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A Tuition Processor Seeks Extra Credit in New Industries

PaymentsSource – By John Adams

Education payments company peerTransfer has grown quickly by providing a specialized service to a specific market, but it may be time for it to graduate to new lines of business.

“Any place there is a large dollar amount of cross-border payments, there is an opportunity,” said Mike Massaro, peerTransfer’s CEO.

The Boston-based peerTransfer operates like a remittance company in reverse—the biller, or college, is the client, enabling mostly international students and families to pay tuition and other education costs in their home country’s currency.

The colleges and students use a dashboard to monitor payments and reconciliation, and peerTransfer’s scale allows it to provide discounted currency conversion rates. It handles payments from local bank transfers, cards and online alternative payments.

Its formula has worked. In the first half of the 2014/2015 academic year, peerTransfer doubled its revenue, reached profitability for the first time since its founding in 2009, and is on track to process $1 billion in cross-border payments for the academic year. It’s also adding new institutional clients at a rate of about 50 per quarter, and its network reaches about 200 countries and territories.

“In the past 18 months we have added more ways to pay, such as cards or Alipay in China,” Massaro said. “And we’ve also seen an increase in the number of international students in U.S. boarding schools, and English as a second language programs.”

The quick growth has helped peerTransfer draw more investment. This week Bain Capital Ventures led a $22 million round, which also included Spark Capital, Devonshire Investors, Accel Partners and QED Investors.

“We’re getting queries from our board on how we can go faster, and believe there are other industries, while there is still room for growth in education,” Massaro said.

The company has discussed going beyond education payments in the past. The opportunities include real estate, medical and other markets that have international supply chains.

“There is a pain point for many of these industries. They need to file a payment quickly and there is no good way other than a bank wire transfer,” Massaro said.

In the education sector, the company has benefited from its closed-loop model and focus on larger transaction amounts, Massaro said, adding that a similar model can be used in other industries.

For example, Massaro said peerTransfer’s model can narrow risk management because the dollar amounts and recipients are known in advance.

“It’s a closed loop, as opposed to remittance services where the money can go to a variety of places,” Massaro said. “If someone is going to launder money with this model, they’re going to have to do it through a university.”

PeerTransfer’s dashboard also provides detailed information on the payer, which has proven helpful for universities, Massaro said.

While peerTransfer has focused on an individual sector thus far, it has also benefited from its specialized payment process, said Zil Bareisis, a senior analyst with Celent.

“The success of peerTransfer is a good example of what we at Celent call target-based payments value proposition development, as opposed to launching a generic payment product,” Bareisis said.
“Companies can become really successful when they find a target such as a customer segment or a specific payment flow which has inherent inefficiencies, and develop a tailored proposition for
that particular target.”

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