What We Know About Goldman Sachs Credit Card Portfolio – Apple Card

Traditionally known as an investment bank, Goldman Sachs did not usually count consumers among its clientele. The effort to venture into consumer banking started with its proprietary platform called Marcus. Then, in August 2019, GS launched its first ever credit card, Apple Card, in collaboration with Apple. In 2021, the bank announced that it was going to acquire the General Motors credit card portfolio from Capital One. The acquisition was only completed in February 2022, but it had some effect on Goldman Sachs’ balance sheet a few quarters prior to the completion (more on this later). Along with the GM portfolio, GS also added a platform for home improvement consumer loan originations in GreenSky.

It’s interesting to study the performance of Goldman Sachs’ consumer banking arm for two reasons. First, it will help us understand more how difficult and expensive it is to build and sell consumer banking products from scratch. Second, it is also a proxy of how the Apple Card has been doing, given the notorious secrecy of the Palo-Alto-based tech giant.

Housekeeping facts

  • Between Q3 2019 and Q3 2021, we can be sure that all credit card balance on GS’ balance sheet came from Apple Card. I confirmed it to a member of the bank’s Investor Relations team (see below)
  • The GM portfolio and the acquisition of Green Sky were both closed in Q1 2022. It’s safe to say that the bank only included the additional loan balance on its books by then. Said another way, all credit card balance through Q4 2021 was from Apple Card
  • Between Q1 2021 and Q4 2021, the bank’s lending commitments included their estimate of the GM portfolio’s balance of $2 billion. The exact language is: “Credit card commitments also includes approximately $2.0 billion relating to the firm’s commitment to acquire a credit card portfolio in connection with its agreement, in January 2021, to form a co-branded credit card relationship with General Motors. This amount represents the portfolio’s outstanding credit card loan balance as of September 2021. However, the final amount will depend on the outstanding balance of credit card loans at the closing of the acquisition, which is expected to occur by the first quarter of 2022.” (Source: Goldman Sachs Q3 2021 10Q)
  • The GM portfolio’s estimated balance of $2 billion as of September 2021 was down from the $3 billion figure reported in August 2020
  • Between Q1 and Q3 2022, GS credit card lending commitments (another term of the amount of credit lines extended by the bank to credit card customers) included $15 billion in credit lines from the GM portfolio. From Goldman Sachs Q3 2022 filing: “Credit card lines issued by the firm to consumers of $60.66 billion as of September 2022 and $33.97 billion as of December 2021. These credit card lines are cancellable by the firm. The increase in credit card lending commitments from December 2021 to September 2022 reflected approximately $15.0 billion relating to the firm’s acquisition of the General Motors co-branded credit card portfolio in February 2022.”
  • Because lending commitments from the GM portfolio didn’t change over the last 9 months, even after the move closed, it’s quite safe to assume that credit card balance stays stagnant at $2 billion, give or take

Apple Card

Using the figures reported by Goldman Sachs and the facts mentioned above, I estimate that as of September 2022, the Apple Card portfolio had $12 billion in balance and $46 billion in credit lines. Those figures were significantly up from $3 billion in balance and $19 billion in commitments as of September 2020. That’s tremendous growth in just 24 months. At $12 billion in outstandings, Apple Card still trails behind the Amazon Prime Card, which is rumored to have $20 billions in comparison. But if Apple and Goldman Sachs can maintain this growth rate, that gap should be closed soon.

Apple Card Loan Balance & Commitments
Apple Card Loan Balance & Commitments

Apple and Goldman Sachs give me a $6,000 line on my Apple Card. Assuming that is the average credit line for every Apple Card holder, it would indicate that there are approximately 7.7 million customers in the portfolio ($46 billion divided by $6,000). The figure passed a sniff test to me when news outlets reported the GM book had 3 million customers and there were almost 500 million credit cards in the US. Furthermore, given the popularity of Apple devices in the US, where there are 330 million people in population, the Apple Card portfolio has a lot of room for growth in the future.

In addition, because credit cards are unsecured loans, I’ll be remiss if I don’t talk about delinquency rates of the Apple Card. In Q1 2022, when Goldman Sachs first reported past due loan amount, the 30+ day delinquency rate of the Apple Card was 3.5%. As the issuer tightened its credit policy, coupled with loan deferral programs as well as three rounds of stimulus checks, the delinquency rate dropped to as low as 1.63% before rising back up to 1.9% in Q4 2021. Compared to the 30+ day delinquency rate of Bank of America or Chase, Apple Card’s rate was about 70 or 100 basis points higher as of Q4 2021. While the risk exposure is not as good as it can or should be for GS, remember that the bank has relatively little experience in the credit card industry that has been around for 70-80 years.

Then, the GM portfolio came. The 30+ day delinquency rate of Goldman Sachs’ credit card business shot up to 2.3% in Q1, 2.73% in Q2 and 3.08% in Q3 2022. Keep in mind that this portfolio was previously managed by Capital One. Capital One is more willing to book consumers with FICO less than 670 than its peers. As a consequence, Capital One credit card books tend to have higher delinquency rates. Case in point, the 30+ day delinquency rate of its domestic card was 2.97% as of September 2022. While I don’t doubt that the introduction of GM increased Goldman Sachs’ risk exposure, the tough environment in 2022 might have also caused more Apple Card customers to miss payments.

