Experienced partners and best practices ease impact of the growth of international students
Vice President, Business Development
Nelnet Business Solutions
As the international student population of colleges and universities continues to grow, institutions are looking for ways to balance the benefits and struggles inherently associated with processing international payments.
Current trends we are seeing, the impact of those trends and the experience students report when trying to pay their bills at US institutions.
In an effort to remain competitive, universities must keep up with the ever-changing flow of ideas, new technologies and the demand for immediate access to information. Many are “going global” and making their campuses more international. Students today live in a more global environment with access to new music, fashion trends and literature from outside the U.S.
Business operations transcend national borders.
As we have become more international, increasing diversity in our schools and programs, we have seen an explosion in the international student population.
According to the 2011 Open Doors report, more than 723,000 students were studying in the US – a 32 percent increase over the last 10 years alone. The University of Illinois, the University of Iowa, Indiana University and UCLA, all had freshman classes with an international component exceeding 10 percent.
The impact of this trend to a university’s budget is extensive: International student payments account for $21 billion to the U.S. economy. These payments – 70% are fully funded – can significantly help institutions struggling to maintain existing programs through repeated rounds of state budget cuts.
International students use a variety of payment methods:
- Embassies or sponsors. Nearly 70 percent of students are fully funded in this way.
- Credit Cards are a popular choice among payees, but ever-increasing bank fees often cause institutions to take this option off the table.
- ACH transfers from US bank accounts – if families have them.
- A surprising number of international students make payments in cash. But this raises a large safety and security concerns as students must travel with large amounts of cash.
- International wires can be good for the payer but less so for the college or university.
Simplifying payment methods through working with an experienced international partner like peerTransfer has several benefits for both institutions and families of international students. For the institution they include: streamlining processes, increasing savings, reducing receivables, protecting sensitive financial information, ensuring regulatory compliance and aiding in recruiting efforts.
For families, saving 2-5% in financials, increasing the comfort level with the security of their transactions and dealing with customer service staff that speaks my language and operates in my time zone.
Common challenges yield best practices to improve security, reduce costs
Director of Sales
We’ve developed our best practices from traveling around the country and talking not only to schools but to international students.
Challenge 1: Reconciliation
Many of your students want to pay by wire so you must distribute banking and routing information to them. You remind them to include their student, ID and other unique identifiers. Sometimes this information is not fully included; other times, the student includes everything but throughout the process some information gets stripped. However it occurs, this results in hours of work attempting to identify the right payment to the right student.
Best practices to manage this challenge:
- Ensure you are collecting common data through the payment process, such as the student ID.
- Maintain centralized control of the information.
- Have a process to automate the reconciliation process that eliminates error and completes more quickly.
The peerTransfer dashboard works with the Nelnet connector. You can see international payments posted from the moment they are booked. It also gives you lookup capabilities and better tools for planning and forecasting of payments. peerTransfer passes a file into your ERP system and removes the need for manual entry.
Challenge 2: Security
There is a great concern about distribution of banking information and its security, concern over complying with federal regulations and over the safety of students who may be carrying large amounts of cash to pay their tuition.
- Reduce fraudulent use of banking information by controlling distribution of it.
- Make sure your partners have compliance certification.
- Proactively monitor.
- Nelnet and peerTransfer ensure security and peace of mind because students are paying through a common, streamlined and recognizable payment process. No banking information is exposed and peerTransfer ensures all booked transactions go through extensive watch lists and compliance checks to give your school confidence. That provides more of a comfort zone for students and their families.
Challenge 3 – Dealing with multiple countries
International payments mean wire transfer fees. This can be troublesome for students who find they have to send more money than expected to cover fees; and injurious to institutions who are often wrongly blamed for the additional expense. This is a major issue that comes up when we talk with our student advisory groups. Students believe the institutions are collecting the fees, when it is really part of the wire infrastructure.
- Leverage partner relationships with an experienced international team.
Students can expect to see a 3-6 percent markup from a bank as well as wire fees taken out of their payments. peerTransfer, which can handle the local currency exchange thus eliminating bank fees, can do the same transaction for 2-5 percent less with no wire fees. This can be a good savings for families.
Challenge 4 – customer support
With international students come the challenges of language barriers, time zones and cultural differences.
- Hire multilingual and diverse staff
- Create multilingual communications in multiple forms
- Extend support hours of operations to accommodate international time zones
peerTransfer offers 24X7 multilingual customer support. And because we use student advisory boards to help us develop our best practices, we understand the needs of international students. We know students prefer to be supported in different channels – phone, skype, email and chat. In fact, 80 percent of clients and international payers prefer to be supported by chat. On the global stage, we do business where and when our clients need us.
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