7 minute read

Top 5 Themes to Pay Attention to Coming Out of COMTEC 2023

10/12/2023 8:00 PM

Wow! What an incredible week in Las Vegas; welcoming hundreds of clients, partners, and thought leaders in higher education. We walked away inspired, engaged, and ready to deliver the best campus experience for students, parents, staff and all who are dedicated to simplifying the business of higher education.

Here are some of our favorite highlights and important takeaways from this year. Plus, a preview of COMTEC 2024!

Your work matters.

At TouchNet, we often talk about supporting our clients so that they can better support their students. In fact, that sentiment is our underlying motivation for everything we do; we exist to advance the mission of higher education by simplifying how it works. And our closing keynote at COMTEC 2023 was the perfect reminder.

Jeff Civillico, Las Vegas headliner and speaker, delivered a humorousyet impactfulshow that left the audience with a simple message: your work matters. In reflecting back on his own origin story, Civillico related how we often minimize our role in others’ lives, despite the fact that what we consider to be “just doing our job” can inspire individuals down a path to success that they otherwise wouldn’t take. For Civillico, it was a local comedian who was “just a juggler” that inspired him to pursue a dream of performing in Las Vegas.


Jeff Civillico delivers a humorous and impactful keynote, “Work that Matters”.

For us it is, quite literally, ensuring the student experience supports retention because higher education is worth it when students graduate. GradGuard Co-founder and CEO John Fees also articulated this point during his session focused on how to be a campus hero by offering tuition protection programs. According to research shared by GradGuard, 80 percent of people who default on student loans never receive a higher ed degree or credential. Fees also shared information on the rising impact of mental health among student populations, and how tuition insurance can support student retention and alleviate financial strains on students, families and institutions.

Embrace new tech. It’s coming your way.

A predominant theme throughout this year’s COMTEC centered on emerging technologies and their impact on not just higher education, but our experiences as consumers at large. During our mid-conference keynote, Aidoo “AO” Osei, Senior Vice President for Product Strategy at Global Payments, urged us all to lean into emerging technologies to see the opportunities innovation can bring. The rate of change is accelerating, forcing us to make decisions faster. Yet, we have the tendency to hold on to where we are when we’re uncertain of the future. If we don’t find a way to capture lightning in a bottle, we’ll find ourselves stuck in the past.

Aidoo “AO” Osei, Global Payments, discusses how to leverage emerging technologies.

In several sessions, we highlighted the new solutions we have recently launched or are planning for general release in the upcoming months. Among those, Student Account Advisor continues to make big impacts as campuses roll this tool out to staff. Advisor provides a one-stop consolidated view of the student account, and most recently we added the ability to accept payments directly through the dashboard, which empowers staff to not only advise students but also help students resolve multiple payments in a single platform.

The 900-pound elephant in every room is artificial intelligence (AI). It’s here and experts say there is no turning back. And while there needs to be strict guardrails in place (none of us want a self-aware Skynet to become reality), AI offers immense opportunities to augment how we work and enhance the entire campus experience for students and staff. From developing computer code and dynamically managing computing resources, to identifying the location of data and automating customer service, AI can provide many efficiencies.

Trust and simplicity are key to an exceptional student experience.

Providing a top-notch student experience is always top of mind, but what does that actually mean? In the upcoming 2023 Student Financial Experience Report (to be released later this month), we identified two key elements of technology that yield a premium student experience: trust and simplicity.

The data clearly shows that students want simplicity with a streamlined app for navigating their ENTIRE campus lifeincluding their finances and student ID. The top two most important features in a campus app were managing finances (69 percent) and making payments (68 percent), with virtual IDs close behind at 62 percent.

2023 Student Financial Experience Report, TouchNet

Additionally, students are indicating they have an increased trust in digital payments. When surveyed, 61 percent say they feel secure about making payments using digital methods (i.e. ApplePay, Google Pay, PayPal and Venmo); an increase of five percent over the past four years. Conversely, fewer students (38 percent) agree with the statement “I am worried about someone hacking my phone and having access to my payment apps,” which represents a decrease of nine percent in the same time period.