As a result, I believe that the Apple Card portfolio has higher delinquency rates that what some other issuers reported, and the acquisition of a portfolio from Capital One apparently didn’t help.

New changes at Goldman Sachs

On 1/12/2023, Goldman Sachs announced that they made changes to their business segments and how they would report results to investors. Specifically, the bank will combine Consumer Banking, which includes its credit card division, and Transaction Banking to form what they call Platform Solutions. In the same filing to the SEC, Goldman Sachs disclosed pre-tax earnings/losses of the new segments in the last three years. The Platform Solutions segment lost almost $800 million in 2020, a tad over a billion in $2021 and over $1.2 billion in the first 9 months of 2022. Some news outlets and folks on Twitter were quick to attribute these losses to the Apple Card. So let’s take a look

Source: Goldman Sachs

While we can safely distribute much of the provision to the Apple Card, given the size of the portfolio, Operating Expenses made up most of the losses. This fact and the lack of detailed disclosures make it impossible to know whether the Apple Card really drove such expenses. Remember that Platform Solutions now includes the bank’s digital platform Marcus, Green Sky, the GM portfolio and Transaction Banking. Any of these can have an outsized impact on expenses, especially when the bank invested in infrastructure for future growth. Working at a bank that has retail banking and credit card products, I can tell you that normal consumers don’t know how complex and intensive it is to run and sell these products. Here are a few teams I remember on top of my mind:

  • Finance to control the purse
  • Compliance to make sure everything is legal
  • Credit Risk to help set the underwriting policy
  • Operations to make sure everything runs smoothly (and Operations is an umbrella term for several teams like Marketing Engineering, Credit Ops, Rewards, Embossing, Customer Care)
  • Customer Management to handle campaigns post-acquisition
  • Client Management to take care of projects and communication with our partners
  • Acquisition team to run campaigns to book customers
  • Data Analytics to help the business leverage data to make decisions
  • IT
  • Cybersecurity

It’s a giant endeavor to run a Consumer Banking arm. So it’s not really surprising to me that Goldman Sachs is racking up losses at the moment. What I am not convinced of is that the Apple Card is highly unprofitable. Because we don’t have the data to back that up. At least, not yet.

What goes into Operating Expenses
What goes into Operating Expenses. Source: Goldman Sachs

Apple Card will let users save rewards in a high-yield Savings – Apple is building a Super App in the US

Per Apple today:

Apple today announced a new Savings account for Apple Card that will allow users to save their Daily Cash and grow their rewards in a high-yield Savings account from Goldman Sachs. In the coming months, Apple Card users will be able to open the new high-yield Savings account and have their Daily Cash automatically deposited into it — with no fees, no minimum deposits, and no minimum balance requirements. Soon, users can spend, send, and save Daily Cash directly from Wallet.

Apple Card users will be able to easily set up and manage Savings directly in their Apple Card in Wallet. Once users set up their Savings account, all future Daily Cash received will be automatically deposited into it, or they can choose to continue to have it added to an Apple Cash card in Wallet. Users can change their Daily Cash destination at any time.

To expand Savings even further, users can also deposit additional funds into their Savings account through a linked bank account, or from their Apple Cash balance. Users can also withdraw funds at any time by transferring them to a linked bank account or to their Apple Cash card, with no fees.

Apple’s savings account marks the second time Apple and Goldman Sachs tag team to launch a financial product (with Apple Pay Later, Goldman Sachs’ role will be less prominent). Apple will take care of the customer experience while the iconic bank will handle the banking side. It makes perfect sense. Who is better than Apple in crafting a great user experience on devices that they manufacture? Apple also does not have any appetite in becoming a bank. Speaking from personal experience, I can tell you that while it’s great for consumers that banking is highly regulated, such regulatory oversight and scrutiny constitute a great deal of overhead for banks.

From Goldman Sachs’ perspective, they have ambition in growing their retail banking business. First, it’s Apple Card. Then, they got the GM portfolio and are said to be launching a T-Mobile credit card soon. Goldman Sachs has the drive and tools to handle the complex and cumbersome banking regulations. However, legendary as an investment bank as Goldman Sachs is, it will have to spend a lot of money on creating a consumer-friendly image as well as on acquiring customers.

The race to book new checking and savings accounts becomes increasingly expensive. Chase rewards new qualified customers who open a new Savings account with $300. I have seen similar offers from other financial institutions. My guess is that Goldman Sachs will have to compensate Apple for every Savings account opened through the Wallet app. The freedom that Apple mandates on the product for their customers means that it will be much more difficult for Goldman Sachs to forecast the cash flow and deposits. On the other hand, whoever opens this Savings account is less likely to close any time soon and Goldman Sachs won’t have to deal with gamers (who signs up to something just for the bonus and then leaves). If there are 10 million Apple Card users in the US, Goldman Sachs could potentially sign up thousands of Savings accounts in no time, due to this partnership.

From a consumer perspective, what are the benefits? Goldman Sachs already has a Savings product with 2.35% APY. I think this new Apple’s Savings account will have a similar yield. More importantly, it is the convenience and customer experience that will be the deciding factor. Instead of going through a bank’s complex application process, users can sign up for an Apple’s Savings account on their phone. Additionally, users can move money in and out of the account seamlessly at any time and instantly. With incumbent banks, it will take several days. We should not underestimate the impact that instant gratification has on user satisfaction.

