Is BNPL replacing Credit Cards?

BNPL is a red-hot phenomenon now both in the financial and retail worlds. Because most BNPL transactions are funded using debit cards or checking accounts rather than credit cards, one of the main debates is whether it is replacing or will replace credit cards.

When asked about BNPL and its impact on credit card balance, the CFO of Discover, John Greene, had this to say:

What we’ve seen to date is consumer appeal has been on the lower credit quality folks. I think there will be a natural evolution that, that will come up the credit spectrum. We’ve also seen in terms of the firm, some higher credit quality customers actually electing to do a buy now pay later transaction, whether it’s paid in for or something else.

We haven’t seen any discernible impact whatsoever. So where I would likely see that is through new customer acquisition, and that’s — that activity has been very, very robust. The balance sheet on existing customers here, so loans, that’s been impacted by stimulus and kind of how they’ve allocated their dollars within their household. Nothing from the details we’ve looked at that would indicate that buy now pay later’s impacting the portfolio.

Discover Financial Services – Barclays Virtual Global Financial Services Conference

Echoing that sentiment, Brian Wenzel, CFO of Synchrony Bank, said there was no visible impact from BNPL on their credit card portfolio:

Yes. So first, we have studied buy now, pay later impact over the last couple of years as it really has grown, and we partnered with an outside firm to kind of do a deep analysis really on the — at the customer account level to kind of understand the behavior patterns it has. So when we see it and the data we’ve seen, I think, 75% of the buy now, pay later accounts are funded out of a debit account, right? So the view is that they are — you’re using cash and taking what would be a debit transaction through the buy now, pay later. We then looked — and really the impact of our business, and we looked at it and talked a little bit about it in Q&A last week about the impact on our business.

Are we seeing anything that says buy now, pay later is impacting credit? And so when you look at it versus a cohort population of our Mastercard as well as our Dual Cards, we see a low penetration, and we have not seen any changes certainly with how they use credit with us. In fact, they are more engaged with us than our average customer. They generate more revenue for us, but we have not seen any change. So as we look at it — when we look at applications come through, go over some of these products are offering, we have not seen any change, discernable changes.

So when you think about the impact to us in credit, we don’t really see it yet. We think that there is a shift that’s happening probably from cash as a tender type. And I think this is where the merchants and our partners are taking a step back. They are saying, “Yes, we understand your offer, consumers like it. But is this driving incrementality for us, true conversion?

Synchrony Financial – Barclays Virtual Global Financial Services Conference

One may argue that the main business of Discover and Synchrony is credit card so they had to put on a brave face. They might have. But since they are publicly traded companies; which often require them to be truthful to investors, I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt. More importantly, what they say seems to be in line with what Marqeta sees in their 2021 State of Credit report.

Recently, Marqeta released a 2021 State of Credit Report with some interesting insights into how consumers in the U.S, the U.K and Australia use BNPL and credit cards. The report is based on a survey of 3,500 people across three countries. Here are my take-aways regarding consumer preferences in the U.S:

  • 78% of respondents in the U.S use credit cards while 25% actively use BNPL
  • 50% of U.S consumers use credit cards because of rewards, something that is still a weakness of BNPL providers but they are working on it
  • “60% of U.S. 18-25-year-olds said they made more than five purchases on their credit card online each week, compared with 19% of 50-65-year-olds”
  • “79% of consumers surveyed who use BNPL reported having three or less BNPL plans open at a given time, with 45% of people reporting their average BNPL purchase at less than $100.”
  • “Older consumers however, were decidedly against, with survey respondents 51-65 years old voting overwhelmingly (63%) in favor of the credit card-first status quo.”
  • “Americans were again slightly worse off, with 30% responding that they’d struggled to meet payments”

3 out of 4 U.S consumers use credit cards. 60% of the younger segment use their cards regularly every week while the older and wealthier crowd want to keep the status quo. That, to me, is the sign that the credit card business is still healthy and well, at least for now. By no means do I insist that BNPL doesn’t have a chance to overtake credit cards. More and more issuers such as Citi, Amex or Chase introduced the ability to put qualified transactions on installment plans (BNPL). All the major retailers in the country allow shoppers to have a payment plan. Even Apple is reportedly working on their own version of BNPL. Who knows what the future holds? But for now, all signs point to a healthy credit card industry holding their ground.

Some thoughts on new benefits for Visa U.S Credit Cardholders

Per Visa:

Visa Inc. (NYSE: V) today announced the addition of Shipt, Skillshare and Sofar Sounds – as exclusive benefits – for Visa’s U.S. Consumer Credit cardholders. Eligible cardholders can now get a free Shipt membership to receive free same-day delivery on groceries and household essentials on orders over $35; boost their creativity through Skillshare’s online learning community; and get access to presale tickets plus be eligible for a free concert ticket while discovering Sofar Sounds’ global community of music lovers.

