Affirm Debit+ is Revolutionary

Update 8 November – Original post is below the image.. I had doubted Visa’s support here. But clearly this is a real product.

Affirm Debit+ is a decoupled debit on the Visa network with Evolve Bank as ODFI/Issuer. I doubt if Visa fully vetted this product.. it MUST have “slipped through”. For more info see Affirm’s investor day presentation.

Per my blog last week, my hypothesis is that the new Affirm Debit+ will be revolutionary.. which is why it is currently causing a massive firestorm amongst Banks. Today I want to drill into what I believe the value proposition will be (my hypothesis) and why Visa had to support this. 

Today Affirm is “limited” in growth to the merchants it can directly integrate to. How can they solve this problem?  Create a consumer “pay anyone” product that lets the consumer pick and choose what items they want to finance after they purchase them.  Connect any of your bank accounts or all of them.. Finance anything you buy on improved terms. Affirm will also work with Stripe and others to create an improved checkout process, which will improve both conversion AND consumers ability to purchase (ie underwriting). The first mover advantage will be tremendous and step on much of the Neo Banks (already slim value prop).  

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Target REDCard – Back to the Future?

Target’s 10-Q was published Friday for quarter ending 10/30/10. I’ve started following Target’s financial services performance given the US launch of their new REDCard decoupled debit.  All of this seems a little like back to the future… 40 years ago each store had their own closed loop branded card, 100 years ago small stores offered their customers store credit. Target’s innovation is creating a card that couples 0% interchange, with loyalty program that they control, in an infrastructure that already exists (Target’s card group and Target bank). Financial services execs within: big banks, retailers and the payment networks are keeping a close eye on this product. Target has a very unique competency in payments through its ownership of Target Bank and associate card processing. Historically, Target’s card portfolio has been either a millstone or a jetpack. REDCard takes out the majority of the credit risk (aka the millstone) and leverages the card processing infrastructure to provided a competitive advantage. The REDCard launch looks like a smashing success, and through the 10-Q we can estimate the initial adoption for the 15 days within the national launch (adding a small base within the Kansas City test market).  On page 14 and 17 we see that Target accounts for REDCard’s 5% rebate as reduction in sales, with the card unit reimbursing a portion of this cost (operations and marketing). In other words the “net cost” of to the card unit: REDCard’s 5% less card processing costs (ie interchange, …etc). 
  • Reimbursed amount: $26M
  • Less 10% one coupon run off: $19M (Estimated).
  • Card Net Reimbursement for REDCard: $7M
Red Card TPV (Assuming 200bps average cost of payment) REDCard 15day TPV = $7M/(500bps-200bps) = $233M (out of quarterly sales of $15.2B) Admittedly, I do not have a way to resolve the difference between this number and the market penetration number below (from 10-Q). As stated below REDCard includes Target Credit card, Target Visa Credit Card, and Target Debit Card. When will these cards recieve the 5% off? Perhaps after new terms are agreed to and deposit accounts are linked (comments appreciated).
Beginning April 2010, all new qualified credit card applicants receive the Target Card, and we no longer issue the Target Visa to credit card applicants. Existing Target Visa cardholders are not affected. Beginning October 2010, guests receive a 5 percent discount on virtually all purchases at check−out every day when they use a REDcard at any Target store or on Target’s REDcards include the Target Credit Card, Target Visa Credit Card and Target Debit Card. This new REDcard rewards program replaced the existing rewards program in which account holders received an initial 10 percent−off coupon for opening the account and earned points toward a 10 percent−off coupon on subsequent purchases. These changes are intended to simplify the program and to generate profitable incremental retail sales.
We monitor the percentage of store sales that are paid for using REDcards (REDcard Penetration), because our internal analysis has indicated that a meaningful portion of the incremental purchases on our REDcards are also incremental sales for Target, with the remainder of the incremental purchases on the REDcards representing a shift in tender type.
Note a) on Pg 17
Loyalty Program discounts are recorded as reductions to sales in our Retail Segment. Effective with the October 2010 nationwide launch of our new 5% REDcard rewards loyalty program, we changed the formula under which our Credit Card segment reimburses our Retail Segment to better align with the attributes of the new program. In the three months and nine months ended October 30, 2010, these reimbursed amounts were $26 million and $60 million, respectively, compared with $19 million and $59 million in the corresponding periods in 2009. In all periods these amounts were recorded as reductions to SG&A expenses within the Retail Segment and increases to operations and marketing expenses within the Credit Card Segment.
Congrats to Target on a great launch. Already we see some of their strategic plans to refocus the across the board 5% incentive to something more “targeted” (pardon the pun). As reported in Mashable, ShopKick is being trialed in 242 stores.  I would hope Target looks to white label this to make it their own service, unless they have an equity piece to incent them to build ShopKick’s network. Issue here is that they checkout process is still rather complex. The great thing about ShopKick is that it is focused on keeping foot traffic in the store when a prospective buyer finds a lower price somewhere else, shopKick can help generate a specialized offer to keep them. This works well for big ticked items, but for more than 1-3 items it will be a nightmare as the POS integration is not there. Is this the beginning of more store cards? What is the “tipping point” which makes this model attractive to other retailers? Will customers take one more piece of plastic in their wallet? Can Target sustain this level of rewards, or will they look to target incentives after critical mass of acquisition? Will merchant acquirers and processors respond with new services? The competitive barriers are high, as bank licenses and card teams are not formed overnight.  How would I leapfrog Target? First tell me where I go to buy a Flux Capacitor?

Decoupled Debit

8 November 2010

Winston Churchill may have been referring to Payment systems in the US when he said:

It is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma

The macro economic impacts of the recent US card legislation portend substantial business change for Visa and Mastercard. The US debit card market is soon to resemble Australia and Canada with other countries soon to follow (See China and India). Retail Payments over the next 20 years are likely to morph substantially from their current issuer/network dominance. In addition to regulatory changes, new technologies and new value networks are creating a new competitive dynamic which will bring more than $5-10B in capital investment into the payments within the next 2-3 years.

My wife’s visit to Target this week prompted a revisit to the decoupled debit space. Target’s value proposition: hand me your check and sign a release form, you will then receive a RedCard linked to your checking account and good for 5% off all future purchases. Will we see more of this type of value proposition (which Durbin enables through its steering provision)?


Decoupled debit is interesting for several reasons:

  1. The issuer is not required to be a bank in order to offer an account and issue a card
  2. The products can exist as private label products or co-branded products
  3. The products can potentially build significant loyalty
  4. The products reduce costs when delivered and managed correctly
  5. The products leverage the existing payments infrastructure and standards

Retail Business Case

Retailers have a different mindset when it comes to alternative or decoupled products because they are stakeholders in the product, not just the transaction. They look at the product as a way to help them:

  • Reduce cost of payments
  • Build loyalty
  • Offer merchant-designed promotions
  • Drive more store sales
  • Segment and target customer groups
  • Leverage ‘spend information’

For those outside the US I recommend reading: