What are those things specifically?
The Debit+ debit card team still needs bodies to go build stuff, and it’s one of the coolest things we’ve done in years.
I’m fascinated by our obsession, particularly in the US, with physical payment cards still. [An Affirm public relations executive hands me a plastic Affirm debit card, which links to a person’s existing bank account and lets them convert eligible in-store purchases into BNPL purchases.]
This is a play for people’s loyalty, right? It’s not just offering a card, you’re trying to get them into your ecosystem of services. Because then they’re in your app, they’re paying in the app. And they’re seeing all the other merchants in your app …
For us the reason for cards is simple. It’s just really, really hard to use Affirm offline if you don’t have a physical card. So, here’s my app. My available amount to spend right now is $1,187.
Oh, you went to [Bay Area restaurant redacted for privacy reasons] last night. They have a nice patio.
It’s my standard. Nobody knows who I am. Nobody pitches me there.
Unlike [restaurant redacted] across the street?
Yeah. My wife loves it there. We have our date nights there as often as not. But it’s definitely the place where people are like, “Hey, man!” and I’m like, “I’m on a date.” So I had dinner last night, and I can turn it into a payment plan if I want to with this debit card.
Affirm and other BNPL services have come under fire from the US Consumer Financial Protection Bureau because of what is seen as potential for reckless borrowing.
That’s why underwriting matters [assessing a person’s ability to pay before making a loan, which Levchin has said involves analyzing data from credit reports and merchants]. There are three ways to lose money: People lie to themselves, people lie to you, and bad things happen to good people. People lying to us or lying to a lender is fraud. I think the majority of the industry has gotten good at spotting it. It’s people lying to themselves that’s very difficult. Because someone says, “I’d like to borrow some money, and I’m sure I will win the lottery. I will absolutely pay you back.” And then they don’t, and they’re overextended.
If you underwrite, you can say. “The probability of a lottery win for you is infinitesimal and you’re currently overextended. Please pay your bills and then we’ll have an adult conversation.” That’s what underwriting basically is, despite that it’s generally done by computers.
The bad-things-happening-to-good-people cases are unavoidable, no matter how good we are at spotting that someone is borrowing $1,000 and their monthly take-home is $500. People who go from, “I’m fine and everything’s OK” to, “Oh crap, I got laid off and I can’t pay my bills,” are typically great customers. They really do face hardship in very unexpected ways and that’s not the moment for us to be like, “Oh cool, you lost your job? Let’s get some late fees going here.”