Specifically, the benefits vary from one product to another. Signature/Infinite credit cardholders will be able to enjoy more benefits from Visa than other cardholders:

ShiptSkillshareSofar Sounds
InfiniteUp to three years of free Shipt membership (normally $99
 per year)
Free membership for three months plus 30% off annual renewalsSeven-day Visa Exclusive Presale to Sofar-presented events, plus a free ticket with each purchase of one or more tickets to a show during the presale window
SignatureThree months of free Shipt membership, then nine months of membership at 50% offFree membership for three months plus 20% off annual renewalsSame as Infinite
OthersOne month of free Shipt membership, then three months of membership at 50% offSame as Infinite but limit two free tickets per year

You may wonder now if you are qualified for Infinite or Signature benefits. Infinite cards are typically high-end premium cards with a significant annual fee such as Chase Sapphire Reserve or U.S. Bank Altitude Reserve Visa Infinite Card. Hence, if you are already paying in the hundreds of dollars a year for a credit card, chances are that you have an Infinite card.

It’s a bit easier to get a Signature card. Every year, issuers have campaigns to increase credit limit for qualified customers. There are two reasons for it: 1/ a higher credit limit can stimulate more spend from customers and 2/ a Signature card earns an issuer more interchange revenue than a Classic card. One of the key criteria for an upgrade is that customers must have less than $5,000 in credit limit, which is the threshold for a card to be considered by Visa to be Signature. After an upgrade, a Signature card will have more than $5,000 in credit limit.

Therefore, if you have a good credit history and standing, ask your issuer to increase your credit limit to above $5,000. Do check with them if it means you are getting a Signature card. Each issuer will have a different set of criteria to look at, in addition to credit score, to see if they will upgrade your account. There may be a hard/soft credit pull involved and as a result, your credit score may take a hit. However, if your monthly balance doesn’t change, a bigger credit limit means that your utilization would be lower and hence, your credit score would bounce back soon.

I don’t know the exact agreement between Visa and these companies, but if I have to guess, it won’t be Visa that subsidizes these benefits. Visa only earns a tiny piece from every transaction (like 0.2% give or take). The maths don’t add up for them to subsidize these benefits. On the other hand, the likes of Shipt, Skillshare and Solar Sounds have a perfect partner in Visa to market their services and acquire new users. Visa is the biggest card network in the world and in the U.S. It will be highly challenging to find an issuer that doesn’t have a Visa product. After this announcement, issuers will include the new benefits in their marketing: social media, direct mails, emails or websites. Credit card is a highly competitive and fragmented business. Every player pours millions of dollars into marketing and user acquisition every year. Hence, the names of Shipt or Skillshare will be more popular. I also think they will get more new users to the door. The difficult part is to make them stay. But hey, if you want to keep someone close, they have to be familiar with you first. This is about it.

For Visa, this is a good move to deepen their moat. Not only does the network have the biggest pool of merchants AND consumers in the U.S, but they also have the same advantage globally. While powerful, this moat doesn’t guarantee future successes. Visa has competitors circling. Apart from the traditional competitors such as Discover, Mastercard or American Express, there are new challengers on the horizon such as this startup Banked from the UK as well as alternative payment methods such as BNPL via ACH. This new slate of benefits is a plus for consumers as well as card issuers, at no additional cost. It is aimed to acquire new cardholders and keep them on the network as long as possible.

Weekly reading – 18th September 2021

What I wrote last week

The importance of reading footnotes

Interesting articles on Business

Facebook Says Its Rules Apply to All. Company Documents Reveal a Secret Elite That’s Exempt. The sentence “we’re not going what we say publicly we are” can be applied to any company to some extent. The problem for Facebook is that the trust-eroding incidents happen way too often for a company with grandiose ambitions. Facebook wants us to trust them and use some of the new services for Facebook Pay, but how can trust be formed when stuff like this happens? I am sure this won’t be the last time that Facebook got a PR black eye.

Intuit Agrees to Buy Mailchimp for About $12 Billion. “Mailchimp, established in 2001, is based in Atlanta and is still owned by founders Ben Chestnut and Dan Kurzius, according to its website. The company, which hasn’t taken any outside funding, began as a web-design agency and ran an email-marketing service on the side that later became its focus. Today it also offers other digital-ad services and customer-relationship- management tools. Already popular among small businesses, Mailchimp became something of a household name in 2014, when it advertised on the first season of the hit podcast “Serial.” The company now serves 2.4 million monthly active users, including 800,000 paying customers. Half of its customers are outside the U.S. It had about $800 million in annual revenue last year, a 20% rise from the year earlier.”

Square Offers Sellers and Consumers a New Checkout Experience with Cash App Pay. It’s a natural progression in my opinion. Square is competing with PayPal to be the Super App for consumer financial needs as well as the go-to partner for commerce. PayPal has enabled payments by QR Code and mobile wallet for a while. Now, Square and Cash App have it too.