These findings support the need for a consistent and unified experience across all campus services, which is why we take a platform approach to developing new solutions. TouchNet is actively working to eliminate silos and provide the same trusted, simplified payment checkout experience across all payment points, while unifying account information for students and automating data sharing and reconciliation between systems.

To further support trust and simplicity, we are continually enhancing our integrations with our partners in the student information systems (SIS) and enterprise resources planning (ERP) space. Most notably, as Ellucian implements Banner SaaS, we are the first payment provider fully integrated and ready to transition the first round of institutions in tandem with Ellucian, supporting a secure SaaS environment.

Security and compliance needs continue to evolve.

With emerging technology and expanded integrations, the need for entities to focus on cybersecurity is at an all-time high. At the same time, regional, national, and international regulations are rapidly evolving to address changing threats and risks to privacy and security.

“When compliance is managed in concert with security, the results are better.”

– Dan Stocker, Senior Director of Payments and Cloud Advisory, Coalfire

During our pre-conference PCI Workshop, conversations focused on the upcoming PCI Data Security Standards 4.0 and how to ensure your institution can meet these new standards. Throughout the day, it was clear that compliance should be viewed as an ongoing, continuous process rather than a questionnaire completed once a year. Partnering with the right vendors can help reduce an institution’s PCI scope, but it is important to understand the responsibility as a merchant even when relying on third-party service providers.

Security and compliance continued as an important theme throughout the conference as best practices and tips were woven throughout solution showcases, as well as dedicated sessions on compliance and fraud topics. One of the most important trends to be aware of in cybercrime and fraud is the rise of social engineering tactics. Social engineering is one of the most successful tactics used in higher educationan example of this would be someone impersonating a staff member in email or on the phone to get sensitive information from a student. 

TouchNet’s David Headley, Jessie Stiner, and John McElroy

discuss ways to identify and prevent friendly fraud on campus.

Regular training about common fraud tactics can help reduce the risk of a major breach. Additionally, TouchNet payment solutions include features that can help prevent fraudulent activity such as multi-factor authentication, address verification and alerts for suspicious activity.

In a separate session, Thomas Butler, Head of TransferMate Education, also highlighted the importance of being aware of fraud trends via money laundering in higher education, and maintaining compliance with anti-money laundering laws. Colleges and universities are common targets for money laundering schemes through refunds, large cash payments, and third-party payees that are difficult to track. An integrated money service business like TransferMate can help prevent fraudulent international payments by detecting suspicious activity and any potential sanction concerns. Payments made through TransferMate are secure and compliant, and can be integrated with your TouchNet payment solution.

Increased staff turnover highlights the importance of new client success tools.

Another common thread that we heard at COMTEC, and throughout the past year, is an increase in staff turnover. According to CUPA-HR 2022-23 Higher Education Employee Retention Survey, staff turnover in higher education increased to 14.3 percent in 2022-2023 for full-time, exempt employeesthe highest rate since they began tracking this number.

To better support your team, we announced two client success tools at COMTEC that are rolling out this month: TouchNet Client Community and TouchNet Academy.

The TouchNet Client Community has been reimagined! We’ve rebuilt the community to get you to the information you need faster and more easily, and to deliver interactive features. It is the go-to place for product knowledge and documentation, client support and case management, and engaging with peers and the TouchNet product management and client success teams.

The TouchNet Academy is a new virtual learning environment that includes training courses on TouchNet solutions broken down into 3-5 minute videos, including beginner and advanced options. TouchNet Academy is the perfect supplement to individualized training with your Client Success Manager when your team needs to get up to speed on a TouchNet solution.

The new Client Community and TouchNet Academy will be available on Thursday, October 19.

Even with excellent training, we recognize that sometimes you just don’t have enough people and the best approach is to work with a third party to manage certain aspects of your business office. If that’s the case, great newsTouchNet and ECSI are now working more closely together to provide more robust software and service offerings. As Global Payments companies, TouchNet and ECSI have joined forces to better simplify the business of higher education.


While Las Vegas was our first COMTEC on the road, it won’t be our last! Planning for COMTEC 2024 is underway for sunny San Antonio. In fact, registration is already open with Super Bird Pricing! (Hint: sign up before the end of 2023 for the best deal!)