Apple is building a Super App in the US?

Here is what Apple is currently offering:

  • Hardware: excluding very old models, AirPods and other headsets, all other Apple devices in the wild are capable of conducting transactions. And there are A LOT of them in the US. Whether it’s in stores or online, consumers can use their devices to make or receive a transaction
  • Wallet App/Apple ID: most Apple users use one Apple ID and all information is automatically updated and synchronized across devices, provided that they are connected to Internet. In other words, transactions and rewards earned from the physical Apple Card or a Macbook will show up on an iPhone without any action from a user
  • Apple Pay: arguably the most popular checkout option at counter and online on the market
  • Apple Card: an Apple-branded credit card that offers 2% cash back on everything with Apple Pay as well as 3% at Apple and a few other retailers. Users can also put their Apple purchases on installments with Apple Card. Rewards from Apple Card will be automatically turned to cash in Apple Cash that can be redeemed any time
  • Apple Pay Later: a new yet-to-launch BNPL service that will allow users to break a service into 4 installments with no interest or fees
  • Apple Cash: a service that enables Apple users to send money to and receive money from other people. Like a digital checking account
  • Apple Tap To Pay: this feature allows merchants to turn their iPhones into a payment terminal. A consumer and a merchant only need to put their iPhones close to one another and boom, the transaction is done
  • Order tracking in Wallet: starting with iOS16, Apple users can track their orders right from the Wallet app

In Super Apps, I wrote:

The term Super Apps is generally credited to Mike Lazaridi, the founder of Blackberry, who defined it as “a closed ecosystem of many apps that people would use every day because they offer such a seamless, integrated, contextualized and efficient experience”. In laymen’s terms, a Super App is an application that offers various services on one interface. While the mix of services offered by Super Apps varies from one to another, the common denominators of these apps are 1/ they are all two-sided networks popular with both merchants and consumers and 2/ they all began their journey by being excellent in one function before branching out to others. 

It all started with Apple Pay in 2014. After almost 10 years, Apple Pay is accepted at many merchants in the country and around the world. It’s in the hands of millions of consumers who own Apple devices. Now, other pieces are in place to make Wallet and Apple devices something that consumers will use every day in “a seamless, integrated, contextualized and efficient experience”. I don’t know if the Apple executive team already had this vision a decade ago, but if they did, kudos for patience, long-term vision and execution.

Thoughts on Apple Pay and Apple Card

In this post, I want to discuss Apple Pay & Apple Card

Apple Pay

Natively available on almost every Apple device out there, Apple Pay is one of the most popular mobile wallets on the market. In 2020, 92% of mobile wallet transactions funded by debit cards in the U.S were through Apple Pay. This level of popularity can mean a windfall for Apple because for every Apple Pay transaction, the company is reported to earn 0.15% of the volume. In Q1 FY2020, Tim Cook revealed that the annualized Apple Pay volume was at $15 billion. At 0.15% take rate, Apple earns around $22.5 million in extra revenue for, what I would imagine, a very high margin service. Even with that advantage, I believe that Apple Pay still has plenty of potential to realize.

First, the wallet feature is still absent in many countries in Africa, Asia and South America, where a large portion of the world’s population resides. As the adoption of Apple Pay ramps up, it should increase the total transaction volume and consequently some additional revenue for the company. The second lever lies in how Apple Pay is and can be used. As of now, it is most used in online mobile transactions. In-store mobile transactions just don’t gain enough traction as there are only 6 out 100 shoppers that use the service in stores, even 7 years after launch. I don’t expect the in-store trend to change in the future. Where I do see growth opportunities for Apple Pay, though, is in online web transactions. As more customers upgrade from old Macbooks and iPads to more modern versions equipped with Touch ID and Face ID, it will make Apple Pay for web transactions an easier and more seamless experience. Finally, Buy Now Pay Later (BNPL). The whole market is red-hot and Apple is rumored to be working on its own BNPL solution. The big advantage for Apple here is that the feature comes in the Wallet app, which comes natively on every single device. Users don’t need to download any other app to apply. As the concept of BNPL becomes more common due to the popularity of apps like PayPal, Affirm, Klarna or Afterpay, Apple will just ride the coattail and won’t have to spend much money and time educating shoppers on the service.

Of course, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that there are also headwinds to Apple Pay. Companies such as Shopify, PayPal, Square, Affirm and Klarna all want to be the go-to app & checkout options for shopping transactions. These companies are well-known in the U.S and many international markets, as well as have enough resources to truly compete with Apple on this front. Hence, it won’t be all rosy roads for Apple Pay, but I do expect it to continue to grow in the future. If PayPal can process over $1.2 trillion in annual payment volume, it’s possible that Apple Pay could rise to $100 billion in volume, meaning $225 million in revenue and almost pure profit for the company. Since there are 1.65 billion installed devices in the wild, $100 billion in volume would translate to less than $100 per device a year. It seems doable to me.

Apple Card

Apple Card is a co-branded credit card issued by Goldman Sachs. The mega bank is about to close the GM portfolio purchase in the next quarter or two. Hence, their credit card balance is mostly, if not entirely, from Apple Card. According to the latest quarter result, Apple Card balance was $6 billion as of September 2021, up from $3 billion just a year ago. In other words, the Apple Card portfolio doubled its outstanding balance in 12 months’ time. The size of a co-brand portfolio is often a private matter, but I managed to find a few as a reference for Apple Card

A portfolio’s outstanding balance changes from day to day. Therefore, these numbers may be very different from now. Plus, these companies have a different business model, brand name and card offering than Apple. Nonetheless, I do think growing a credit card portfolio to $6 billion in loans in two years is not a small feat.