Facebook Knows Instagram Is Toxic for Teen Girls, Company Documents Show. “For the past three years, Facebook has been conducting studies into how its photo-sharing app affects its millions of young users. Repeatedly, the company’s researchers found that Instagram is harmful for a sizable percentage of them, most notably teenage girls. Expanding its base of young users is vital to the company’s more than $100 billion in annual revenue, and it doesn’t want to jeopardize their engagement with the platform. The features that Instagram identifies as most harmful to teens appear to be at the platform’s core. The research has been reviewed by top Facebook executives, and was cited in a 2020 presentation given to Mr. Zuckerberg, according to the documents.” Guess what Facebook chose to do? Nothing. Absolutely nothing.

Adobe jumps into e-commerce payments business in challenge to Shopify. The race to be the force that powers eCommerce features some of the biggest firms in the world: Amazon, Walmart, Shopify, PayPal, Adobe and Square. If you notice, the first three have fulfillment capabilities. PayPal bought Happy Returns. So it’s only a matter of time the latter three build out their own fulfillment muscle.

Amazon Is Doing It. So Is Walmart. Why Retail Loves ‘Buy Now, Pay Later.’ “Shoppers spend more at Macy’s when they use installment plans offered through Klarna Bank AB, Macy’s CEO Jeff Gennette said on a recent earnings call. Klarna also is helping the retailer attract younger customers, he said. A desire to boost loan approvals was among the reasons Walmart in 2018 decided to end its decadeslong credit-card partnership with Synchrony Financial. Citigroup Inc. saw a sevenfold increase in the dollar amount of credit-card purchases converted to installment loans in July, compared with the same month a year prior, said Gonzalo Luchetti, head of Citigroup’s U.S. consumer bank.”

Other stuff I find interesting

One Woman’s Mission to Rewrite Nazi History on Wikipedia. I hope down the line, years from now, there will be folks who come across what Ksenia Coffman did and be thankful that she did. Same way as I do today.

What Makes Work Meaningful — Or Meaningless

Stats

“Close to half of all new U.S. gun buyers since the beginning of 2019 have been women”

55% of shoppers start their 2021 holiday season shopping before Thanksgiving

Source: JungleScout

When reading reports, read the footnotes!

It’s not natural for most people to pay close attention to the small fine print in the footnotes. When I was at school, nobody told me about it. But in some cases, what the footnotes contain is very valuable and can change the information that goes before it. In this post, I’ll give you an example of how a $27 billion publicly traded company (Synchrony Bank) manipulates numbers to their advantage and how paying attention to the footnotes can help you jump through that manipulation.

Per Synchrony’s Investor Day Presentation

Synchrony shows their acquisition cost and customer lifetime value of their co-branded credit card portfolio

The point of the upper slide is that Synchrony Bank is more efficient than its peers in acquiring new and more valuable accounts. Well, there are some caveats. First, it may well be true that it costs Synchrony less to acquire new co-branded accounts. They partner with some of the most popular brands such as Amazon or PayPal. They don’t need to send out a lot of direct mails or run plenty of digital ads. However, I strongly suspect that they will have to pay these brands a high finders fee as in every time an account is opened, the brands receive a fee. In these cases, I won’t be surprised if the fee is north $100. Technically speaking, the finder fee isn’t classified as an acquisition expense, but to ordinary audience who doesn’t work in banking, the net financial impact isn’t clear from this presentation.

Second, the comparison data is from Argus. Argus collects data from different issuers in the country and shares back to each participant its benchmark’s data. It can be a very useful tool as management teams. The main drawbacks of Argus are 1/ as the identity of the participating issuers is kept anonymous, one doesn’t really know exactly who they are compared against; 2/ Argus data is on a quarterly basis and usually lags behind by 90 days. In other words, since we are not wrapping up Q3 2021 yet, the most up-to-date data in Argus should be for Q1 2021, but I know from personal experience that as of this writing, benchmark data is only up to Q4 2020. My point is that it’s unclear from the presentation that Synchrony is comparing data from the same period.

Last but not least, the way they calculate Customer Lifetime Value is a bit flattering. The footnote, if I interpret it correctly, states that they look at the CLTV of accounts that are on the books for 10 years. In the credit card world, if a customer stays with you for a long time, usually it means that customer is more valuable than shorter-tenured ones. Hence, it seems Synchrony looks at the CLTV of only some of their best customers, instead of the general population of their co-branded cards.

I’ll give you another example of the importance of footnotes. From the same presentation by Synchrony:

Synchrony tries to show how they manage risk

The point that Synchrony is trying to make here is that they grow their portfolio responsibly by curtailing the riskier customer group (subprime, which include the Low and Medium). The confusion comes from how Subprime is defined. In their explanation, Synchrony considers anybody with VantageScore less than 650 to be Subprime. According to The Balance, Vantage Score 3.0 and 4.0 use the same tiers as FICO score and Subprime refers to people with less than 600 in Vantage Score. To the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Subprime includes anyone with less than 620 in credit score. To Experian, the threshold is 670. The lack of a universal definition of Subprime means that Synchrony is likely not trying to manipulate the audience in this particular case. Rather, if somebody wants to use this information, they should really need to look at how Synchrony defines Subprime. Otherwise, any comparison would be flawed.

