Optimism in the face of adversity
A conversation with Mark Brant, recently appointed CEO of ParentPay Group
Written by Kate Schroeder
As I write this, it seems like a strange time to be starting something new, but that got me thinking: Pretty much everything we knew and took for granted has changed in such a short time and we are adapting to a new reality day by day.
We are living through the biggest global challenge since the second world war and, as a nation, we have stepped up to this huge challenge with grit, determination, and sometimes a little humour.
“Keep Calm and Carry On” has never been more appropriate as we navigate through this next phase as lockdown restrictions begin to be relaxed.
Quite what this will mean is evolving and for us at the ParentPay Group, as schools and families adjust once again to children returning to the classrooms. This will bring fresh challenges, requiring new and innovative approaches.
On the 1st of March, under the shadow of imminent school closures, Mark Brant took over the helm as our new CEO. I asked Mark about his thoughts on joining the ParentPay Group in such a period of global uncertainty and how he felt we could offer support to our customers at this time and in the future.
Why did you choose to join the ParentPay Group?
I believe we all need to care about what we do for a living and that’s definitely very important to me.
After leaving the helm of PayPal UK, I wanted to be involved in a company that had ambition and utilised technology to make a difference to real people’s lives. The ParentPay Group fitted that description perfectly.
ParentPay has helped navigate pioneering schools offering online payments for the first time, supported the introduction of Universal Free School Meals, and helped schools use new technologies to better engage with millions of families. That’s some CV for a company that has only been in existence for 15 years.
What’s it like joining the ParentPay Group at such a challenging time?
Shortly after I joined, the UK wide lockdown was implemented. Since then, I have marvelled at how rapidly our staff have worked to assist our customers with entirely new challenges, from issuing thousands of crucial refunds to families to providing free app upgrades to make it easy for schools to engage with families whilst children are at home.
I’ve seen that our staff care passionately; they are helping families across the UK who have had their lives disrupted and may well be under financial pressures not previously experienced in our lifetime.
This experience has highlighted to me that ParentPay isn’t just about providing fit for purpose software, at its heart is a caring, dedicated family of people – it would not be the success it has been without that.
What have you learned?
Well firstly, I’ve learned how adaptable we are as a group; we’ve been doing some entirely new things that we never envisioned doing, even just a few weeks ago.
At a practical level, many of the Team have adapted to working from home for the first time. They are juggling caring for their own dependents with serving our customers, whilst having their kitchen tables double as work and home-schooling desks.
From a customer perspective, we moved rapidly to give Cardiff Council the ability to offer an alternative to supermarket vouchers. Leveraging components of our platform and recalling some staff from furlough we enabled thousands of parents to withdraw FSM credits through ParentPay.
I feel proud that we’re helping parents in the most need get the financial support they need quickly, whilst enabling local authority staff to have more time to focus on other priorities that have arisen during this challenging time.
What does the future hold?
As children begin a phased return to school, as always, will be there to help keep everyone safe as they cautiously make their way on that journey to a full return.
Social distancing means changes in schools to protect staff, children and their families.
It’s obvious that removing cash and its associated risks will be an important part of that jigsaw, but I also think lockdown has taught everyone that schools and parents will need ‘best in breed’ technology to engage with each other more regularly.
I think the world will be a different place than it was before lockdown but what that will look like can only emerge in time.
We will have on-going conversations with schools and families to find out what new challenges they are facing and we’ll continue to change and adapt ourselves to meet their needs.
I do hope this challenging period has demonstrated to everyone the importance of a society that looks after and cares for each other. I’ve already seen the importance of that first-hand in my short time at ParentPay.
I look forward to the ParentPay Group navigating what will be uncharted waters, with the confidence that whatever challenges come our way, we are in a good place to meet them.
We may be working from home presently, like many of you, but we are still here to help with whatever the next few months may bring!
I’ll be sharing more insights over the coming weeks as we anticipate better times and the full return of children to the classroom.
In these times of home-schooling, I think there may be a renewed appreciation for what school staff up and down the country do.