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Clarity is Your Safest Option for Financial Aid

June 14, 2023
Brennan Stark
CEO & Co-Founder

When deciding what financial aid software to use, the only thing more important than a great user experience is security. We spend a lot of time talking about how great the Clarity user experience is, but in this post, I want to talk about why Clarity is the safest financial aid platform for schools and families.

There are three key aspects to why Clarity is the safest option:

1.  Clarity has the highest data security standards.

2. Clarity has the safest contract for schools.

3. Clarity has a team and culture built on responsiveness to schools.

Data Security Standards

Expertise in data security, submission to annual third party audits, and adherence to strict data controls

Our engineering team is composed entirely of engineers who have over a decade of experience building and scaling enterprise products to support tens of millions of active users.

How does this help us keep family and school data safe?

Having an experienced engineering team who have brought enterprise products to scale has allowed us to prioritize data security from the very beginning. While many software vendors try to avoid submitting to annual external audits due to the time and cost involved, Clarity has taken the proactive approach of committing to SOC2 Type 2 compliance audits every year, including one recently completed in our very first year. The SOC2 Type 2 audit is an independent third party test of hundreds of different controls and processes that ensure that we meet the highest data security and data privacy standards as an organization.

Additionally, Clarity is committed to keeping school and family data 100% within the United States. Our team, including all employees and contractors, is 100% U.S. based.

Why is this important?

In an effort to cut costs, other vendors have moved important functions such as engineering, data science, and support overseas. Each time your data and your families’ data travels across borders, it creates added data security risk. Additionally, when sensitive data travels to countries where the value of that data is high relative to the cost of living in those countries, it creates incentives that are misaligned with the security interests of schools and families. This is why Clarity is committed to keeping school and family data 100% within the U.S.

We also take steps to minimize the amount of sensitive data that is collected and who is able to access it. For example, we do not store SSNs in our database and we obfuscate SSNs on all tax documents that are retrieved from the IRS so that school users do not have access to them. We also do not allow families to access their uploaded documentation, including tax documents, after they have uploaded them. What this means is that even if a family’s account became compromised, these protective measures would minimize the accessibility of sensitive information, thereby reducing both the potential incentives and potential harm caused by such a compromise.

Additionally, because school user accounts maintain access to the sensitive information of their institution, we require multi-factor authentication for all school users to mitigate the risk of unauthorized access. We also have various systems in place to detect anomalous and suspicious behavior and automatically restrict access.

Lastly, we take what is called a “least-permissioned” approach to access controls. We ensure that our team has access to the minimum amount of data that they need to do their jobs. When a team member does need access to school or family data, we have systems in place that grants them temporary access to subsets of data which is then automatically revoked when the individual is done with the task.

These are just a few of the technical steps that we’ve taken to reduce risk for schools and families, while also moving the industry best practices forward.

Reducing Contract Risk for Schools

Responsiveness to school needs, industry-leading cyber liability protection, and no multi-year “lock-in”

We have spent many hours talking with school CFOs and attorneys to understand their biggest concerns when it comes to contract risk. While we aren’t able to give every school everything they might ideally want, we have landed on a contract that provides schools with significant protections above and beyond industry standards.

For example, every school that partners with Clarity is covered by up to $50,000 of cyber liability insurance through Clarity at no additional cost - coverage which is designed to back the data security representations that Clarity makes in its contract with schools. This coverage stacks, which means that Clarity is procuring incremental coverage for each school that signs on as a partner. While it is of course our priority to minimize the odds of a data breach, the feedback that we have received is that the $50,000 of cyber liability insurance that we provide schools offers a significant amount of protection that would greatly reduce the impact of any potential data breach on the school and their families. It’s also an average of 50 times what is offered by other vendors in this space.

Our contracts also include a Data Processing Agreement that provides representations about the security measures that Clarity takes to protect sensitive school and family data and reduce the risk of a data breach.

Lastly, while other software vendors optimize for vendor lock-in, Clarity wants to compete on the merits of our product. Our standard agreements are one year in duration, which means that you are not locked into working with us for multi-year periods. We believe we’ve built the best financial aid product for schools and families, but if you don’t agree, we think you should have the freedom to choose another option.

Our Team and Culture

Culture of listening to schools, white-glove support from former FA practitioners, and leadership accessibility

Listening to the needs of schools and families is the key to how Clarity has succeeded to date. It’s at the heart of our culture. As we’ve grown, we’ve doubled down on our commitment to building a team and a culture that is the most responsive to the needs of our school partners and families. When you choose to do business with Clarity, you will be working with a team who is fully invested in your success with financial aid.

Every school that joins Clarity receives a dedicated client success manager that leads them through onboarding, checks in proactively throughout the year, and is available any time your team has a question. They become an extension of the school’s financial aid team. Each of our client success managers has over a decade of experience working in admissions and financial aid. Working with Clarity not only gives you a financial aid platform that helps you achieve your financial aid goals, but it also gives you an empathic partner in the process - a partner who understands the unique challenges that financial aid practitioners face.

Client success managers also serve another important role at Clarity - ensuring that the platform continues to evolve in a way that best serves the needs of the schools by translating school feedback to our product and engineering teams. This process has resulted in over 100 product improvements in our first year alone. One of the best things about Clarity is that it’s always getting better!

And finally, as leaders of Clarity, we believe in servant leadership and making ourselves accessible. That’s why my co-founders and I provide our email addresses and direct phone numbers to all of our school partners. The idea for Clarity was born out of conversations with schools - and we continue to listen to schools every day. We would love to hear from you, so please feel free to reach out!

This email address is monitored by my co-founders and me and we read and respond to every email.

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