These are just two small examples of how critical information is sometimes buried in the footnotes. There are plenty of other examples. Everyone that publishes something has an agenda and employs tactics to highlight such an agenda and tuck away what can seed doubt. We should strive to be vigilant and mindful while reading others’ reports.

Weekly reading – 11th September 2021

What I wrote last week

I did a quick review to show which remittance services you may want to use to transfer money to Vietnam or India

My reservation on PYMNT’s study on Apple Pay’s usage in stores

Interesting articles on Business

Why the global chip shortage is making it so hard to buy a PS5. In the silicon manufacturing process, for the most advanced tool inside a fab, typically you’ll have hundreds of different tools. Actually in a large fab, like one you might see at TSMC (Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company), you’ll have thousands of these tools. And these tools are big machines that process these wafers and do various things. And most tools cost, starting with a couple of million dollars, to the most expensive tools are in excess of 150 million euros. In Asia, they’ll build these things in a year. They’ll move in equipment in the second year, get it qualified, running, by the end of the year. In the US, or in the West, it takes a lot longer, because we don’t have the same mentality they have in Asia. We’re going to do all the permitting, all the hearings, and all that stuff. So it wouldn’t surprise me if it took 50 percent longer to twice as long. Now, let me tell you why that’s a problem. Because to your second question, a modern fab these days, one of the closer-to-leading-edge ones will cost you $10 billion-plus for the smallest efficient scale, and a really efficient scale will probably cost you closer to $20 billion. Think about how much depreciation that can generate. In Asia, the mentality is every day, every hour this thing isn’t running costs me tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, sometimes millions of dollars. I’ve been in Asia on Christmas Day, and there are people out there with jackhammers and pouring concrete because it was like, “Man, every minute this thing gets done sooner, we can start generating cash.” We do not have that mentality in the West.”

Companies Need More Workers. Why Do They Reject Millions of Résumés? A gap on a resume should not be used to disqualify a candidate immediately. Many need to take a break, whether it was because a family member was sick or it was for their mental health. A less-than-stellar historical record shouldn’t disqualify a candidate either. We all make mistakes and we all deserve chances. Plus, if someone has the necessary skills, does it matter where they got those skills? Does it matter if they don’t have a degree? We use software to evaluate hundreds, if not thousands, of applications a year. It’s understandable. But I do believe that we can write better software to accommodate hiring needs and give people chances.

The surprisingly big business of Library E-books

PayPal To Acquire Paidy. PayPal agreed to acquire Paidy, a BNPL provider in Japan, for $2.7 billion in cash. Paidy reportedly has 700,000 merchants and more than 6 million users. As PayPal itself already has more than 400 million users, this acquisition isn’t likely about inflating the user base. The second reason is likely capabilities. Paidy, which shoppers can use without creating an account first or using a credit card, has a proprietary machine learning models to evaluate credit worthiness of consumers. In other Asian countries, it’s not uncommon for shoppers to pay cash on deliveries for online orders. Perhaps this is something that PayPal wants to replicate in other Asian markets.

Australia’s Top Court Finds Media Companies Liable for Other People’s Facebook Comments. The Court’s argument is that media companies post articles to stimulate conversations and engagement through comments. Hence, they should be liable for such comments. I don’t think that line of reasoning totally lacks solid grounds. I mean, a company’s Facebook page is essentially its property where it has the ability to curate (with Facebook’s help, of course) and it should have some responsibility for defamatory comments taking place there.

Source: CNBC

Stuff that I found interesting

This wildly reinvented wind turbine generates five times more energy than its competitors. This proposal, if materialized, can generate power for up to 100,000 households with one station while reducing the waste that is usually seen with the traditional turbines.

A great series on the study of obesity

Stats that may interest you

Mobile transactions in Vietnam are expected to increase by 300% between 2021 and 2025

Apple has around 52% to 57% of the mobile game transactions market (page 138)

Even though Apple doesn’t have a separate P&L for its line businesses, the Court found that the App Store’s operating margin is approximately 75% (page 145)

Truths about that 6% of People with iPhones in the US Use Apple Pay In-Store

A new article from PYMNTS claimed that only 6% of iPhone users use Apple Pay in stores.

As someone who works in the credit card industry and a follower of Apple, I have a few points to make with regard to this article. Per PYMNTS.com

Seven years post-launch, new PYMNTS data shows that 93.9% of consumers with Apple Pay activated on their iPhones do not use it in-store to pay for purchases. That means only 6.1% do. After seven years, Apple Pay’s adoption and usage isn’t much larger than it was 2015 (5.1%), a year after its launch, and is the same as it was in 2019, the last full year before the pandemic.

That finding is based on PYMNTS’ national study of 3,671 U.S. consumers conducted between Aug. 3-10, 2021.

First, I am naturally skeptical of surveys. To properly design and execute a representative survey whose results you can use to project trends both an art and a science. In other words, it’s difficult and tricky. Without knowing the specifics of the surveys that PYMNTS used over the years, I can’t really say for sure that their data is 100% accurate or representative. For instance, did these survey represent the U.S population demographically? We all know that older folks tend to be more reluctant towards technology than the younger crowds are. What if some of these surveys were more skewed towards Baby Boomer or late Generation X?

