Buy Now Pay Later (BNPL) services skyrocketed during the 2020 ecommerce boom. These services soared nearly 50% from July 2020 through March of 2021.¹ But, it stumbled in one area: the travel industry. As consumers traded their vacations for staycations during the global pandemic, the travel-focused BNPL company Uplift went to work innovating and finding new ways to help consumers navigate the economic turbulence, while also proactively planning for a big, post-COVID travel rebound.
Faye Xu, head of credit at Uplift, recently sat down with us during Ignite LIVE to share important pivots the company has made in the past 12 months and offer exclusive insight into this dynamic fintech sector.
It’s no secret: 2020 was tough on the travel industry. At one point, Xu says the industry was down by up to 80% last year. In response, she says Uplift quickly pivoted its operations to address its customers immediate, non-negotiable needs. Also, Uplift started to research long-term solutions for its customers.
A key area of focus was portfolio management. To help its valued customers better manage the unrelenting economic uncertainty of 2020, Uplift launched two new programs.
Hardship deferment helped customers who couldn’t make their normal payments by allowing them to make a minimum payment and the balance was deferred.
Cancellation deferment allowed customers to (depending on their unique situation): 1) cancel their trip, if eligible; 2) cancel their loan, if applicable; and 3) defer their loan payments to help protect their credit.
The company also started rethinking loan originations. With travel at unprecedented lows, the company couldn’t do much about loan volumes. Instead, it focused on the future. Uplift researched the next iteration of credit policies to prepare for the inevitable moment when consumers could travel again.
Unique Growth Opportunities
Xu says the company is excited about its unique growth drivers within the BNPL sector, starting with its zero percent interest product. Partners love it because it helps them manage inventory, especially now when demand is still suppressed in some areas like cruise lines. Consumers love it because they can go on their dream vacation, interest free.
Other factors fueling growth within Uplift’s market include:
Millennials and Gen Z. They are embracing point-of-sale financing, as they look for alternatives to the annual fees and high interest rates of credit cards. What’s more, XU says consumers across the credit spectrum—including subprime, prime, and new prime consumers—are using BNPL services to get the zero percent interest rate.
Instant BNPL technology. It enables consumers to take advantage of “on-the-spot” pricing for airline tickets and other travel deals that quickly change depending on the date or time of the online query.
Installment loans are easy to understand and transparent. This helps consumers easily budget travel into their monthly expenses. They can even ‘upgrade’ their vacation and see how it will impact their monthly payments.
The Data Differentiator
At Uplift, customer data is a big deal. Although Xu says only a few pieces of personal information are requested to complete a loan transaction—name, address, and phone number—it’s all validated and used to help the company better serve the customer when they return for their next booking. It helps Uplift better understand the customer’s payment behaviors and preferred payment methods. This allows the company to make better credit decisions and offer customers a more tailored experience the next time they book.
Likewise, as Uplift grows and scales its services across different industry partners, it will be able to offer its loyal customers an increasingly enriched experience each time they return.
As for external data, such as alternative data, Xu says the cost of the data is always top of mind. Unlike credit card issuers that deal with thousands of dollars over many years, BNPL loans are usually in the low hundreds and repayable within a short timeframe. For example, a piece of data might only cost one dollar, but if the installment loan is only for $100, that’s 1%. The company must be able to gain the most value possible from an external data source to make it worth the investment.
As for what’s ahead in the next 12 months, Xu says Uplift is applying the knowledge gained in 2020 through its proactive research on the next generation of credit policies. The company has new projects lined up to take advantage of better underwriting strategies that will allow the company to scale faster as travel quickly rebounds.
It’s also evaluating and managing inbound interest from new merchants since its platform is essentially built for any sort of point-of-sale transaction and financing, not just travel. Xu and Uplift are keeping a close eye on the economic recovery and the company stands ready to pivot its strategy again as needed. However, Xu says BNPL is expected to triple its growth in the U.S. over the next three years. The point-of-sale transaction isn’t a trend leftover from the pandemic—it’s here to stay.