Weekly reading – 19th February 2022

I didn’t write anything last week and this weekly post is late because I was traveling back to Vietnam and locked out of my account. My blog’s two-step authentication requires a verification by SMS, but my carrier doesn’t enable calls or messages outside the US.

Business

Sequoia’s invisible hand: How Roelof Botha became one of the most powerful people in venture capital. VCs usually cut overly confident figures but this profile shows that even one of the best in the business expects himself to have unsuccessful deals and do have unsuccessful deals. Even one of the best needs support in times of uncertainty.

The Hidden Ways Companies Raise Prices. I have no beef with businesses that raise prices to cover high costs. I do have a beef with companies that do so sneakily. Be upfront and tell me that you have to raise prices due to inflation. Be straight and transparent with me.

DoorDash to Bump Up Its Fees on Slow McDonald’s Restaurants. An interesting look at the negotiation between a delivery service like DoorDash and a merchant like McDonald’s. DoorDash has considerable bargaining power, in my opinion, because it can drag an icon like McDonald’s to the negotiation table and get a deal.

Doing Business in Myanmar Is Tough, but Norway’s Telenor Finds That Leaving Isn’t Much Easier. While I feel bad for Telenor as the company has to find a way to leave Myanmar even though it only tries to do good by the people, I feel even worse for the people of Myanmar.

Discover Is Bringing a Payment Option Popular in Asia to the U.S. Discover is expected to announce a new partnership later this week that will enable merchants to accept payments through checking accounts. I am eager to learn how Discover is going to change consumer behavior and how this kind of initiative would affect the arguably duopoly of Visa and Mastercard

Inside Facebook’s $10 Billion Breakup With Advertisers. The article struck a positive and compassionate tone for Facebook as it didn’t mention once that the business model is built on users’ data and can violate their privacy or that Facebook usually leads the news headlines for all the wrong reasons related to that business model.

Other stuff I found interesting

How Pfizer made an effective anti-covid pill. “Right away, researchers got a lucky break. When Pfizer checked, it found that none of the thousands of proteins in the human body shared the same bit of molecular structure they planned to interfere with in SARS-CoV-2. That meant they could hit the virus hard and not expect any major side effects. Nature had provided the scientists with a big bull’s-eye”

The Logistics Behind Deicing Airplanes. I think after watching this clip by WSJ, I become more understanding any time flights are delayed.

Stats

According to a presentation to investors by Shopify, Amazon has 41% of the U.S eCommerce while Apple has 4%

The discontinuation of Monthly Child Tax Credits is allegedly pushing 3 million kids back into poverty

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.