A cross-border tuition payments company seeks its next niche

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The surge of students seeking an overseas education in recent years powered rapid growth for Flywire, a Boston-based payments technology firm that handles cross-border tuition payments. It must now test whether the global network it built can serve the B-to-B market as well.

The international tuition payments market is getting more competitive, not only from Geoswift and others in the international tuition-payments niche but startups aiming to cut the cost and hassles out of cross-border payments. Flywire earlier extended its reach to healthcare payments, giving it a small glimpse of the broader B-to-B ecosystem.

Based on its own analysis of annual export dollars for products and services in markets where Flywire’s tuition and healthcare operations are centered—the U.S., Europe, Japan, Singapore, South Africa and Australia—Flywire estimates more than $6 trillion in cross-border B-to-B payments are suited for streamlining.

“Corporations face a lot of the same problems that plagued the international tuition market, where their senders face slow and unpredictable processing times that hurt recipients' cash flow, and fees vary and may include unpredictable foreign exchange rates,” said Jeff Althaus, executive vice president and general manager of Flywire B-to-B.

The move underscores another trend in B-to-B e-commerce, where PayPal recently partnered with OroCommerce to streamline cross-border payments from suppliers' websites.

Flywire's platform is based on relationships it's established in each key market with local banks and other payment providers, including the Swift international payment network when necessary, to create a streamlined process to send funds in the fastest and least costly way, leveraging cards and e-wallets when it makes the most sense, Althaus explained.

In addition to multiple steps and surprise fees, corporations often struggle with cross-border payments because they’re usually awkward to initiate, Althaus said. “In our case, the sender begins with Flywire and the payment flows through easy-to-track channels, documenting its move with notifications confirming exactly when payments are sent and received.” Flywire also provides phone and chat support for recipients expecting payments.

Even with streamlined processes, cross-border payments rarely happen in real time, according to Althaus. But Flywire's ability to spotlight a payment's path provides huge advantages to companies watching the bottom line, he said.

“Flywire simplifies and speeds up payments, but just as important is getting visibility into the payment's status, so recipients can act on payments that are past due or relax knowing payments are guaranteed to be in transit,” Althaus said.

Unlike many consumer-targeted cross-border payments, Flywire also is tailored to handle very large payments unsuitable for some smaller payments processors and card network rails, added Jason Moens, vice president of product at Flywire.

Flywire has hired a direct sales force pursuing large and small corporations that routinely send invoices across borders in industries including travel, hospitality, publishing, luxury products and digital goods with an urgency factor, such as event tickets, music and other content, the executives said.

Initial markets for Flywire’s B-to-B payments market include the U.S., U.K, Singapore and Australia.

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