Apple Card’s loans were $6 billion as of Sep 30, 2021. Source: Goldman Sachs

According to Experian and ValuePenguin, the average credit card balance in the U.S has been a tad more than $6,000 between 2019 and 2021. If we apply that number to the Apple Card portfolio, it means that the portfolio has a bit less than 1 million accounts. However, given that Apple Card doesn’t have a big signing bonus or intro offer and it can only earn 2% cash back when used with Apple Pay, I think that the average revolving balance is lower than $6,000. In fact, I think it’s very common that people just get an Apple Card because 1/ they want a nice-looking metal card and 2/ they want to put their big Apple purchase on installments. In the latter case, an Apple purchase should range from $1,000 to $3,000 in most cases. As a result I’d think that Apple Card’s average card balance likely ranges from $2,500 to $4,000.

Average Revolving Balance Per Account# of Accounts (in millions)
$2,5002.4
$3,0002
$4,0001.5
$4,5001.3
$5,0001.2
$6,0001

The number of accounts can determine how much money Apple can get from this arrangement with Goldman Sachs. In the cobrand credit card world, the issuer has to compensate its partner for leveraging its brand. The compensation includes a finder’s fee (a certain amount for a new account opened) and a profit sharing agreement which may be based on interest income or purchase volume, for instance. I have seen smaller brands command $60 per a new account. Hence, it won’t surprise me one bit if Apple can demand a three-digit finder’s fee from Goldman Sachs, given that Apple shoulders all the marketing efforts. At $100 per a new account, 1 million accounts brings in $100 million in revenue for Apple. Even if we factor in the marketing and reward expenses that Apple might incur, it’s possible that Apple can bring in more than the $100 million figure since we know nothing about the profit sharing part between them and Goldman Sachs.

In short, even though these two services have great potential and can bring in meaningful revenue and margin to Apple, given the size of the company, they won’t move the needle much. Instead, they are great value-added services that enhance user experience on Apple devices. With Apple Pay, transactions on every website or app that enable the service are so easy to process. With Apple Card, it’s likely the only product that come with no fees and installment plans every time you make a big Apple purchase. As long as Apple users remain loyal and attached to the company’s devices, these services will have the runway to grow. Remember that Apple Card so far is only available in the U.S.

Disclaimer: I have a position on Apple.

Apple Card grew balance by $1 billion in 3 months, up 50% from June 2020

Apple Card’s balance grew by $1 billion (50%) in 3 months

Back in July, Goldman Sachs, the issuing bank for Apple Card, reported this in its Q2 earnings call:

Funded consumer loan balances remained stable at roughly $7 billion, of which approximately $5 billion were from Marcus loans and $2 billion from Apple Card

Source: Seeking Alpha

Three months later, the bank said this on its Q3 earnings call this month:

Funded consumer loan balances remained stable at $7 billion, of which approximately $4 billion were from Marcus loans and $3 billion from Apple Card.

Source: Seeking Alpha

My best guess is that the figures for Q2 and Q3 were likely as of the end of June and September. In the banking world, we call them month-end balance. Both Goldman Sachs and Apple have been very tight-lipped about Apple Card. There is very little information and data publicly revealed by either party. With that being said, I do think that it’s positive for Apple and Goldman Sachs to increase month-end balance in 3 months’ time.

There are two ways that this could possibly happen. 1/ The existing accounts in the portfolio saw more usage and a higher accrue of balance and 2/ the portfolio expanded with new accounts and its balance increased. Because we are still struggling in a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic, scenario #1 seems less likely to me. Even if the portfolio’s size stayed the same in September as it did in June, the increase in balance would be much lower than 50% as we see here. Hence, it’s my belief that Apple Card portfolio has expanded and as a result, so has the balance. It’s worth pointing out that since the number of accounts likely increased yet there is no official reporting on it, we don’t really know if the average balance per account really went up from June to September. Nonetheless, a higher balance means:

  • More accounts were opened
  • Accounts were used more, leading to an increase of balance
  • Customers are more likely to revolve, resulting in interest income for Goldman Sachs

Last year, Apple announced a payment plan for iPhones with 0% interest for 24 months. In June 2020, the payment plan expanded to include other product lines:

It’s not a stretch to see that these financing options contribute to the increase in balance of Apple Card portfolio. From Goldman Sachs and Apple’s perspective, they would prefer cardholders to make purchases outside Apple, but because there is little information officially revealed, there is no way to dissect how the portfolio is really performing.

At $3 billion in balance as of September 2020, Apple Card portfolio has so much room to grow. Based on outstanding balance, it’s quite small, compared to other issuers, though it’s unclear whether these portfolios are strictly in the US only

  • Chase: $122 billion in balance for consumer credit card as of Q3 2020.
  • Capital One: $12 billion in balance for consumer credit card as of Q2 2020.
  • Discover: $70 billion in balance for consumer credit card as of Q2 2020
  • Wells Fargo: $36 billion in balance for consumer credit card as of Q3 2020

A persistent and lucrative clientele for Goldman Sachs

I wrote a bit about the partnership between Apple and Goldman Sachs on Apple Card here before. Now I want to add a couple of more points to the conversation.