With that being said, let’s assume that these surveys were properly designed and conducted as there is no reason to believe that they weren’t either. Still, there are some important context points that I’d love to discuss. The U.S is traditionally slow in adopting tap-to-pay payments, compared to other developed countries in Europe. Here is what Visa had to say at the RBC Capital Markets Financial Technology Conference back in June 2021:

Canada is almost 80% of all tap to pay of all face-to-face transactions, almost 80% are tap to pay. In Europe, it’s over 80%. Australia, it’s almost 100%. Across Asia, it’s over 50%. And in the United States, it’s now over 10% from basically a dead stop a couple of years ago. So right now in the U.S., we’re a bit over 1 in 10 transactions with tap to pay, 1 in 10 of all face-to-face transactions of tap to pay. About 350 million cards, last time I looked, 268 of the top 300 merchants, 23 of the top 25 issuers are issuing contactless.

What Visa essentially said there is that mobile wallet transactions in stores basically didn’t exist two years ago. The low adoption isn’t confined to Apple alone. It’s applied to all mobile wallets on the market. Hence, it’s not a surprise that only a small number of consumers used Apple Pay in stores. Since then, the tap-to-pay transaction share has increased a lot, but from contactless cards, not from mobile wallets.

The issuer where I work only introduced contactless cards in August 2019. The roll-out was gradual as we enabled the feature only on new cards and renewal replacements. Before August 2019, we saw contactless transactions make up only a low single digit percentage of all transactions. After the change, there was an increase in contactless transaction share, but it mostly came from contactless cards (as in you tap a plastic card against a card reader). It makes sense for several reasons: 1/ Using a plastic card, whether it’s debit or credit, is a habit. It’s unreasonable to expect consumers to change their habit overnight; 2/ To some consumers, it’s just not convenient to take out a phone to pay. During the pandemic, we all had to wear a mask. That contributed to the inconvenience as most Apple Pay transactions have to be approved by using Face ID (few iPhones in circulation are too old for Face ID); 3/ Sometimes, the card readers just don’t accept mobile wallet transactions. I personally experienced it myself several times when a technical glitch forced me to pull out my wallet and use my plastic. Even when card readers are to become more reliable & friendlier with mobile wallets and the pandemic closes out soon, the current habit of flashing a plastic card in stores won’t go away any time soon. It’s a painstaking process that will take quite a while and it’s not even a guarantee that it will change significantly at all.

The low adoption of mobile wallets in general leads me to my next point: how is Apple Pay compared to other wallets? The article by PYMNTS did bring up some comparison between Apple Pay and its peers:

Today, Apple Pay remains the biggest in-store mobile wallet player, with 45.5% share of mobile wallet users. Over the last seven years, the total amount of Apple Pay transactions at U.S. retail stores has increased from an estimated $5 billion in 2015 to $90 billion in 2021.

Although that growth is commendable, it is largely the result of more people with iPhones upgrading to newer models and more merchants taking contactless payments, both leading to a general increase in retail sales – 12.9% greater in 2021 than 2019. But to be successful, innovation must solve a problem, fix a source of friction or improve an experience that is so painful that consumers or businesses are motivated to switch.

The article is so focused on Apple Pay that it missed two important points. One is that Apple Pay isn’t Apple’s main business. It may well be in the future, but it surely hasn’t been since 2014. Why is it Apple’s fault that the adoption of tap-to-pay payments in the whole U.S is low? It’s not really reasonable to expect Apple to go all out and force a new habit on consumers when there is little financial reward. The other miss is that if only 6 out of 100 people used Apple Pay, which captured 92% of all mobile wallet payments using debit card in the U.S in 2020, what does it say for others? 1% or lower? Yes, 6% adoption is low for the most valuable company in the world, but in the grand scheme of things and in comparison with its peers, that figure suddenly looks significantly different, does it?

The last point I want to make is that it is NOT comprehensive and helpful to look at the mobile wallet share of in-store transactions. What about consumers who use Apple Pay or other wallets for online transactions? How many transactions do Apple users make using Apple Pay on their phones or through the App Store? How many transactions on web pages are through Apple Pay? Said another way, is Apple Pay more suited for online transactions than for in-store payments? And PYMNTS is judging Apple Pay on something that it’s not meant to address in the first place?

In short, I believe that this article from PYMNTS is useful to some extent as we have a reference with regard to in-store mobile wallet payments. However, the entire write-up lacks important context that can lead readers to misguided conclusions. My hope is that the whole conversion is more balanced now with what I mentioned above.

Disclaimer: I own a position on Square, Apple and PayPal.

What remittance providers you should NOT use

For many immigrants such as myself, remittance is part of the life living overseas. We work hard here and send a bit of help back home whenever we can. In normal times, such assistance is a nice touch. In times like this when many parts of the world such as Vietnam are in strict lockdown because of Covid, it becomes even more critical and appreciated. In times like this, it matters more which remittance providers we entrust with our money to family and loved ones. In this post, I’ll tell you which ones I’d use myself, what I’d not and why.

