Bilt Rewards banks $60M growth on a $350M valuation to advance credit card benefits for renters

Bilt Rewards, a loyalty program for property renters to earn points on rent with no fees and build a path toward homeownership, announced Tuesday a round of $60 million in growth funding that values the company at $350 million.

The investment comes from Wells Fargo and Mastercard and a group of the nation’s largest real estate owners, including The Blackstone Group, AvalonBay Communities, Douglas Elliman, Equity Residential, GID-Windsor Communities, LENx, The Moinian Group, Morgan Properties, Starwood Capital Group and Related.

Bilt launched back in June out of Kairos, the startup studio led by Ankur Jain, focused on enabling over 109 million renters in the U.S. to earn points from paying their rent every month — typically someone’s largest monthly expense. Since then, the program was rolled out across over 2 million rental units, Jain told TechCrunch.

“We are the first and only alliance of the major property owners to create this kind of program and already have 15 of the top 20 owners involved,” he added. “We are also the only co-branded card to offer points on rent.”

Greg Bates, GID president and CEO, said his company has 130 assets spread across the top 20 markets and manages 40,000 apartment units. He learned about Bilt from a colleague who attended a proptech conference where Jain demoed the Bilt card.

For as long as Bates has been in the real estate industry, about 20 years or so, renters have wanted to pay rent with a credit card for convenience and to earn loyalty points. However, that was cost-prohibitive in terms of the surcharges needed to be added to the rental rate — until Bilt, he said. The card “is incredibly easy to use” and integrates into property owners’ online payment systems.

“Bilt has transformed the value proposition for residents that want to use a credit card and for landlords that want to accept them,” Bates added. “There will always be barriers to entry for products like this, but Bilt spent time with Mastercard and Wells Fargo to develop this unique product which will be a competition differentiator for a few years to come.”

In addition to the new funding, Bilt is also announcing new benefits for its loyalty members and upgraded offerings for the Bilt Mastercard, including the ability to earn up to 50,000 points on rent per year and unlimited points using the credit card.

For members, Bilt will pay interest in the form of points for a member’s account each month based on their average daily points balance over the 30-day period, and offer a concierge service for members choosing to redeem their Bilt points toward a home down payment. In addition, members can earn bonus points on top of points used by landlords on new leases and renewals.

Bilt worked with regulators, as well as Fannie Mae and the Department of Housing and Urban Development, to gain approval for using rewards points toward a mortgage. Members can also report their rent payments to the credit bureaus at no cost, which can help build credit history for millions of young renters.

Meanwhile, the company’s new “0-1-2-3” point earning structure for Bilt Mastercard holders provides no annual fee, 1x points on rent payments, 2x points on travel, 3x points on dining and 1x points on all other purchases.

This is the company’s first major external financing round and will be used to expand its real estate and loyalty partner network, grow its distribution channels and make its platform credit card more widely available to the public. Jain estimates Bilt is seeing 20% enrollment across residents.

As more renters move to homeownership over time, Bilt has plans to leverage this potential larger business to eventually become a mortgage provider for them.

“Renting is something people do for a while, and the core business has a massive scale opportunity, especially in the demographic under 35 years old, who tend to be up-and-coming professionals,” Jain added. “This is a unique target market, and Bilt will grow with them as they build their path to homeownership.”

 


By Christine Hall

Stripe adds card issuing, localized card networks and expanded approvals tool

At a time when more transactions than ever are happening online, payments behemoth Stripe is announcing three new features to continue expanding its reach.

The company today announced that it will now offer card issuing services directly to businesses to let them in turn make credit cards for customers tailored to specific purposes. Alongside that, it’s going to expand the number of accepted local, large card networks to cut down some of the steps it takes to make transactions in international markets. And finally, it’s launching a “revenue optimization” feature that essentially will use Stripe’s AI algorithms to reassess and approve more flagged transactions that might have otherwise been rejected in the past.

Together the three features underscore how Stripe is continuing to scale up with more services around its core payment processing APIs, a significant step in the wake of last week announcing its biggest fundraise to date: $600 million at a $36 billion valuation.

