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Strategies for education institutions to manage refunds

7 tips to streamline refunds and student aid payments

Skyler Webster, Director, Product Management, Western Union Business Solutions

The tertiary education sector has been hit hard by COVID-19. Research indicates that 80% of international students have changed their study plans1.

Uncertainty surrounding the global pandemic poses challenges for both institutions and international students alike. As universities face an increased need to make refunds and student aid payments, institutional reputation is more critical than ever. You have a duty of care to ensure students receive funds quickly and easily.

It is important that you deliver on your student experience goals and support students through this challenging time, while ensuring the process is efficient for your own internal resources and meets regulatory obligations. Here are 7 key factors contributing to a successful refunds process.

1. Ensure your refund process aligns with your existing processes and policies

Does your institution have a policy of only refunding back to the originating source? Ensure your payments platform has this capability to help streamline your refunds process. Likewise, your payments platform must have a flexible approval and reviews model so you can appropriately align with your institution’s internal processes. Initiation of refunds also differs between education institutions, with some allowing students to initiate the process and others leaving that responsibility to the institution itself. Again, a flexible payments platform allows your institution to choose the process that fits its policies best.

2. Streamline your refund operations

Managing refunds can be a time consuming and resource heavy task. It is important to increase operational efficiencies using a payment provider that allows you to bulk upload and manage multiple payments in multiple currencies. Both your institution, and your student must be able to easily track the status of refunds online via a unique identifier, preferably the student’s ID number which they will already be using for other administrative tasks. By allowing both parties to monitor refund status online, student enquiries can be reduced, as well as tedious manual tasks.

3. Choose a provider that can easily integrate with your institution’s existing system

To achieve ultimate process efficiencies, your chosen payments platform should seamlessly integrate with all major education technology providers such as ERP systems, payment aggregators, student accommodation engines and student record systems. True integration will speed up reconciliation and allow transactions to be completed within one system, helping your institution save time and expenses.

4. Help protect your students from the risk of fraud

It is critical to ensure that when collecting beneficiary details, your institution has steps in place to stop phishers from intercepting this data. A co-branded payment platform that provides robust data validation is important, as is the ability to validate details by country which helps get collection right the first time around.

Ensure that your payments provider has a dedicated team that helps protect students from fraud and will work with your institution if fraud does occur. To give additional protection for students your platform should provide the option to deliver local bank account details, provide instructions in their local language, and the ability to easily track their refunds. Ultimately, helping to defend students against fraudulent activity contributes to your institution’s reputation as a brand they can trust. Which leads us on to……

5.Protect your institution’s reputation

If your students fall victim to fraud when providing their bank details or if your institution becomes a victim of business email compromise, this could generate negative PR for your institution. To make sure this does not happen to you, you should employ robust data collection, data validation and document collection processes via your refunds payment platform.

6. Ensure your payments provider meets regulatory and/or industry compliance standards

Both educational institutions and payment processors are subject to a number of strict regulations and compliance standards relating to the processing of data, and the protection of privacy. Your payments provider must demonstrate that it has qualified personnel and sufficient expertise and controls in place to comply with such requirements. They need to be an expert in this area and serve as an asset in your ongoing efforts to adhere to these rules.

Moving money around the world can be complicated, requiring compliance with a whole array of local and foreign regulations and requirements designed to prevent money laundering and fraud. It pays to work with a payments provider that is a licensed money remitter, which means they have the compliance experience and necessary licensing to help fully protect your students and your institution.

7. Work with an international payments provider you can trust

Do you have proof that your partner has the size and the financial strength and stability to withstand any significant changes in the market? In times of economic instability, a provider’s susceptibility to market downturns could result in a loss of funds. In turn, this could impact the reputation of your institution and its ability to attract international students. It is important to work with a provider that is part of a public company with publicly available, audited financial statements that you can monitor for confidence that your students’ money and your reputation is not at risk.

Simple refunds process, stress-free students

Student experience is a key driver for your reputation, and now more than ever, as your institution  faces unprecedented challenges brought on by COVID-19 you need to deliver a frictionless refunds and student stipend payments. Western Union Business Solutions flexible refunds portal compliments your existing processes to streamline refunds and payments in 130 currencies across 200 countries and territories. Contact us today to find out more and to arrange a demonstration.

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1 The Impact of the Coronavirus on Higher Education, QS.com