Smarter Payments

How International eLearning Marketplaces Are Preparing For The Future Of Payments

The digital shift to eLearning has been swift, but the payments methods and speed of payments to online tutors has been anything but. Peter Fitzpatrick, vice president of payments at online education technology platform Thinkific, explains in our latest Smarter Payments Tracker, how offering currency conversions and local and emerging payment methods are now critical to attracting global educators online.

Online educational platforms appeal to subject matter experts looking to monetize their knowledge as well as to students eager to learn from professionals.

The pandemic is driving higher demand for eLearning, prompting many consumers who would otherwise seek in-person instruction to use digital platforms. Firms aiming to conveniently serve students and educators must deploy payment experiences that resonate with far-flung users and work well for various instruction models, however. Getting this right means looking at current transaction preferences in addition to how payment demands will shift going forward.

PYMNTS caught up with Peter Fitzpatrick, vice president of payments at online education technology platform Thinkific, to discuss how the company is retooling its payments approach to be favorable for expansion. Fitzpatrick explained Thinkific’s considerations as it weighs prospective payment partners and detailed the international transaction features and services that are crucial to the company as it works to deliver compelling cross-border payouts and checkouts.

Paying the Professors

Making online education easy for teachers and students is no simple task. Platforms need to cater to numerous sales models used by educators offering everything from life coaching and podcasting instruction to drone pilot certification training and virtual hockey coaching. Users come to these offerings to learn or teach, and no one wants to get a surprise lesson in foreign exchange (FX) rates. Fitzpatrick explained that it is thus up to eLearning platforms — with the help of their payment partners — to figure out payments for users and firms that can make transactions seamless and secure.

Making it as easy as possible for educators to quickly access their funds is part of this seamlessness, Fitzpatrick said. Tapping payment partners that can deliver payouts in local currencies is key because then instructors do not have to weather FX risks or wait for their banks to handle conversions.

“As we talk to our customers and to other people in the industry, [it becomes clear that] being able to serve them locally is the most important aspect,” Fitzpatrick said. “They want to be settled in the currency they can spend.”

Reducing the wait between when educators are paid and when they can access the money also means providing alternatives to bank transfers, Fitzpatrick said.

“Bank accounts are somewhat cumbersome to reach and time-consuming to get money into,” he said.

Even the standard processes involved in confirming bank accounts during onboarding can be lengthy, Fitzpatrick said. Users are often asked to provide numerous details to verify their accounts or to undergo microdeposit-based validation that can take several days. The latter method requires freelancers to provide bank account details, wait until small deposits settle in their accounts, log into their bank portals to view them and then pull up freelancing websites to enter those figures — all just to confirm the payment method.

Thinkific is seeking faster approaches as it looks to expand its array of transaction options. The company’s efforts to keep pace or get ahead of shifting transaction preferences are leading it to seek payment partners that facilitate pushing funds onto debit cards and into global and regional digital wallets. Enabling these payment methods could be key to pushing the platform’s international growth.

Convenient Checkouts

Thinkific is also focused on helping educators reach students anywhere in the world, and facilitating the required international transactions will require partnering with a company that has strong currency conversion features. Consumers typically are most comfortable using their home currencies to make purchases, meaning class costs should be visible in an array of currencies. It will also be important for the payments provider to enable students to pay using the tools that are locally popular and familiar to them.

“[We want to] make it much more flexible so … if a creator who lives in Idaho is selling to someone in Germany, that person can buy in their local currency and with their local payment method,” Fitzpatrick said.

Offering locally appropriate purchasing options can be critical when catering to far-flung customer bases. Consumers in China may wish to use Alipay, for example, while those in Germany may wish to transact using bank transfers conducted via the Single Euro Payments Area Instant Credit Transfer.

How to design the best user experiences and payment options to create compelling online checkouts remains hotly debated, Fitzpatrick said, and there may be more than one right answer. A one-size-fits-all approach is unlikely to please cooking instructors offering one-time classes, entrepreneurship trainers offering $100-per-month subscriptions and life coaches selling $10,000 session packages.

“Optimizing checkout is something that half the internet is trying to solve,” he said.

Thinkific therefore aims to give educators the flexibility to offer purchasing methods that best suit their business styles and target audiences. One thing that all parties are likely to agree on is the need for simple checkout experiences that do not force buyers to jump through too many hoops and that minimize the number of details they are required to provide to complete their purchases.

eLearning platforms are still working on appealing to the changing payment needs of students and instructors around the world, and they may find it more important than ever to partner with companies that can facilitate speedy, locally attuned transaction methods. Supporting the right currencies and payment tools can help make payment and payout experiences frictionless, allowing students and instructors to focus on classes.

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