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Streamlining the International Payment Process

The right financial partnership can reduce costs and improve efficiency and service
University Business, May 2015

The U.S. is home to the largest population of international students in the world. This student demographic enriches educational institutions, but also adds increased complexities. Many institutions struggle to provide a payment experience that is familiar to international students while also efficiently managing the reconciliation process associated with these payments. In this web seminar, presenters discussed how MIT has partnered with Nelnet Business Solutions and peerTransfer to establish a cutting-edge, integrated payment experience and reconciliation process, as well as key financial strategies for serving international students at any institution.

GRETCHEN BONFARDINE
Customer Relationship Manager
Nelnet Business Solutions

Nelnet Business Solutions is a comprehensive campus commerce provider. We offer a wide variety of products and services, including our actively managed payment plans, eBilling and ePayments, Student Choice Refunds, and more. We can process every payment on campus. We are PCI Level 1 validated, SSAE16 audited, and Red Flags-ready. We serve more than 750 higher education institutions across the country, and are proud to partner with MIT. Nelnet began working with MIT about 11 years ago.

They started off using our e-pay and e-bill product, and wanted to be able to offer their students and families 24-hour access to view their bills and make easy online payments. Then, years later in 2010, they started using our ACH refunds product that we offered at that time. Since then we’ve developed a more innovative product, and MIT is moving forward with that right now, because it will allow them to offer their students and their families choice in how they want to receive their refunds.

Finally, with all the thought on making payments as easy as possible for students and families, last year MIT moved to fully integrate the international payment processing they were already doing with peerTransfer to Nelnet’s QuikPAY product. Since that time they’ve processed over 1,200 transactions, equaling over $8 million.

SHARON BUTLER
V.P. of Global Sales
peerTransfer

I want to point out that peerTransfer was actually founded at MIT’s Sloan School of Business. This is where everything began, with an international student who experienced difficulty when he sent his wire information. This happens at many schools—a wire transmission shows up in the school’s bank account and there aren’t enough details to reconcile it. That happened to our founder, Iker Marcaide, and instead of complaining, he started a company.

Now we’ve been recognized as an innovator with our solution. We have over 600 clients, and we’re growing. We have moved money from over 220 countries and territories, and we can move money in 100 different currencies. Of the 886,000 international students in the U.S., peerTransfer is serving 41 percent of them in the higher education market. The first challenge for these students and their families is the inflated exchange rates. Many of them have bank accounts in their local currency, so when it’s time proto pay, they need to exchange their funds into U.S. dollars. When they do that, because they are single buyers of currency, they will not get the best rate—they will get the market rate plus the spread, and that can be as much as 6 percent.

When they send their payment, they don’t know where their money is until it’s received at the university and posted to their account. That’s all well and good, except if the payment is missing important identifiers. Then it becomes a very stressful situation for the families because they are waiting to find out where their money went. Limited support is also a big challenge. It’s not that schools and universities aren’t doing a good job supporting their international students and families, it’s just that they need support when most of us in the U.S. are sleeping. The final challenge is short balance payments. It’s very frustrating for students to go to the bank, spend a lot of money, and then find out that the school received the money, but some funds are short.

Adding to the challenge, every country is different in how they handle transactions, and for the most part, American universities are offering domestic options not familiar to the student. So a global collection network gives us the opportunity to offer the best ways to pay from an in-country perspective. Our partnership with Nelnet Business Solutions allows us to enable our payment method within their QuikPAY solution. Any student can come through your normal payment process, and when they get to the point where they need to pay their bill through Nelnet, they can opt for an international payment. They’ll be presented, based on their country, with the best options for them.

DAVID O’BRIEN
Senior Associate Director for Customer Service
MIT

MIT had been using Nelnet for several years prior to integrating peerTransfer. We were using Nelnet to send out our electronic bill notification, as well as for students to submit electronic payments. We have been using peerTransfer since 2012. In the summer of 2014 we integrated those two components to offer a more dynamic and easier-to-use payment function for our international students.

As challenging as it is for an international student to make a foreign payment, we too, as administrators, face a lot of challenges. We often would receive payments in our office that had insufficient information, and our accounts receivable people would cast a net across campus trying to find someone to claim a $40,000 payment. We also spent a lot of time troubleshooting reconciliation issues. I believe in customer service and I am committed to providing good support. But that doesn’t mean I’ll be available to pick up the phone at 8 p.m. to assist someone making a payment.

In those cases, peerTransfer is able to offer that customer service. Students can receive 24/7 customer service, and there is a multilingual option, of course. In the student portal, students can click on Nelnet’s QuikPAY, which we call MITPAY. They are presented all of their billing information and the option to submit payment as well. If they want to make an international payment, they are taken to peerTransfer. As soon as they submit the payment, it appears as a pending transaction on their MITPAY portal. That allows students to have peace of mind that their payment is on its way to MIT.

Once the payment has been matched up, it’s considered a guaranteed payment. We will post it automatically to the student’s account and it shows up instantly. So students have a real-time view of their account at all times. And a very cool new feature is that students can now receive peerTransfer updates through text message. In addition to the support that peerTransfer offers students, they also deliver support and service to us at MIT. And a side benefit to the system we have in place is that more efficient delivery of payments has increased our cash flow.

Now that we’ve integrated with Nelnet and peerTransfer, we have decreased, or I would venture to say eliminated, the possibility of human error. We’re not spending time on reconciliation, and we’re not spending time trying to research missing payments. Introducing peerTransfer combined with Nelnet has given us more efficiency and allowed us more time to focus on our own customer service.

To watch this web seminar in its entirety, please go to www.universitybusiness.com/ws030515

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