When it comes to choosing a provider through which I can send money back home, these are the main selection criteria:

  • Are they reliable? This is money we’re talking about. Of course, we want it to be safe and secure. Luckily, the most popular services on the market have a good reliable track record. If not, they wouldn’t service in this business.
  • How long will it take for money to be deposited? Nowadays, it takes much less time for recipients to see money show up in their bank accounts than it did just a few years ago. A transfer can arrive at the receiving account in a few hours or within a day. My experience is that the top providers can transfer funds at pretty much the same speed.
  • How much does it cost in total? This is THE deciding factor. Influencing the net amount that recipients receive are the fees and the exchange rate. The best way to evaluate different services is to look at the final amount that will be credited to the destination account.

I conducted two experiments in which I looked at what would happen if I transferred $1,000 to Vietnam and India using the most inexpensive method through 6 select providers: Xoom/PayPal, Money Gram, World Remite, Ulink Remit, Western Union and Wise. Here are the results:

$1,000 from the U.S to Vietnam$1,000 from the U.S to India
Wise22,544,180 VND72,450 INR
Money Gram22,537,350 VND72,663 INR
Ulink Remit22,226,000 VND72,565 INR
World Remit22,140,076 VND71,930 INR
Xoom/PayPal22,348,000 VND72,034 INR
Western Union22,468,068 VND72,606 INR
Figure 1 – Net amount received when $1,000 is sent to Vietnam & India using different remittance services

In both cases, Wise, Western Union and Money Gram are very competitive. Ulink Remit should be considered if the destination is India. Both World Remit and PayPal should not be considered. I don’t know about the value of a few Rupees in India, but if I have to lose a couple of thousand Vietnam Dongs on every $1,000 sent back home, I’ll be put off. Personally for me, Western Union, Wise and Money Gram will be the go-to services to send money to Vietnam. What is yours?

Net amount received when $1,000 is sent to Vietnam through different providers
Figure 2 – Net amount received when $1,000 is sent to Vietnam through different providers
Net amount received when $1,000 is sent to India through different providers
Figure 3 – Net amount received when $1,000 is sent to India through different providers

Figure 4 – It’s weird to see WorldRemit is the recommended provider here

Weekly reading – 4th September 2021

What I wrote last week

Important investing lessons that I learned

Business

Google Pay team reportedly in major upheaval after botched app revamp. 92% of mobile wallet transactions in the U.S in 2020 were on Apple Pay. If I were an Executive at Google, I’d question why a firm with limitless resources, world-class engineering and ownership of Android couldn’t get Google Pay to be an equal competitor to Apple Pay. One can argue that Apple should have some credit with popularizing Apple Pay. If the driving force were the Cupertino-based company’s dominance and monopoly, why wouldn’t Google replicate that success with its own digital wallet?

How one woman helped build the #AppleToo movement at tech’s most secretive company. I never want to read about anybody being mistreated at their workplace. This #AppleToo movement is no exception. I am very disheartened to read about a group of folks being mistreated and disrespected, especially at a company that I long admire for other reasons.

PayPal is exploring a stock-trading platform for U.S. customers. It came as no surprise to me that PayPal is planning to launch a stock-trading feature. The ambition to be the Super App for consumers’ financial needs has been in full swing for a while. The company is putting the pieces of the puzzle together and this is one of them.

Affirm Holdings’ Moat: Why World’s Largest Retailers Want Affirm. I don’t necessarily agree with everything said in this piece, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have some good points.

Why Marta Ortega Pérez Is the Secret to Zara’s Success. This is one of the more interesting points in the article: Every morning after dropping off her son at school, Ortega Pérez gathers with the company’s CFO, Miguel Díaz, and other top staff around an industrial table out on the open floor to review global rankings for such bestselling pieces as a minimalist black spaghetti-strap summer dress, or a rococo printed pajama-style blouse with matching shorts. Orders heading to stores are constantly adjusted, an anomaly in an industry that typically plans merchandise drops well in advance. (Zara’s operations are supported by an in-house technology product team that uses  Netflix as a measuring stick for both consumer-facing and back-of-house innovations, including a mock fulfillment center floor set up to study the movements of a box-moving robot.)

To appease Japan Fair Trade Commission, Apple agreed to relax its anti-steering rules for Reader apps globally. What it means is that the likes of Spotify and Netflix should be able to sell digital goods to consumers without paying commission to Apple by adding a link to an outside webpage. Historically, Apple was vehemently against this, but the regulatory pressure has been piling up around the world so I guess this is Apple’s pre-emptive action to hopefully get some relief. I have seen some developers skeptical of how this change in policy will actually pan out. I mean, they have reasons to, but given the resources and clout at Apple’s disposal, this is a great step for developers. For consumers, this remains to be seen. One of the selling points of the App Store is that consumers feel safe whenever they make a purchase. Since Reader apps can now direct consumers to outside the App Store, it will depend on who will make the determination as to which app can qualify for the new policy. There remains a possibility that some developers with a harmful agenda can camouflage their app as a Reader App and commit fraud.