Apple users are enduring and lucrative. Once a person becomes an Apple user, he or she likely stays in the ecosystem and buys more products and services, as proven by Apple’s financials and analyst estimates. As of Q3 2020, Apple’s Wearables made up 11% of Apple’s total revenue and was the fastest growing segment in FY2020. Apple reported over 550 million subscriptions, up by 130 million from a year ago. With the introduction of Apple One and Apple Fitness+, that figure will likely go up even higher in the near future. Once an iPhone-reliant company, Apple now finds a robust source of revenue from Services, which was responsible for 22% of the company’s top line in Q3 FY2020.

Moreover, Neil Cybart, a prominent Apple analyst and the owner of Above Avalon, reported that nearly half of Apple users owned only one device: iPhone. He also estimated that only 35% of iPhone users in the US wear an Apple Watch. These estimates indicate that more Apple users will buy addition products on top of their iPhones and become engaged at a higher level in the ecosystem.

There is no credit card that offers 3% cash back AND interest-free financing options for Apple products and services like Apple Card. Hence, Goldman Sachs has a unique access to a lucrative clientele that

  • Tends to be sticky and loyal to Apple
  • Buys new expensive Apple products regularly on a few-year basis
  • Uses their Apple Cards monthly with their service subscriptions. Working in the credit card world, I can tell you that having users engaged and actively use cards every month is one of the major concerns for issuers. With Apple subscriptions and an expanding base, albeit as small as $3 per month for iCloud, Goldman Sachs likely will get a good number of active accounts with consistent spending every month, without any acquisition expenses.

Future opportunities

At first, there were only exclusive deals with 3% cash back from Uber, Uber Eats, Walgreen, Duane Reader and T-Mobile. Since then, Apple Card has welcomed to the fold Nike in November 2019, Exxon Mobil in June 2020 and Panera in August 2020. Additionally, Apple began to have acquisition bonus campaigns for Apple Card this year. A few months ago, there was a $50 bonus for every new Apple Card user with a minimum $50 purchase at Walgreen. Just a few days ago, it was reported that there is now a $75 bonus for new Apple Card users with a qualifying purchase at Nike. The more exclusive deals like these are, the more likely consumers will use Apple Card outside of Apple. And there is no reason to believe that they won’t add new partners or have acquisition campaigns in the future.

Besides Apple Card, Apple has been consistently and regularly promoting the use of Apple Pay with ad-hoc deals such as 15% off with American Eagle in October 2020, 50% off with Snapfish in July 2020 or 30% off with Rayban in May 2020. There is no data on how many Apple Pay accounts are paired with Apple Cards. But given the fact that users can only earn 2% Apple Cash from every Apple Pay transaction by using Apple Card, I won’t surprise me that Apple Pay promotions indirectly benefit Apple Card and Goldman Sachs.

There are rumors of new Apple products in the works such as Air Tags, Airpods Studio or Apple AR glasses. The more products and resulting services there are, the better the future outlook will be for Apple Card.

Disclosure: I own Apple stocks in my personal portfolio.

Weekly readings – 15th August 2020

What I wrote last week

I wrote a bit about Epic Games vs Apple, Goldman Sachs’ inroad further into consumer credit card world and the potential departure from California of the likes of Uber & Lyft

A historic day for America when Kamala Harris was named as Biden’s Vice President Candidate

My thought on Disney’s latest quarter

Business

Horace Dediu wrote a blog post answering some questions on Apple’s cash strategy

A long and informative deep dive into TikTok and what makes it great

Another deep dive by Turner Novak on Pinduoduo

Nick Sleep on Costco

Meet the Woman Who Got Joe Rogan and Michelle Obama to Spotify

Netflix Business Model & Economics 

A thread on why Avalara has real competitive advantages

Technology

Here’s why Apple believes it’s an AI leader—and why it says critics have it all wrong

How the government’s new real-time payments system could transform commerce

Apple wins a Patent for a Possible Dual Display MacBook Supporting a Virtual Keyboard & more

A potentially life-changing technology for visually-impaired folks

What’s going on with Apple Maps

What I find interesting

An inside look at a data analytics firm that Mike Bloomberg is using to help Democrats

The 19th-century entrepreneur who pioneered modern ice cream

A very long and interesting post on the bombing of Hiroshima and what was happening at the time based on recollections of a few survivors

Giant American Cars Don’t Belong on the Streets of the Future

How Taiwan’s Unlikely Digital Minister Hacked the Pandemic

Epic vs Apple, Goldman Sachs trying to get into consumer banking and Uber potentially leaving California

Goldman Sachs wants GM’s credit card business

WSJ reported on 12th August 2020 that Goldman Sachs was in the running for GM’s credit card business. Since it launched Apple Card with Apple last October, it is just a matter of time before Goldman Sachs tries to land another partner. No bank in the right mind would invest in consumer credit card infrastructure just to work with one partner.

A deal with GM would advance Goldman’s ambitions on Main Street. Since launching its consumer arm, Marcus, four years ago, the firm has amassed $7 billion in loans and is aiming for $20 billion by 2025. Holders of the Apple Card had $2.3 billion in outstanding balances as of June 30.

