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Easy Transfer processes billions of dollars in tuition for overseas Chinese students

For a founder construction a consumer-facing business, overseas Chinese students might just be one of the most coveted targets: they’re youthful, well-educated and have access to the “bank” of mom and dad.

This is an enormous addressable audience, as millions of Chinese families send their children out West to study every year. It doesn’t come cheap. Tuition and living costs can easily add up to $50,000 annually at a top-tier university in the United States, which is still many Chinese people’s favored destination despite heightened tensions between the two countries.

The notion that all overseas Chinese students are rich isn’t always true, as more mid-income parents are willing to compromise their living standards for what they perceive as a “good” education their children can obtain overseas. But, all told, living and studying abroad still costs a lot more than it does back home. At the prestigious Peking University, for instance, tuition costs usually amount to no more than $1,000 each year.

One startup from China has carved out a route to catch these potentially heavy spenders. uncomplicated Transfer, which was co-founded in 2013 by then 19-year-old Tony Gao, lives up to its name by taking the hassle out of processing tuition payments for Chinese students studying abroad. The IDG-backed startup crossed a fantastic $776 million in transaction volume in 2018, the same year that it broke even, Gao told TechCrunch in a recent interview.

uncomplicated Transfer

Tony Gao, co-founder and president of uncomplicated Transfer (Photo: uncomplicated Transfer)

Simplifying a complicated process

Traditionally, overseas students pay their tuition through wire transfers, third-party payments processors or credit cards. The last option is attached to high fees, so most go through the first two. Wire transfers, however, can also be a dread. Many students and their parents — as well as the tiny bank in their neighborhood — have tiny experience sending tuition fees overseas, not to mention parsing China’s regulations around foreign exchange and filling out pages of banking forms in English.

Gao stumbled upon that cumbersome mode when he asked his mother to pay for his first year at the University of Southern California. The hassle and trouble that easy question caused ultimately prompted him to come up with an alternative solution: his own startup.

“We want to create a cross-border tuition paying service that offers both convenience and low costs,” the now 25-year-old Chinese founder explained.

uncomplicated Transfer competes against a plethora of third-party payments companies like Western Union and PeerTransfer to move tuition fees across the globe, but it tries to set itself apart from its American peers with localization. What it’s capitalizing on is essentially information asymmetry: Parents log on to uncomplicated Transfer and select on its website a list of schools, upon which they can make a bank transfer or pay with a unionpay debit card. The company will then take care of the paperwork and deal with China’s foreign exchange dominance.

uncomplicated Transfer recently introduced its own credit cards in collaboration with two Chinese banks (Photo: uncomplicated Transfer)

Since sending enormous sums of cash across the world is stressful, uncomplicated Transfer also operates a faction of 70 in-house service staff who are charged with answering customer requests and questions. To find brand-new users, it throws networking events for incoming students and their parents, and recruits voluntary “college ambassadors” to marketplace the service. More importantly, Gao believes the client network he’s grown over the years — 1,900 schools in 27 countries — gives him bargaining energy with the 80 partner banks.

Overseas tuition payments “are not a tiny amount for any Chinese bank’s cross-border business. enormous transfers are much more lucrative than tiny ones, so banks are willing to work with us and give us preferential rates,” asserted Gao. “Banks are also keen to find high-net-worth Chinese customers through our service.”

Gao projected that his company’s total transactions this year will come $2.6 billion through more than 100,000 payments. uncomplicated Transfer takes a fee from customers for every transaction and it also shares their bank partners’ internal differences in exchange rates. Last year, it widened its revenue stream by introducing its own credit cards in collaboration with two Chinese banks. That’s a scheme that Gao hopes can give overseas students a starting credit attain to support them more easily get loans and other financial services upon returning to China.

This move also means uncomplicated Transfer potentially has access to its 200,000 relatively wealthy registered users even after they graduate and start to work. The credit cards are just the starting point, as the startup could also turn its tuition-paying user base into customers for a range of other overseas services, such as apartment rentals and cell phone plans.

Curiously, President Donald Trump’s increasing hostility against Chinese students as part of the vend war — which has already led to tighter visa controls for students in high-tech fields — hasn’t yet led to a sharp decline in business in uncomplicated Transfer’s largest marketplace, the U.S. However, transaction volumes from the United empire, Australia and Canada have surged in recent months, according to Gao, and that may be linked to the current political climate.

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TechCrunch
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