Apple Plans Blood-Pressure Measure, Wrist Thermometer in Apple Watch. Apple’s positioning of the Apple Watch is very smart. It’s not trying to compete with normal watches whose main function is to tell time or luxury watches whose main value is the bragging rights. By focusing on the watch wearers’ health, Apple sticks to its core value of providing hardware that is personal to consumers and its strengths, mainly the combination of hardware & software as well as its ecosystem.

How Disney and Scarlett Johansson Reached the Point of No Return. The legal debacle with Scarlett Johansson is unfortunate and worrying as it foreshadows what could be in store for Disney in the future if they didn’t learn from this lesson. According to the article, it could have been avoided, yet here we are. Plus, the pandemic, the interconnectedness of Marvel storylines, the pressure on the bottom line and the priority status imposed on Disney+ make release distribution a delicate matter. While Black Widow brought in $60 million in extra revenue and profit from the Premier Access, Kevin Feige, the Marvel boss, wasn’t happy about it. Putting “Black Widow” on Disney+ conflicted with Mr. Feige’s tiered approach—creating TV shows that complement movies on the big screen. He resisted plans for the movie’s simultaneous release, in part because he didn’t like the idea of having one of Marvel’s few female-driven movies demoted to the at-home streaming service, said people familiar with his thinking.

Other stuff I found interesting

Indonesia, More Majestic Than Ever by Boat. I have never been to Indonesia, but I’d love to. And of course, by boat, if possible.

These charts show which states will get the most money from Biden’s infrastructure bill. Regardless of the criticisms of this bill, I am pleased to see more investments in the embarrassing and decaying infrastructure in this country.

Can ‘smart thinking’ books really give you the edge? Makes you really think about it

Stats that may interest you

Vietnam saw $16 billion in remittance in 2020

52% of young adults in America lived with parents in 2020. The figure jumped to 71% for people aged 18 – 24

Cash accounted for 78% of transactions at Point of Sale in the EU in 2020

YouTube Music hit 50 million subscribers, up from 30 million reported in October 2020

Important lessons on investing that I learned

Over the weekend, I reviewed my portfolio and by extension, my performance as the CIO of my personal hedge fund (lol). I want to see how I have fared so far and importantly, if there is a lesson or two to take away going into the remaining four months of the year and 2022, what would that or they be?

In the first half of 2021, ending 30th June 2021, my portfolio’s return is 8.5%, compared to the return of 15.3% of the S&P 500, including dividends. Last year, Minh Duong Capital’s 2020 return was 21.3%, compared to S&P 500’s return of 18.4%. What does it mean? Obviously, I underperformed the market in the first 6 months this year, a fact that is particularly disappointing given that I outperformed the index last year. In other words, I overestimated my stock-picking power this year. Frankly, I didn’t do a good enough job. Instead of spending a lot of time looking at new ideas, I should have just bought the S&P 500.

That’s actually one of the big two lessons I learned: buy more ETF stocks. Take S&P 500 ETF ($SPY) and Vanguard Total Stock Market ETF ($VTI) as examples. In the last 10 years, they have an annualized return of 13.9% and 15.2% respectively. The beauty here is that investors don’t need to spend any time researching and regularly checking their portfolio. The ETFs just routinely deliver two-digit returns every year with minimal efforts or financial understanding of the companies.

At the moment, ETFs make up only 2% of my portfolio. I do plan to increase the ratio significantly in the next few months and next year. Don’t get me wrong. I still enjoy researching companies and finding winners which I believe will bring higher returns than that of the ETFs. But at the same time, I want to make sure that I at least have the same return as the market. You know, being realistic and all that. Does buying ETFs sound simple and easy? Yes, but it’s not in reality. Nowadays, it only takes a few phone taps to trade for a stock. When the barriers are that low and when you are tempted to prove that you are a better investor than just somebody buying an ETF, the illusion kicks in and the temptation is highly irresistible. Nonetheless, that’s what I plan to do in the near future. Buy more index and wait for only great opportunities.

That’s one lesson. What’s the other one that I learned?

In addition to stock picking and investing in ETFs, one can leverage the expertise of hedge funds. These guys get paid in the form of 2/20 (2% management fees and 20% of your profit) with an implicit promise to outperform the market. In other words, they are EXPECTED to deliver higher returns than what investors would get from the likes of S&P 500 or VTI. Here are the returns of a few funds in the first half of 2021:

Among this small sample, my personal return this year is higher than some funds’ and lower than others’. Of course, there are more funds spread out across the spectrum. The question, though, is how should I think about my performance in comparison with these funds? Well, not so much. Such a comparison is a slippery slope. If I want to make myself feel better, I only need to identify a few underperforming firms. On the other hand, it’s just unrealistic to think that I can beat the professionals whose full-time job is to find investing ideas and whose experience & resources far outweigh mine. The goalposts should stay constant, not move based on how I want to feel. In fact, Morgan Housel said: one of the most difficult skills in investing is to not constantly move the goalposts.