In deals like the one being discussed, a new bank typically agrees to pay a small premium to buy an existing card portfolio and hopes to make up the money by encouraging more spending, signing up more cardholders, and cross-selling them on other products. The deals typically involve sharing of card interchange fees and other revenue.

Source: WSJ

I am working at a bank which has a partnership with a different car brand than GM. One of the issues that we have to deal with is gamers who sign up for a credit card and spend on their first purchase at a dealership to take advantage of big signing bonuses and low interest rate. These gamers, after the first month on book, will subsequently use the card much less. As a result, gamers become less profitable than other cardholders who use their cards more regularly. If they manage to land GM, Goldman Sachs may likely find out that issue which I suspect is NOT among their learnings from Apple Card. Another point worth calling out is that Goldman Sachs relies on Apple’s marketing expertise to acquire Apple Card’s users. With other brands, they may have to develop that skillset and invest; something that they may not find easy or cheap.

The article provided an interesting reference point for Apple Card. It had $2.3 billion in balance as of the end of June 2020. The GM’s portfolio has around $3 billion in balance. As mentioned above, the purchasing behavior of Apple Card holders may differ from that of GM credit card users, but it’s worth pointing out that Apple Card was launched only last October and GM credit cards have been available for much longer. It indicates that Apple Card is likely regularly used and has a decent growth.

Epic Games picked an ‘epic’ fight with Apple and Google

In its latest update of Fortnite, Epic Games offered users a payment option designed to circumvent the App Store and Google Play Store’s rules on commission fees. Using Epic Games’ new payment scheme, users would save around 20% compared to using the in-app payment on the App Store and the Google Play Store while the game maker avoids paying Apple and Google 30% commission. The two giants promptly removed the game from their stores. Epic Games went on to sue both companies for anti-competition practices and abuse of power. In a move conspicuously aimed at provoking Apple, Epic Games released an ads mocking the company’s legendary 1984 campaign.

Source: The Verge

The quick releases of the ads and lawsuits showed that Epic Games WANTED this fight and expected retaliation from Apple and Google. The game maker has enough money and popularity to think that they have leverage. Plus, it’s likely banking on public pressure and the recent scrutiny into big tech companies from lawmakers. Given the level of planning and what is at stake here, Epic Games clearly thinks they have enough to win, but Apple doesn’t back down. If Apple caves into Epic Games’ demands, it will set a dangerous precedent that any developers that want to get more margin can corner the company. While I do not think Epic Games will win their lawsuits, Apple and Google will ultimately be hurt in terms of brand equity and reputation. Plus, it will give lawmakers more ammunition in their investigation into the Cupertino-based company’s alleged anti-competition practices.

Even though I think Apple has contributed immensely to the distribution of software around the world and the app economies, and in some cases, they didn’t do anything outrageous or wrong, it’s time for them to sit down and rethink the App Store. Recent clashes with developers and increasing pressure from lawmakers, if dragged out too long, will harm the company in the long run. It’s fair to say that despite getting close to the unprecedented valuation of $2 trillion, Apple still enjoys quite some goodwill from many consumers and developers. While the goodwill is still in the bank, it should start rethinking its position on the App Store and avoid future trouble.

California vs Gig Economy

California’s law that requires gig economy companies such as Uber and Lyft to classify workers as employees is going to be in effect on 20th August 2020. The two companies went to the California Supreme Court to seek for an injunction that would table the law temporarily. Today, the Court rejected the motion from Uber and Lyft. Earlier on this week, Uber CEO threatened to suspect operations in California and potentially leave the state for good if their legal fight failed.

This is a far more complicated issue than it may appear. On one hand, I am in favor of the authority looking out for workers by forcing companies such as Uber to acknowledge them as employees and give them benefits accordingly. That is exactly what an authority should be doing. Without legal mandates, how would the likes of Uber cave and treat workers as they should? The fact that these companies have fought ferociously to defeat the new law says all about their intention. Both Uber and Lyft are unprofitable. Their survival may be in jeopardy if they have to endure more expenses as a consequence of AB5, the shortened name of the new law.

On the other hand, if Uber and Lyft actually leave, their departure may hurt some drivers whose livelihood depends on business with the gig economy companies and negatively impact consumers. Imagine what would be like when you could no longer order an Uber in San Francisco or California. Critics of AB5 lament that the law isn’t thought out well and the unintended consequences will outweigh possible benefits. They do have a point.

That’s why I think AB5 alone isn’t enough. It needs complementary initiatives. With regard to protecting the end users’ benefits once gig economy companies leave, I think there will be space for other startups with new ideas and implementation to come in and serve the available demand. AB5, to some extent, will foster competition and innovation. Plus, it does help to have a lot of venture capital fund available in California, that is waiting to be deployed. Another potential opportunity is to build out public transportation infrastructure so that the reliance on ride hailing companies will be alleviated.

Furthermore, the state of California needs to make sure that workers who are affected by the departure of the likes of Uber will be taken care of. Skill training, job opportunities and social safety nets will need to be extended. Of course, there are workers who prefer a flexible schedule that a full-time job doesn’t usually offer, but if the money and benefits are sufficient, given the uncertain time that we are in, I do think many people will change their position.

