For Flywire, Rising Opportunity In The Land Of The Rising Sun

Reading, writing, rithmatic all come with a price – in the form of tuition payments. Flywire VP of Global Payments, Ryan Frere, tells PYMNTs’ Karen Webster that opportunity is growing in Japan for its payment platform that enables tuition to be paid across borders. That’s especially true in an environment where international student count in that country is growing by double digit percentages.

In payments, what works well in one region can work well in another if all goes well in translation. This time, we mean literally. International payments firm Flywire, which is focused on verticals spanning business, healthcare and education, recently announced it is making inroads into the Japanese education market.

Flywire CEO Mike Massaro noted since its launch into the Southeast Asia education sector in April of last year, Flywire has seen strong traction in the number of schools that use its technology platform to process tuition and other education-related payments. The company’s technology is currently in use across 90 schools and $60 million worth of transactions.

In an interview with PYMNTs’ Karen Webster, Ryan Frere, vice president of global payments at Flywire, said the Japan education market focus is a natural one for Flywire as the number of international students has been increasing by double-digit percentages over each of the past few years, 10 percent in 2015 and 15 percent in 2016. More than 239,000 international students are enrolled in Japanese schools at the latest count, and higher education is where more than 171,000 of those students study, up 12.5 percent year-over-year. The international student roster has a tailwind with active efforts by various ministries of the Japanese government promoting the country’s appeal to students interested in studying abroad.

As Flywire began evaluating other markets that might operate in a similar way, Frere said just looking at the number of inbound students, the number of universities operating in the country in Japan (Webster and Frere noted there are more than 780 higher education locations in the country) all pointed to putting down Flywire roots in the region.

“We landed on Japan really quickly [as a target market],” said Frere, who noted similarities to the education market in the United States, where “there are a lot of students coming in from other areas.” In Japan’s case, this refers to the southeast Asia region. “The strength of our collection network really allows for us to walk into a market and start collecting across what are traditionally strict or tough currencies,” Frere said.

From Flywire’s perspective, said Frere, the company sees three layers to the international student demand in Japan. One is that the Japanese government has invested in markets outside its own to bring students into the country. The second big piece, he added, is that requirements for actually studying in Japan mandate students know the language. This means there is an influx of students coming into the country’s language programs before they are allowed to move onto traditional universities. At last count, the Japanese language institutes accounted for 68,165 students, up 21 percent between 2015 and 2016, Flywire noted.

Third, the Japanese government, in partnership with the universities, wants to keep “students [in Japan] or have students go elsewhere and promote the experience they got in Japan.”

Against this backdrop, Flywire’s approach is to have “feet on the street,” as the firm builds its Japan business, with a focus on a team-based approach. With operations growing from its Singapore-based Asia-Pacific headquarters and an office in Tokyo, both offering proximity to Japan and Southeast Asia, Flywire staffers are concentrating on Japan to have expertise in the education industry and facility with the language, too, Frere said.