Founded in 1904, the University of Leeds serves more than 39,000 students, including 11,000 international students from 170 different countries. As one of the largest higher education institutions in the United Kingdom, the University is renowned globally for the quality of its teaching and research.
Each year the University of Leeds processes a large number of international payments, many being direct bank transfers. Each time the University received a bank transfer, it was difficult to know exactly who or what the payment was for. Similarly, students had no control or ability to track their payments. They would have to email or call to ask the University if funds had been received, and often the University would receive funds that they were unable to immediately allocate. It was a frustrating and time-consuming manual process for all involved. Know Your Customer regulations also made bank transfers - domestic and international - problematic for the University.
Refunds were particularly challenging because each transaction could take countless hours over several weeks to process based on the University’s multi-step process. To comply with Know Your Customer regulations, before manually processing each refund, the finance team needed to establish who and from where the money was initially sent to ensure they issued the refund to the originating source.
Refunds on international bank transfers were even more challenging as they often came via one or even two intermediary banks, making it difficult to confirm the source. These refunds required an ongoing dialogue between the University’s staff and payers to gather all the information needed to approve and initiate a refund.
To help automate these processes, the University was looking for a cost-effective payment solution to securely streamline the process for students while also saving time for staff by creating efficiencies for both payment collection and refunds.
Since 2015, the University of Leeds has relied on Flywire's solutions to streamline processing and reconciliation of cross-border education payments from the University’s growing international student base. The University promotes the use of Flywire for all international payments, even when a student explicitly asks for the University’s bank details. Flywire’s payment portal is promoted on the University’s “How to Pay” web page, admission information and in pre-arrival and registration guides.
When the COVID-19 pandemic sent the world into a tailspin, the University of Leeds suddenly needed to issue thousands more refunds than normal to address partial rent rebates offered as a result of restricted access to campus accommodation during lockdown. Using Flywire to automate the process enabled University staff to better manage the unprecedented influx of refunds. The Flywire solution eased the pressure on the finance team and also made the end-to-end process more transparent and secure.
According to Abi Shearsmith, Head of Student Finance, one of Flywire’s unique selling points is that it gathers all payer information at the start of the payment process, and also takes responsibility for processing student refunds. By eliminating manual, time-consuming administrative processes, staff and students benefit from a more secure, simpler and faster payment experience.
Alongside improving the refund process, the University no longer accepts cash payments and actively discourages direct bank transfers. This not only helps reduce risk for the University, but also accelerates the allocation of funds and makes the registration process smoother for students.
By partnering with Flywire, the University was able to automate payments, simplify reconciliation and improve the refund process. The end result drives efficiency by reducing student enquiries about payment status, eliminating manual processing and minimizing administrative costs.
Abi also found that Flywire helps optimize the student experience, particularly at registration. The University requires a 50% payment towards tuition fees before students can register, so Flywire’s visibility of payment status and the speed with which the University receives a guarantee of funds means students paying with Flywire can register much faster than if they did a direct bank transfer.
Using Flywire instead of bank transfers also eliminates the need for the University to share and potentially expose its bank details. Flywire’s solution uses machine learning and security controls to monitor and stop potential fraudulent payments, which also greatly reduces risk for both students and the University.
This isn’t the first time we’ve shared a ‘pain point’ with Flywire and then worked together to develop or increase functionality that either helps us internally, or provides a better experience for students or payers. The Flywire team has always been keen to understand our processes and our requirements.