Tuition Payments Made Intuitive And Even On The Fly(wire)


School bells ring, school cash registers ring and cross-border payments can zing — if the right regulatory boxes are not checked off. Flywire’s CEO Mike Massaro spoke about the need for flexibility in cross-border transactions, with an eye on regulations and on reducing friction in the experience.

In an interview with PYMNTS’ Karen Webster, Flywire CEO Mike Massaro said the back-to-school season thus far has been a strong one, with double-digit growth seen as students in one country decide to study in another.

Consider China’s 10 percent growth in international students, with 80,000 Chinese students going to study in the United Kingdom alone. India’s tally here stands at 15 percent, said Massaro. Other hotspots include Canada, Singapore and Hong Kong, marked by relatively liberal immigration policies.

Flywire’s success has been based on a few core concentrations, said Massaro – namely pricing, with attendant analytics, which he said give indications of fair and reasonable pricing defined on a market-by-market basis in education (also healthcare).

Flywire has also seen growth through agility, sporting short times to market with new features, as students and their families pay for studies abroad.

In terms of staffing, he said, Flywire has employees in place who deeply understand the nuances of the verticals they serve, an advantage over competitors whose firms have “FX mindsets … so you wind up with FX professionals trying to interact with the heads of treasury of finance” at schools or businesses, with less insight into the requirements of those verticals.

To that end, and with an eye on regulation, Flywire said last month that it is working with a series of schools in Ireland – ranging from vocational schools to language centers – to help with compliance, namely money flowing into the country from abroad. The new announcement from Europe comes after success in building its U.S.-focused operations on the other side of the pond. Massaro said Flywire has established international payments solutions with four of the top five schools in the United States, and with six of the eight Ivy League schools.

In the case of the latest announcement, the company said that payments are held in escrow-type accounts until the Irish Naturalization and Immigration Services gives the nod to each application, pending approval of visas. Given a thumbs up, funds go to the schools to which they are intended or, if a visa is denied, refunds are in order.

The fund flow is no small one, given the fact that Ireland alone has seen a 25 percent increase in international students over the past five years, accounting for one billion euros annually.

Massaro stated that the newly-announced product in Ireland handles payer regional requirements, as well as payment methods. Information that needs to be captured in transactions is different for card payments versus bank transfers versus other conduits, such as PayPal or Mastercard (and where the two firms had, not long ago, launched a limited-time offer for discounts in cross-border tuition payments).

(Food for thought: Might Brexit give a boost to international students seeking schooling elsewhere when they might have chosen the United Kingdom?)

What Ireland has asked, according to Massaro, “is how do we take that visa application process, where a visa is needed to study in a given market, and … segment that from the actual flow of money so that money is not coming into the country without a visa being approved?”

Other verticals are bearing fruit. Following Webster’s query about executive education, Massaro stated that Flywire has been putting a client services team in place that spans the globe, with client managers focused on a region-by-region basis. That team sets its sights on handling payments across all educational strata, from undergrad to business to law school. Webster and Massaro surmised: Think of it as viewing education and tuition in a macro sense.

All of this takes place against a general backdrop where schools are getting more competitive with each other, “pulling students” as they come off wait lists at the very last minute, said Massaro. Those students hopscotching from one school to another are perhaps lured by an institution that offers to “cover” the deposit at the first school (the one ultimately abandoned) to the tune of as much as $4,000 to $5,000.

With such a hotbed of competition and investment globally within education, “it will be fascinating to see how things start shaping up compared to last year,” said Massaro, buoyed by students crossing time zones and making payments – whether they’re going abroad for a semester or for a summer.