Hence, I decided to judge myself based on two things: did I avoid making the same mistakes twice? Am I delivering a higher return than ETFs? If the answer to both questions is yes, every time I conduct a review, then I will be a happy person. Otherwise, there is work to do.

Weekly reading – 28th August 2021

What I wrote last week

My review of three books: 1/ Stray reflections; 2/ An ugly truth and 3/ Obviously awesome

Business

Facebook says post that cast doubt on covid-19 vaccine was most popular on the platform from January through March. The fact that this article was published on a Saturday means that Facebook doesn’t want too many people to see it. I honestly can see the bull case for Facebook. However, it will be remiss to not mention the monumental challenge of content moderation that the company has to face. Because when false information runs rampage on its platforms, it may affect the engagement of users; which in turn can adversely affect advertising that is Facebook’s bread and butter.

Why You Can’t Find Everything You Want at Grocery Stores. Retailers are suffering from supply shortages; which is exacerbated by higher-than-expected demand. But if these hiccups are overcome, it means that there will be a growing retail segment in the coming months and by extension, likely, a healthy economy.

Diem: A Dream Deferred? Facebook has a lot going to their advantage: almost limitless resources, four of the most popular social networks in the world, 1/3 of the global population are its users, a money printing machine that is growing at a scary clip. But there are a couple of challenges that Facebook will have a hard time to overcome. First, it’s content moderation. Should I say: content moderation without pissing off anybody. As you can see, the task sounds almost impossible. When you moderate content by people with vastly different ideologies, you are almost certain to upset somebody. Facebook doesn’t have the luxury of having upset users or lawmakers. Hence, it’s not a problem that Facebook will easily solve. Second, public trust. The company has been around for almost 20 years and it has not garnered a lot of trust. As long as it continues to rely on advertising, capturing data and more importantly be embroiled in misinformation, the public trust will likely continue to evade them. As the article from Coindesk pointed out, trust is paramount in the payments/finance world. How on Earth would Facebook succeed in it?

The Digital Payment Giant That Adds Up. Merchants are going down the omni-channel route that allows shoppers to shop in multiple ways. This will be the key to Adyen’s growth. I like the fact that they prefer building in-house and maintaining the one-ness of their platform to acquiring capabilities from other companies through M&A and bundling different tech stacks into one. Working at a company that suffers from systems not talking to each other, I know first-hand how that could become a significant problem in no time. In addition, I really look forward to Adyen coming to the U.S with a banking license. I am not sure the folks at Marqeta share my enthusiasm.

Buying a bank turned LendingClub around. Now the fintech industry is watching. It requires a lot of work and preparation to get a banking license. The benefits of owning a charter; however, include less dependency and more control over your own fate, margin and operations.

What I found interesting

Inside Afghanistan’s cryptocurrency underground as the country plunges into turmoil. One can argue that cryptocurrency can be a savior in crises like what is going on in Afghanistan. The thing is that if something requires there to be a crisis to drive adoption, I am not sure that something is as good or revolutionary as some may think.

An immense mystery older than Stonehenge. It’s profoundly impressive to me that prehistoric people could transport stones that weighed tons to the top of a hill 6000 years ago. Think about that for a second. They must not have had all the tools that we came up with up hundreds of years later. It’s just extraordinary. If I ever have enough money and time, Gobekli Tepe, Machu Picchu, Egypt and Greece are where I wish to go.

Bigger vehicles are directly resulting in more deaths of people walking. Take a trip to Europe and you’ll see how absurdly big vehicles in the U.S are compared to those in Europe. And the implications aren’t necessarily positive. I’d argue that it’s considerably better to have smaller vehicles or fewer vehicles on the roads.

European Sleeper Trains Make a Comeback. I really wish that Americans would share the same enthusiasm about travelling by train as Europeans do. Personally, I enjoyed the train ride from Chicago to Omaha. If there were a reliable Wifi, I’d take trains every single time over flights and especially driving.

Apparently, there is a 2021 Global Crypto Adoption Index and Vietnam is ranked as #1. Below are the two reasons that experts say are why Vietnam’s adoption is so high. I am not sure how I should feel about it. On one hand, this index is not negative in nature. Hence, the #1 ranking certainly feels good. On the other hand, the alleged reason that young people don’t know what to do with ETF is alarming. That implies a lack of understanding in investing and a tendency to gamble in cryptocurrencies.

“We heard from experts that people in Vietnam have a history of gambling, and the young, tech-savvy people don’t have much to do with their funds in terms of investing in a traditional ETF, both of which drive crypto adoption,”

Source: CNBC

Stats that may interest you

In 2019, 70% of music in Japan was consumed via CDs

eCommerce made up 13.3% of total retail sales in the U.S in the 2nd quarter of 2021, indicating that the Covid effect has tapered off

46% of retail BNPL shoppers didn’t use their credit cards because they wanted to avoid high interest rates

The U.S online lottery ticket market will reach $2.3 billion by the end of 2021, a 25% YoY growth