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peerTransfer’s $22M Round Will Take It to UK, Australia and Beyond

Bank Innovation – By Philip Ryan

peerTransfer, a payments startup enabling international students to pay tuition fees in the currency of their choice, announced it has received some currency of its own today — a cool $22 million in a round led by Bain Capital, and which also included Spark Capital, Devonshire Investors, Accel Partners, and QED Investments. This roughly doubles peerTransfer’s total funding.

“During the first-half of the 2014/15 academic year peerTransfer doubled year-on-year revenue, reached profitability, and is comfortably on track to deliver $1 billion in cross-border payments processed for the full year,” said Mike Massaro, the company’s CEO.

The deal will take the company to even more corners of the world.

PeerTransfer’s business is to allow foreign students and their families to pay tuition fees to U.S. institutions in their own currency. It achieves this through a network of bank accounts in foreign countries that accept the payments, while an account in the U.S. pays the institutions.

“We basically built a forex platform in reverse, and applied it to billers,” Massaro told Bank Innovation. The money, in other words, is coming into the U.S., rather than flowing outward, as in a typical consumer foreign exchange scenario. The institutions are the billers, and are peerTransfer’s clients.

Payments from China, India, and South Korea account for 52% of peerTransfer’s volume.

A typical educational foreign exchange transaction could cost the student and his family $20 to $30 in outbound fees, while the foreign banks may take a 3% or 4% spread on the transaction, Massaro said. Then the institution would pay inbound fees as well. On top of that, the amount might not be exactly right due to exchange rate fluctuations, so the institution would need to bill for more money, or to return money — all of which costs more time and money. With peerTransfer, since the institution is paid in dollars, the amount is always correct, Massaro said. The payments cost schools nothing, and the fees to students are typically half what they would otherwise cost.

PeerTransfer serves 600 schools across 10 different countries. It also serves 900,000 students in nations all over the globe. Its goal with the new capital is to expand its presence to institutions in other regions, particularly the U.K., Australia, Canada, and southeast Asia.

“Right now,” Massaro said, “we have no salesforce to go after those regions.”

It will also look to diversify its offerings to students.

“Paying tuition isn’t their only challenge,” Massaro said. “They also need help getting credit, an moving living expense money into the U.S.”

Regarding the possible use of virtual currency in these transactions, Massaro said, “Since understanding the full flow of funds and proper AML monitoring for all payments processed is critical to our business, we cannot truly understand the origination of funds with any current form of digital currency. Our client institutions do not want to hold Bitcoin, so ultimately it would always have to be converted to a fiat currency.”

But should the banking system and regulatory agencies someday work out the issues with virtual currencies, peerTransfer is prepared to accept it. “We continue to monitor the space very closely,” he said, “and have the ability to literally deploy any form of digital currency support — acceptance or transport — overnight, if we believe it would benefit our client institutions or students and families.”

Massaro also noted that there is unmet demand for U.S. educations abroad. “If we had the capacity here, we could easily see 200,000 or 300,000 more students from China,” he said. U.S. schools, he added, have grown dependent on the revenue stream from foreign students. “You’ve got in-state, out of state, and way out of state,” he said. “Every department at every school is affected by the growth of foreign students.”

The addition of the FinTech experts at Bain Capital is also a win for peerTransfer. “We think adding Bain and [Managing Director] Matt Harris is a big deal,” Massaro said. “I think we have the best payments and FinTech board anywhere.”

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