It’s that time of year again. Time for sun, fun … and tuition payment processing?
Yes, you read that correctly.
Summer break is upon us and though some have officially retreated to relaxation and vacation mode, for universities and colleges the work is just beginning.
With the fall term quickly approaching, these institutions are preparing for the wave of student application and tuition payments coming from international students and their financial institutions overseas.
But as Edward Baker, Assistant Bursar at Cornell University, pointed out, the steps involved in accepting and processing these cross-border payments for higher education can be painstaking for both the schools and the students themselves.
As Cornell, international students typically would have to send a wire transfer through their international bank and then have the funds come through to a local bank branch near the university.
That local branch would post funds to Cornell’s Cash Management Office, which then had to be reviewed, eventually approved and notice was sent back to the Bursar’s office and finally posted to the student’s account – a process Baker said could take weeks.
At Cornell, as with many universities, students can’t actually be considered registered until their payment is posted to their student account, which Baker said left many students forced to use wire transfer services, which ended up with delays, difficulties and frustration when payments weren’t received.
But now, dealing with the challenges of accepting and processing payments from overseas is one thing Cornell has been able to scratch off its summer to-do list.
THE WIRE TRANSFER ALTERNATIVE
It’s a problem that Flywire set out to solve, ironically enough, when its founder found himself on the other end of the tuition payments nightmare. No one at the university could find his payment (made from his bank in Spain) since the combination of bank fees and FX conversion deposited an amount different than what he owed. After a few weeks of painful reconciliation, the problem was solved – and a business opportunity was born.
The work to help universities prepare for this influx of cross-border payments for everything from tuition, to application fees and even admission deposits, Flywire CEO Mike Massaro explained, is just the beginning of their work to make life easier for both the student and university.
The calm before the storm – the April to June timeframe – is an opportunity the company uses to work on and introduce updates to its services that it’s been waiting throughout the year to implement.
This can be anything from product improvements to enhancements to the user experience, streamlined notifications to the acceptance of new payment methods.
“A lot of it is work we've been doing over the last year, but we really get to launch them for the first time this fall,” Massaro explained.
One of those new products is one that will allow for installment payments, which Massaro noted are very popular in Brazil. This will complement other methods of payments that can be tapped by Brazilian students, and will go through the fall cycle for the first time this year.
Massaro said that Flywire is working with a number of payment processing and banking partners so that they can have a physical presence in Brazil just like they’ve done in other key markets around the world like China and Singapore.
“For now it's having the banking partners that do the foreign currency collection and conversion, then we receive the U.S. dollars and deliver to clients,” Massaro explained.
Massaro made it clear that there’s no one-size-fits-all approach that works with international banks – that means that to make the process frictionless for their student and university stakeholders, Flywire must build relationships with a combination of banks, both global and local regional partners to cover the 220 countries and territories it serves.
THE SEASON FOR CHANGE
Cornell University’s Assistant Bursar Edward Baker remarked that dealing with payments from international students is a completely different process after deploying Flywire’s solution.
“It feels like a real win-win for the university, our students, parents, everybody – with 24/7 access to the system and about two business days to get the wire started, processed, handled and posted to the account,” Baker said.
Baker also noted that international students no longer have to worry about how unknown fees may impact the actual payment amount that Cornell receives from the originating bank. They have a level of transparency now that enables students to see exactly how much in U.S. funds needs to be sent to pay their bill and the current exchange rate so they are able to send an accurate amount.
"At the end of the day it saves the university time and effort in processing the payments – the alternative to a wire – which is oftentimes very costly and time-consuming for both the students, parents and the school,” Massaro added.
Though the service is designed to be convenient for the students and their families that may be using it to make payments, it’s also critical to Flywire’s business model that the universities and colleges it partners with remain happy campers.
Massaro said getting Flywire on the radar of international students and their families typically starts and ends with the schools and universities marketing the solution, whether the messaging is on admission flyers, welcome packets, websites or even included alongside electronic bills.
Flywire is also the default international payment processor for the Common Application, which Massaro confirmed is used by about 100,000 international students when applying to schools here in U.S. and serves as an important introduction to those students when it comes time to paying their full tuition. But Massaro says that it’s not just about capturing the attention of students in the beginning, but providing a service and building a relationship that will keep them coming back to Flywire payment after payment.
Massaro explained that even if there isn’t a great deal of time available for universities to spread the word about an alternative to the wire transfer process, both the school and student can find value in Flywire being deployed before the billing cycle.
“Over time that usage and that adoption is built up with communication from the school,” he added.