Society Chancellor of the Exchequer

NOTE: The headline link above goes to an Adobe Acrobat (PDF) file; you will need the freely-downloadable reader from http://www.adobe.com/ to read the document.