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Scott Galloway: Red Friday

Scott Galloway | Nov 26, 2021

millennials biggest fears - Scott Galloway:  Red Friday

BNPL is one of the hottest trends in finance: 1 in 5 Americans used one of these services in the past year, with U.S. spending on BNPL increasing 230% since 2020. By 2025 global BNPL spending is projected to double to $680 billion. In August, Square acquired BNPL pioneer Afterpay for $29 billion in the largest-ever acquisition of an Australian firm. (We had the Founder/CEO of Afterpay on the Prof G Pod, and he’s an impressive young man.) Swedish BNPL giant Klarna is getting ready for a $50-billion-plus IPO, with a current valuation on par with ING or Lloyds Banking Group.

The target market is young people. Klarna’s frontman is rapper A$AP Rocky (who was paid in equity, not debt) — many BNPL brands rely on social media influencer campaigns. In the U.S., three-quarters of users are Gen Zers or millennials; it’s projected that nearly half of Gen Z will be using BNPL services by 2022. Their attraction to BNPL coincides with an aversion to banks and the credit they offer. This is a generation that came of age just before or in the wake of the Great Recession, a global economic crisis precipitated by … way too much credit. Young people love BNPL because, according to the former director of Afterpay, the vast majority of them “don’t want to be on credit.”

He’s not wrong. As Klarna reported in an investor factsheet, 1 in 3 millennials’ biggest fear is credit card debt. That’s more than name death or war. Deployment to Afghanistan is bad, but an unpaid balance on your Discover Card is (apparently) worse.

There’s one problem: Buy Now Pay Later is (wait for it) credit.

Hiding in Plain Sight

By most measures, BNPL services aren’t even good credit offerings. With a traditional credit card, you pay nothing up front, then you’ve got, on average, five weeks to pay without incurring any fees or interest. Closer to two months if you manage your billing cycles carefully. Carrying a balance will cost you, though, 1%-2% in interest per month. Miss a payment, and you get a late fee, about $30 — on which you’ll also pay interest.

See:  Financial Consumer Agency of Canada publishes BNPL pilot study

In the short term at least, BNPL terms are worse. Take Afterpay. When you buy your new jeans, you have to come up with 25% of the money at purchase, then the lender gives you six weeks to pay off the remainder, in three installments. Miss an installment, and Afterpay hits you with a late fee. Continue in arrears, and the late fees increase, up to a cap of 25% of the purchase price. Also, you need a debit or credit card to make payments to Afterpay. Other providers have different fee and interest structures, but the basic model is the same. It’s credit.

Money Machine yet Vulnerable

So what’s the harm? Why not have a credit card with training wheels to ease young people into their journey toward a lifetime of debt? Especially as some of the costs are borne by the retailer in exchange for the consumer buying more sooner. Might Buy Now Pay Later even be training consumers to develop better purchase habits?  Here’s a good reason to be skeptical.

See:  Take home now, pay later with no interest fees

Buy Now Pay Later firms are quick to tell you that this is where they make most of their money — off merchants, not millennials. That’s true. But the business model only works by capitalizing on the instinct for immediate gratification. And younger neurons are more vulnerable to this marketing than older ones.

BNPL fees - Scott Galloway:  Red Friday

 

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