Disclaimer: I own Apple stocks in my personal portfolio

Cobranded Credit Cards and Apple Card

In this post, I’ll try to deduce the reasons why Apple and Goldman Sachs decided to collaborate on Apple Card. What follows in this entry is my deduction from available information and based on my experience working in the credit card industry. First, I’ll touch on the concept of cobranded credit cards and what brands and issuers often get out of a partnership. Second, I’ll talk a bit about Apple Card. Last, I’ll give my thoughts on why Apple and Goldman Sachs may benefit from their relationship. These are my own thoughts only and if you have any thought or material that can contribute to the topic, I’ll appreciate it that you share with me.

Cobranded Credit Cards

You probably have seen a few cobranded credit cards before at popular stores or when you fly with domestic airlines

Source: Google Images

So, what exactly do brands and issuers get for working on cobranded credit cards?

Every brand wants to establish as close a relationship with consumers as possible. One of the popular methods is through a credit card with exclusive benefits. However, brands would be subject to a lot of regulations if they issued credit cards on their own. There would be also a lot of expenses that’d go into servicing accounts. No brand wants that extra burden in addition to running their own business. That’s why they need financial partners.

To compensate an issuer for bearing the risks and operational expenses, a brand usually takes care of the cost of exclusive brand-related benefits. For instance, shoppers receive 5% cash back at Target when they use Target credit cards. I don’t know the exact detail, but my guess is that Target will be responsible for most of the cash back, if not all. Additionally, brands can assist issuers with acquisition costs. Issuers spend thousands of dollars, if not much more, every year to acquire new customers. Brands have an already established relationship with their customers, brand awareness and financial resources that can help issuers in this regard.

On the other hand, issuers are responsible for dealing with financial regulations and servicing accounts. That’s why issuers try to sign as many partners as possible to leverage economies of scale. A small number of partners wouldn’t make operational expenses justified.

Issuers also have to compensate partners for leveraging their brand names. Agreements between issuers and partners vary on a case-by-case basis, but I wouldn’t be surprised if an agreement featured:

  • An issuer pays a partner for each new acquired account and a smaller fee for a renewal
  • An issuer pays a partner a fixed percentage on total purchase volume
  • An issuer pays a partner a fee when accounts make the first purchase outside partners’ locations

What do issuers get in return?

Issuers, of course, keep all financial charges and fees such as annual fees, cash advance fees or late fees. Besides, issuers can generate revenue from interchange fees. In every transaction, a merchant bank which works with a merchant has to pay an issuing bank which issues a credit card to the consumer who shops at the merchant a small fee for accepting credit cards as payment. Payment networks like Visa or Mastercard act as a middle man between a merchant bank and an issuing bank, and decide how big the fee, which is called interchange, should be. What I just describe is a gross simplification of what transpires behind the scenes in a couple of seconds or less in a transaction. There is a lot more to it. Essentially, for the sake of simplicity, just imagine that for every transaction, an issue bank receives 2% of the transaction volume in interchange fees. So if an issuing bank handles $1bn in transaction a month, that bank will get $20 million in interchange fees. Lastly, as mentioned above, issuers can also leverage partners in terms of acquisition costs.

IssuersPartner Brands
Responsibilities– Service accounts and handle regulatory compliance
– Bear risks of charge-off
– Compensation to partners 
– Additional rewards expenses as selling points to consumers
– Assistance in acquiring new accounts
Benefits– Financial charges and fees
– Interchange fees
– Marketing leverage from partners’ outreach
– Deepen relationships with customers
– Compensation from issuers
Table 1

Apple Card

Apple Card is an Apple-branded credit card issued by Goldman Sachs. You can only apply for an Apple Card via your wallet app on Apple-produced devices such as iPhone or iPads. The Card is so synonymous with Apple that you can barely hear about Goldman Sachs.

Apple reportedly will offer monthly payment plans for iPads and ...
Source: The Verge

Apple Pay’s selling points include:

  • No fees
  • Simple application process
  • Premium look and feel
  • Unlimited 2% cash back when you pay with Apple Card using your Apple Watch or iPhone
  • 3% cash back from select merchants such as Uber, T-Mobile, Nike, Walgreens, Duanereade and of course, Apple itself
  • Security as each transaction must be verified either by Touch or Face ID
  • Apple and Goldman Sachs promise not to sell consumer data with a 3rd party for marketing purposes

What’s in it for Apple and Goldman Sachs in launching this Apple Card?

Goldman Sachs isn’t know for consumer banking. It’s known for its investment banking business. Apple Card is the first attempt at consumer banking from the renowned company. As the issuer, Goldman Sachs (GS) will have to deal with all regulatory and security challenges while bearing the risk of charge-off. They will also take part in servicing accounts, but the work is shared with Apple as Apple Customer Service agents handle upfront communication with users. Since Apple Card has no fees whatsoever, what GS can benefit from this collaboration, I allege, include

  • Interchange fees
  • Insane marketing power from Apple and its global footprint in the form of millions of installed iphones
  • I imagine that if this collaboration succeeds, GS will want to sign more partners to achieve economies of scale, leveraging what they learn from operating Apple Card

Apple allegedly wants to launch Apple Card for two reasons: 1) to deepen relationship with users, to motivate them to buy their hardware more 2) to generate more service revenue. As a technology partner, I don’t imagine Apple will have to deal with fraud, regulatory or security concern. In exchange, Apple provides marketing outreach and technical assistance in incorporating Apple Card into its ecosystem. Additionally, from what I read, customers who need technical assistance will reach out to Apple Customer Service agents. Hence, that’s also what Apple brings to the table. Also, the company may allegedly be responsible for Apple-only rewards and interest free payment plans when customers buy Apple products. In terms of rewards with 3rd parties such as Nike or Uber, I can’t find any relevant information. If I have to guess, my money will be on Apple taking the bill for extra rewards as well.