The rollouts of the new products are specifically coming at a time when Stripe has seen a big boost in usage among some (but not all) of its customers, said John Collison, Stripe’s co-founder and president, in an interview. Instacart, which is providing grocery delivery at a time when many are living under stay-at-home orders, has seen transactions up by 300% in recent weeks. Another newer customer, Zoom, is also seeing business boom. Amazon, Stripe’s behemoth customer that Collison would not discuss in any specific terms except to confirm it’s a close partner, is also seeing extremely heavy usage.

But other Stripe users — for example, many of its sea of small business users — are seeing huge pressures, while still others, faced with no physical business, are just starting to approach e-commerce in earnest for the first time. Stripe’s idea is that the launches today can help it address all of these scenarios.

“What we’re seeing in the COVID-19 world is that the impact is not minor,” said Collison. “Online has always been steadily taking a share from offline, but now many [projected] years of that migration are happening in the space of a few weeks.”

Stripe is among those companies that have been very mum about when they might go public — a state of affairs that only become more set in recent times, given how the IPO market has all but dried up in the midst of a health pandemic and economic slump. That has meant very little transparency about how Stripe is run, whether it’s profitable and how much revenues it makes.

But Stripe did note last week that it had some $2 billion in cash and cash reserves, which at least speaks to a level of financial stability. And another hint of efficiency might be gleaned from today’s product news.

While these three new services don’t necessarily sound like they are connected to each other, what they have underpinning them is that they are all building on top of tech and services that Stripe has previously rolled out. This speaks to how, even as the company now handles some 250 million API requests daily, it’s keeping some lean practices in place in terms of how it invests and maximises engineering and business development resources.

The card issuing service, for example, is built on a card service that Stripe launched last year. Originally aimed at businesses to provide their employees with credit cards — for example to better manage their own work-related expenses, or to make transactions on behalf of the business — now businesses can use the card issuing platform to build out aspects of its customer-facing services.

For example, Stripe noted that the first customer, Zipcar, will now be placing credit cards in each of its vehicles, which drivers can use to fuel up the vehicles (that is, the cards can only be used to buy gas). Another example Collison gave for how these could be implemented would be in a food delivery service, for example for a Postmates delivery person to use the card to pay for the meal that a customer has already paid Postmates to pick up and deliver to them.

Collison noted that while other startups like Marqeta have built big businesses around innovative card issuing services, “this is the first time it’s being issued on a self-serving basis,” meaning companies that want to use these cards can now set this up more quickly as a “programmatic card” experience, akin to self-serve, programmatic ads online.

It seems also to be good news for investors. “Stripe Issuing is a big step forward,” said Alex Rampell, general partner at Andreessen Horowitz, in a statement. “Not just for the millions of businesses running on Stripe, but for credit cards as a fundamental technology. Businesses can now use an API to create and issue cards exactly when and where they need them, and they can do it in a few clicks, not a few months. As investors, we’re excited by all the potential new companies and business models that will emerge as a result.”

Meanwhile, the revenue “optimization” engine that Stripe is rolling out is built on the same machine learning algorithms that it originally built for Radar, its fraud prevention tool that originally launched in 2016 and was extended to larger enterprises in 2018. This makes a lot of sense, since oftentimes the reason transactions get rejected is because of the suspicion of fraud. Why it’s taken four years to extend that to improve how transactions are approved or rejected is not entirely clear, but Stripe estimates that it could enable a further $2.5 billion in transactions annually.

One reason why the revenue optimization may have taken some time to roll out was because while Stripe offers a very seamless, simple API for users, it’s doing a lot of complex work behind the scenes knitting together a lot of very fragmented payment flows between card issuers, banks, businesses, customers and more in order to make transactions possible.

The third product announcement speaks to how Stripe is simplifying a bit more of that. Now, it’s able to provide direct links into six big card networks — Visa, Mastercard, American Express, Discover, JCB and China Union Pay, which effectively covers the major card networks in North and Latin America, Southeast Asia and Europe. Previously, Stripe would have had to work with third parties to integrate acceptance of all of these networks in different regions, which would have cut into Stripe’s own margins and also given it less flexibility in terms of how it could handle the transaction data.

Launching the revenue optimization by being able to apply machine learning to the transaction data is one example of where and how it might be able to apply more innovative processes from now on.

While Stripe is mainly focused today on how to serve its wider customer base and to just help business continue to keep running, Collison noted that the COVID-19 pandemic has had a measurable impact on Stripe beyond just boosts in business for some of its customers.

The whole company has been working remotely for weeks, including its development team, making for challenging times in building and rolling out services.

