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Jul 14, 2021 | Risk Management

The Three Pillars of Payments Partnerships in Higher Education

By Mark Wheat, Education Key Account Manager, Western Union Business Solutions

From transactional retail services to risk management, Treasury departments at universities have always had to plan for financial sustainability. The need for such measures has become even more crucial, and educational institutions must consider new ways to optimise their financial position. Brexit, COVID, and the fast-changing commercial environment are placing unprecedented demands on both the academic and financial pillars of the UK’s Higher Education sector. This added to the demands of a competitive student recruitment environment means that finance organisations are looking to partner with organisations to help them provide a truly holistic approach.

The way we see it at Western Union Business Solutions, the building blocks of these partnerships centre around three factors: Trust, Innovation, and Efficiency.

As a provider of international payments solutions to universities, we consider below what each of these entails.

Trust

As we all know, trust is fundamental to any business relationship, particularly when it comes to making or receiving international payments. We work with universities on daily basis, and we know how imperative it is to trust that the payments they send abroad, be it for research or procurement be done correctly. Similarly, it is crucial that they can receive payments securely and cost-effectively. The trust factor here comes from two areas. The first one is a robust platform with the capabilities to handle multiple payments, corridors, and currencies. Our customers at universities are avid users of such platforms. Western Union Global Pay for Students, which is used by eight out of ten of the top 10 ranked universities globally is utilised by multiple functions in finance departments at universities of all sizes in the UK and around the world. We constantly collect feedback and communicate to our customers about new features and capabilities. This feedback loop is at the heart of our work with the education sector.

The second factor for trust is customer service. Universities need a service team that understands their unique environment and can provide high calibre support. In the world of international payments, with ever-increasing complexities around currency risk management and compliance requirements, the team who processes your international payments simply must be an expert at it. Generic solutions and support can never take the place of that expertise. The importance of service comes across every time we poll our customers as part of our Net Promoter Score surveys. Our university customers emphasise the role of our customer service team as true support to them day in and day out. Decades of experience within the sector, allow institutions to rely on us for anything from receiving incoming payments, to building and executing risk mitigation strategies.

Innovation

A culture of innovation is one of value and partnership. What does the HE sector need from a payments partner? What value does each innovation bring? Platform developments should be inspired by ideas from the sector itself. For us at Western Union, regular collaboration events, such as our multi-day Client Advisory Board sessions, inspire our next generation of payment technology. Always focussed on delivering actual value, product roadmaps should be guided by what will enhance user experience most effectively. From ensuring a sustainable and scalable platform architecture to tailoring our UX to the expectations of your most important cohorts’ payment cultures, we are always building on our 170-year history of financial technology breakthroughs.

Efficiency

Efficiency is another essential factor. As a company that makes an average of 31 transfers per second, we know, more than anyone, that time is a valuable commodity. Having a partner to whom you can turn to concerning almost any aspect of the currency-related requirement is a substantial win.

For universities, the need for efficiency spans across multiple disciplines, from retail payments to foreign income strategy, Accounts Payable and Accounts Receivable to a full suite of structures that support your treasury ambitions, your partner in payments should be well-placed to support your institutions’ needs. Many of our larger education clients have in place complementary solutions, using their banks of course, but also coming to specialists such as ourselves. Our in-house experts and dedicated account managers help them build an approach that enhances visibility, confidence, and efficiency for their senior leadership as well as Finance, Treasury, Sales and Operations. For example, our team of chartered hedging managers work with CFOs and Financial Directors to listen to their requirements and business objectives, then supports them in designing and implement a bespoke strategy to benefit all stakeholders, built on the foundations of trust, innovation, and efficiency.

Note: This blog was first published on the guest blog of the British Universities Finance Director’s Group.