Contextual Commerce Comes To Higher Education

Getting tuition paid is one headache. Sending tuition abroad can cause headaches of a different sort: How do you know if your check to Europe for that semester abroad will make it safely from New York? One partnership, between CashNet and Flywire, seeks to smooth payments for international students by making payment contextual and part of the billing process, as Sharon Butler, Flywire’s EVP of education, tells PYMNTS’ Karen Webster.

Few payments can seem as daunting as tuition payments. Not just because they are investments in a child’s future, or because parents have scrimped and saved to make them. Tuition fees are among the largest payments families ever make — and in sending a child abroad or out of state to study, might there be some anxiety with sending off the check or hitting the “send” button and praying that the payment goes where it must via the cloud, thousands of miles away.

To that end, cross-border payments firm Flywire and CashNet, which offers a payments platform focused on education-related payments, have entered into a new strategic relationship to help smooth friction in paying for studies abroad. Flywire’s payment services will be added to CashNet payment options, allowing international students the flexibility to track their accounts and make an international payment through one system.

In an interview with PYMNTS’ Karen Webster, Sharon Butler, executive vice president of education at Flywire, said the Cashnet partnership enhances the firm’s capabilities in the education marketplace by making Flywire payments a more contextual part of the tuition payment experience — a “holistic part of the student journey.”

CashNet has already invested, she noted, in technology through its platform and is already utilized by several universities to serve credit cards or domestic payments. “It makes sense to consult with universities,” she said, “and leverage existing investments to make a better solution.”

Flywire has built payment methods into the suite of CashNet’s services. So when a bill gets presented, she told Webster, now international students can be served as efficiently as domestic students because they have access to the Flywire platform. Bills can be presented and expedited via automatic payment as there is no separate step involved.

Webster and Butler discussed what might lie ahead for Flywire and its partners for the fall semester. Looking ahead at the 2017-2018 school year, Butler said the company is seeing growth in the acquisition of new scholars around the globe, especially in Japan, Australia and the U.K. In the United States, she added, Flywire’s business has expanded as international student populations have grown by 7 percent, as measured between 2015 and 2016, according to the annual Open Doors data.

Flywire has benefitted from an international focus, especially where scholars from abroad have been enrolling in increasing numbers in schools based in the United States, Canada and Britain.

Payments can interfere with the process through which student’s transition into new academic experiences around the world, and poor cloud-based ePayment experiences can be discouraging to students. Paying thousands of dollars to NYU, Butler said, can be a daunting experience for parents or guardians outside the U.S., and then, “All of a sudden you send your money in and don’t know where it is.”

The benefit in a relationship that exists between Flywire and the university, said Butler, lies in “customer support and going the extra mile” to help allay concerns and work with payers, especially internationally (and the online payments extend beyond just secondary school tuition to embrace, say, extension schools, summer programs and academic conferences).

Integration with CashNet is just about done, said Butler, and looking ahead at the upcoming semester, the partnership will be ready across at least a dozen states, ahead of the peak fall season.

Remarking on headlines tied to the political landscape and visa issues that are focused on the United States (touching on everything from restrictions to outright immigration bans), Butler said, “We’ve been watching for that, for some indicators … there’s a lot of focus on that from both our company and the universities that we talk to. But as of now, we do not really see any kind of big impact.”

Beyond the United States with its burgeoning international student population, said Butler, some corridors are seeing growth in terms of both “inbound” and “outbound” business, such as Japan. That country, she said, has a government initiative in place to increase the international student population by a significant amount, to have as many as 300,000 international students by 2020, fed from other countries such as China.

“We don’t see anything really slowing down,” Butler told Webster.