Time Is Money by Dr. Oluyemi Workman and Phil Workman
What you need to know about—and before—offering pay-over-time financing in your practice
by Dr. Oluyemi Workman and Phil Workman
Dentistry has come a long way, but until recently it felt like financing was stuck in the past.
Consider this: According to the American Dental Association, 59% of adults indicate they’ve forgone dental care because of cost—not surprising, given that nearly two-thirds of patients cover a portion of their dental care out of pocket. That can mean significant long-term dental and general health issues for patients, and lower production for practices.
Like many practitioners and practice leads, we fundamentally knew financing was important for many of our patients, but we’d been disappointed by the extensive and time-intensive process, the high percentage of declines and the lack of customer service. We decided to see if anything new to the market could address these issues. This is when we came across buy-now, pay-later plans (BNPL).
Until 2021, like many people, we thought BNPL was for nice vacations or expensive gym equipment, but didn’t think of it as a tool to help our patients get the care they need.
More and more, we’ve started to see BNPL creep into services like car repair, eyecare and, yes, dental. We’ve seen a shift away from traditional financing toward this more flexible and accessible option.
So we jumped right in. After doing our research and implementing a solution, we learned a lot—and thought that what we learned could also benefit you as you think about financing options for your customers.
Choose the right financing partner: better and more customized
It’s important to emphasize that we wanted a modern financing solution. What we had seen in-market for years just never delivered for our patients or our practices—the application processes were too unwieldy and cumbersome, and made for a poor customer experience when after all that trouble, customers were declined for credit. When looking for a BNPL solution, we wanted something streamlined, convenient and, importantly, usable for our customers.
After taking a look at various options, we landed on these as the key questions to consider when finding the right partner:
- What percent of patient applicants are approved for financing? (The more, the better, because many BNPL programs approve only a little more than half of applicants, while others are closer to 100%.)
- Will the BNPL program work across multiple dental office locations or just one?
- Is financing approval fast—as in, under a minute?
- Are the terms transparent to patients, such as no hidden fees? Are there flexible financing options, such as six-, 12- and 24-month terms?
- Does the BNPL provider pay the dental practice immediately (which helps with cash flow)?
- Will there be a dedicated account manager or contact for the partnership? What kind of customer support options, such as an online account portal, are involved?
- Will the BNPL provider offer data-rich reports, digital marketing resources and actionable insights to improve financial performance?
- Will there be chargebacks, where the provider takes money back from the practice because patients can’t pay or dispute the dental charges?
Our practice philosophy is that the more we can meet the needs of our customers where they are, the more patients we will be able to serve. Ultimately, we landed on partnering with Sunbit, because for us, in addition to all the criteria above, that company had expertise in the dental industry specifically and simply could approve more patients than other options we had explored.
We are now able to track how many patients we’re able to help who would not have otherwise qualified with a “traditional” credit score-based qualification. According to the data, more than 60% of our transactions are from patients who would have been declined by other financing vendors. This is the key value proposition that we see with BNPL.
Get the partnership and process right
Even if you feel you’ve found the right BNPL partner, optimizing the relationship will require care from both sides. We found these things helped us to seamlessly deliver a financing option to our customers:
Frequent communication. Have regular touchpoints with the BNPL provider during which you discuss strategies to improve your conversion rate and tips for how to offer the payment option more successfully. This shouldn’t just be a clinical check-in; the goal is to establish a relationship that is a win-win for all, and the vendor should be invested in your particular practice, in your particular situation, and customize the way they work and support you accordingly. Some vendors we looked at offered very routine support, while the vendor we chose really reflected back the needs and goals of the business.
Get the word out. Patients won’t know about BNPL options if you don’t tell them. So look to embed BNPL into every channel of communication with patients: check-in (pamphlets, placards and verbal communication), in-chair (many practices use an iPad to explain BNPL and sign patients up at the point of treatment), practice website (such as under a “Patient Resources” tab), follow-up emails, social media channels and prequalification links, among others. Seek advice from the BNPL partner on this, too, because it has seen what works for other practices. Also, find out what marketing materials your BNPL provides.
Make it an all-play. It’s important that everyone in the practice understands the BNPL options and can talk to patients about these. For example, some patients would rather talk to an office manager they’ve known for years than a treatment coordinator they just met. So look to provide at least basic training on BNPL for everyone, with the provider’s help.
Prioritize the patient’s best interests. In the end, it has to be about what’s best for the patient, just like every other aspect of your practice. Remember, low case acceptance is usually about fear and financial instability. Aim to offer patients a fair, affordable financing option that will help them feel more comfortable about getting the dental care they truly need.
Measuring BNPL success
Of course, you have to take a systematic approach to understanding whether BNPL is working for your practice and patients. Here are key metrics to assess:
- Conversion. What percent of all patients who are offered BNPL take advantage of this option? What’s the change in conversion rate of patients facing larger charges (e.g., fillings, crowns) once BNPL is introduced?
- Revenue growth. What’s the incremental production increase after BNPL is introduced, on a monthly/annual basis?
- Default. What’s the default rate of BNPL customers? (This is more for the BNPL provider, but important to know.)
- Satisfaction. How satisfied are patients with the BNPL service?
Since May 2021, our Smile Studio practices have offered BNPL technology via Sunbit, and have learned a lot in the process. We estimate that it increased our revenue by more than $88,000 in less than seven months. As such, we hope this article encourages you to consider BNPL options if you aren’t already, or to optimize what you may have in place.