Goldman SachsApple
Responsibilities– Service accounts and handle regulatory compliance
– Bear risks of charge-off
– Compensation to partners 
– Market Apple Card to users 
– Offer technology to make the card work with Apple Pay and its devices
– Help service accounts 3% cash back on Apple products and services
– Interest-free payment plan for customers when buying Apple products
Benefits– Interchange fees
– Leverage marketing power from Apple and its footprint
– Deepen relationships with customers
– Compensation from Goldman Sachs
Table 2

According to Apple, the number of transaction through Apple Pay has grown substantially since it was launched. As of Jan 2020, the annual run rate for Apple Pay reached 15 billion transactions. Not all Apple Pay transactions are through Apple Card. The card debuted only in August 2019. Since Apple doesn’t offer details on Apple Card transactions, let’s run some scenarios by assuming that the annualized transaction count for Apple Card is 500 million to 2 billion. If average ticket size (dollar amount per transaction) ranges from $20 to $60, the transaction volume will be as follows

 Annualized Apple Card Transactions
             500,000,000                         1,000,000,000                2,000,000,000 
$20$10,000,000,000$20,000,000,000$40,000,000,000
$40$20,000,000,000$40,000,000,000$80,000,000,000
$60$30,000,000,000$60,000,000,000$120,000,000,000
Table 3

Interchange fee rate varies depending on numerous factors. However, if we assume that the rate is 2% of purchase volume, based on the scenarios above in Table 3, GS would receive the following as interchange fees

Annualized Apple Card Transactions
             500,000,000                         1,000,000,000                2,000,000,000 
$20$200,000,000$400,000,000$800,000,000
$40$400,000,000$800,000,000$1,600,000,000
$60$600,000,000$1,200,000,000$2,400,000,000
Table 4

As you can see, the more Apple Card transactions, the bigger the interchange fees for GS. Given that Apple has legendary marketing prowess, an installed base of millions of devices and rising demand for contactless payments, the numbers may even grow bigger in the near future.

On Apple’s side, it is reported that Apple takes 0.17% cut on each Apple Pay transaction. In terms of Apple Card transactions, I think the cut will be even bigger, but won’t be bigger than GS’ interchange fee rate. Since we assume that GS receives 2% in interchange fee rate, let’s say Apple receives somewhere from 0.2% to 1% on purchase volume. How much would Apple receive, using the lowest purchase volume for each scenario of transaction count (first row respectively in Table 3)?

 Annualized Apple Card Transactions
             500,000,000                         1,000,000,000                2,000,000,000 
0.20%$20,000,000$40,000,000$80,000,000
0.50%$50,000,000$100,000,000$200,000,000
1%$100,000,000$200,000,000$400,000,000
Table 5

A few days ago, Apple and Walgreens announced that new Apple Card customers would receive $50 bonus in Apple Cash after spending at least $50 at Walgreens using the card. The promotion is valid till the end of June. It signals to me that 1) Apple wants to acquire more customers for Apple Card and 2) Apple may also receive a fee whenever a new customer comes on board. I don’t imagine $50 bonus would be paid for Walgreens or GS. Why would they do so when there is no sustainable benefit? If Apple shoulders the cost of the acquisition bonus, or at least most of it, it will likely not make financial sense to just rely on fees from card purchases to recoup the investment.

In sum, I hope that the information I shared and my thoughts are useful in helping you understand more about the credit card world that is complex yet fascinating. I spent quite some time thinking about the collaboration between Apple and Goldman Sachs as the presence of a tech giant and an investment bank in the consumer banking area is quite interesting. There isn’t much information out there so I would love to learn from whoever has useful information to contribute to the topic at hand.

Disclaimer: I own Apple stocks in my personal portfolio

Apple Card raised the bar for easy and smooth credit card application & activation

I got my Apple Card this weekend. While I don’t have intention to use the physical card itself due to its low cash back (1% compared to the standard 2%), I am happy with the how easy the application and activation of the card is.

To apply for the card, you only need to have an eligible phone (iPhone 6 and later I believe), open the wallet application, fill in some basic information, take a photo of a valid ID such as State ID or Driver License and be done with it. The application is processed within seconds. When I applied for other credit cards, the process was a bit more tedious. Online forms and sending physical proof of identity are usually required. With Apple Card, everything is done via the Wallet app, right on the phone.

To activate an Apple Card is even easier. The screenshot below shows all you have to do to activate it

Connect your phone to Wifi, hold it close to the package Apple sends and that’s it. Your card will be activated.

With Apple’s appeal, marketing prowess and a sleek design, I think there will be a lot of activations. Yet, I doubt the physical card will be used much. The benefits are inferior to what the market offers. I won’t be surprised if Apple and Goldman Sachs work together to give users a reason to use the physical card more often. Nonetheless, I am pretty pleased with how I came to receive the card.

Disclaimer: I own Apple stocks in my portfolio