Tell us about Zilch’s mission in the Buy Now Pay Later space and your recent entry into the U.S. market.
Zilch’s mission is to create the most empowering way to pay for anything, anywhere. Sounds simple, doesn’t it? It’s not! It takes a lot of persistence and hard work because we’re aiming to achieve this by challenging legacy payment providers while capturing one of the biggest consumer shifts in the history of how people pay.
Let me explain that a little more – for decades, payments and commerce were split into two different industries. Brands spent billions reaching consumers via advertising, and credit card companies charge consumers billions in interest and fees to buy from these brands. However, today at Zilch, we merge these industries, creating unprecedented value for consumers by offering free credit and value-adding debit with their everyday spend, anywhere.
We do this by leveraging a unique direct-to-consumer and vertically integrated business model – Zilch’s virtual payments card (held in the customer’s digital wallet, Apple Pay, Google Pay, and Samsung Pay) empowers customers to pay on debit and receive up to 2% instant cashback in Zilch rewards when they Debit (pay-in-1 / now). Or, they can at a mere toggle in-app choose to by credit (pay-in-4) and spread the cost over six weeks for 0%, with no fees.
The virtual card combines the zero-interest, zero-hidden fee cash flow management of paying over time, the high rewards of a credit card, and all the built-in payment protections customers love and trust (fraud protection & brilliant customer service) with a traditional credit card, as Zilch is fully regulated – which I’ll come onto a bit more later.
How does Buy Now Pay Later contribute to consumers’ financial well-being?
As the cost-of-living crisis deepens in the U.S. and around the world, there has never been a more critical time to strengthen financial resilience and peace of mind for consumers. Across the country, we are seeing high energy bills, rising inflation, and a general sense of tension gripping household finances as consumers are increasingly using BNPL platforms to split payments for essential goods.
BNPL throws open the financial doors for those who have previously been excluded from traditional credit options – there is an inclusive element to the services. This is really important because, in the U.S. alone, consumers are paying $120 billion in fees and late charges to traditional credit card companies. This is unacceptable and fundamentally misaligned with the interests of consumers. They are being set up to fail.
They need more flexibility and clarity if they’re ever to have financial choice. Especially during a cost of living crisis and a time of surging inflation, to pay for goods and services how and when they need – with a system that avoids late payments and unnecessary, onerous fees. BNPL, with a sustainable business model, provides that to consumers – a financially responsible way to split payments and manage cash flow over a short period of time and not be charged interest for the privilege.
What is the biggest misconception about Buy Now Pay Later?
It’s interesting you ask this because earlier this year, Zilch conducted a survey in partnership with YouGov to look at exactly this. The survey pool included 2,000 respondents in the U.S. over the age of 18, and the key finding was a widespread lack of understanding of how BNPL companies make money.
For example, nearly half (43%) of consumers believed BNPL providers make money on the interest collected from consumers. More than one in four – 26% – of consumers believe that products sold through BNPL are marked up with BNPL providers collecting the difference in cost, and another 21% said BNPL firms earn money through secret or unadvertised fees that are paid by the consumer.
The fact that nearly half of consumers believe that all BNPL providers charge interest when they absolutely do not is not only concerning, but can be significantly detrimental to consumer health.
It’s a crucial point of differentiation to traditional credit cards. Half of all respondents believe consumers need options beyond expensive, high bearing interest credit cards, which is exactly what we are trying to solve, but the prevalent confusion and lack of understanding of how BNPL companies operate in general and compared to one another is a grave concern.
Zilch does not charge customers interest or late fees and can offer a much more financially healthy approach to financing purchases.
How is open banking foundational to your business and BNPL products?
Zilch was born with customer affordability at the forefront of everything we do. To say Open Banking is ‘foundational’ to the business is an understatement because it underpins our core value, which is to create the most empowering way to pay for anything, anywhere.
We use Open Banking technology combined with proprietary behavioral data each time a customer spends. This enables us to create a full picture of a customer’s affordability profile, and provide accurate, individualized spending recommendations.
Further to this, at the beginning of 2022 in the U.K., we partnered with Experian, a leading global services company, to begin reciprocal reporting of Buy Now Pay Later credit information in that region. This was a really important decision for Zilch and a major step forward to help pioneer the industry. In the U.K., with our unique direct-to-consumer model, we were the first credit lender providing BNPL to make use of CRA data, Open Banking data and proprietary behavioral data blended together to make active consumer lending decisions. With customers Zilching their payments almost 100 times per year, the data insights gained into customer affordability will help us on our mission to revolutionize lending.
It’s always been pivotal to me that we’re walking the walk and not just talking the talk when we say we want to ensure customers’ financial health is at the very heart of everything the business does. That’s why, prior to this, Zilch was also one of the first BNPL companies to secure a Consumer Credit Licence with the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), which is the regulator in the U.K.
For the BNPL industry as a whole – Zilch pioneering this way of working with numerous partners to create increasing transparency around customer affordability is key to assessing customer affordability more accurately and rewarding customers for their responsible behavior. I’m pleased to say that since we did this, numerous BNPL providers have followed suit and announced their own partnerships with CRAs, and pledged support to regulators.
Let’s end with a fun question. What’s your advice to aspiring founders looking to enter the fintech industry?
It’s hard to narrow it down to one piece of advice, I’ll have a go.
Something that has held me in good stead is remembering that it’s what I did when nobody was watching that counts the most today. For example; in 2018, as a business, before we launched the company, we went to the U.K. Regulator to seek authorization for a credit license. We did this before there was a focus on it in the media and fashionable. Before it was talked about in the press everyday from Regulators (FCA, CFPB), media, and government bodies. Now, some people think this was a master stroke – a genius strategic decision – and I would love to agree with them, but the truth is, we did this because it was the right thing to do for millions of people i.e. giving our future customers the protections they deserve anywhere they pay.