And Stripe, along with others, is also in the early stages of piloting how it will play a role in issuing small business loans as part of the CARES Act, he said.

In addition to that, he noted that there has been an emergence of more medical and telehealth services using Stripe for payments.

Before now, many of those use cases had been blocked by the banks, he said, for reasons of the industries themselves being strictly regulated in terms of what kind of data could get passed across networks and the sensitive nature of the businesses themselves. He said that a lot of that has started to get unblocked in the current climate, and “the growth of telemedicine has been off the charts.”


By Ingrid Lunden

Payments giant Stripe debuts a credit card in its latest step into the financing fray

Last week, when the popular payments startup Stripe made some waves with its first move into money lending through the launch of Stripe Capital, we reported that the company was also soon going to be launching a credit card. Now, that news is official. Today, the company is doubling down on financing with the launch of corporate cards for business customers.

Announced officially today to coincide with the company’s developer event Stripe Sessions, the Stripe Corporate Card — as the product is officially called — is a Visa that will be open to businesses that are incorporated in the US, although they can operate elsewhere.

Notably, users are expected to pay their balance in full each month, so for now there is no interest rate, or fee, to use the card, with Stripe making its money by way of the interchange fee that comes with every transaction using the card.

“We’re not freezing cards based on late or no payments,” Cristina Cordova, the business lead overseeing the launch, said in an interview. “A pretty common reason for non-payment is that a person switched bank accounts and forgot to update the information. But we think we’ll have fewer problems because we have banking information for accepting revenue, by way of our payments business.”

The move is another major step ahead for Stripe as it continues to diversify its business and bring on more financial products to become a one-stop shop for e-commerce and other companies for all the transactions they might need to make in the course of their lives. It is a little ironic that it’s taken years for credit cards to get added into the mix, considering Stripe’s earliest homepages and marketing efforts were built around the design of a credit card (a reference to taking payments online, not issuing credit, of course).

In any case, the list of products now offered by Stripe is long — longer, you might say, than it takes to incorporate a Stripe service into a developer workflow. In addition to its API-based flagship payments product — which is available as a direct service or, via Stripe Connect, for third parties via marketplaces and other platforms — it offers billing and invoicing, in-person payment services (via Terminal), business analytics, fraud prevention on transactions (Radar), company incorporation (Atlas), and a range of content around business strategy.

Some of these Stripe products are free to use, and some come at a price: the main point for offering them together is to build more engagement and loyalty from customers to keep them from migrating to other services. In that regard, credit cards are a cornerstone of how businesses operate, to handle day-to-day expenses in a more accountable way, and this is an area that is already well-served by others, including startups like Brex but also a plethora of challenger and traditional banks. So as much as anything else, this is a clear move to help stave off competition.

At the same time, it underscores how Stripe is leveraging the huge amount of data that it has amassed about its users and payments on the platform: it’s not just about enabling single services, but about using the byproducts of those services — data — to put fuel into new products.

Today, to underscore its global ambitions in that regard, Stripe is adding some expansions to several of its existing products. For example, it will now allow businesses to make payouts in local currencies in 45 countries (an important detail, for example, for marketplaces and network-based companies like ridesharing businesses).

The credit card product will follow a model similar to that of Stripe Capital. As with the lending product, there is a single bank issuing the credit and the card. Amber Feng, head of financial infrastructure for Stripe, confirmed to me that it is actually the same bank that’s providing the cash behind Stripe Capital. Stripe is still declining to name the bank itself, but hints that we may hear more about it soon, which leads me to wonder what news might be coming next.

(Funding perhaps would make sense? The company has raised a whopping $785 million to date and has a valuation of $22.5 billion at the moment. Given that Stripe has made indications that a public listing is not on the cards soon, that might imply, with the launch of these new financing products, that more capital might be raised soon.)

Also similar to Stripe Capital, the underwriting of the card is based on Stripe data. That is to say, business users are verified and approved based on turnover (revenues) as measured by the Stripe payments platform itself; and in cases where applicants are “pre-revenue”, they can be evaluated based on other data sources. For example, if they have used Stripe Atlas to incorporate their businesses, the paperwork supplied for that is used by Stripe to vet the customer’s suitability for a credit card.  

Notably, the cards will be delivered in the spirit of instant gratification: if you are applying and get approved, you can download a virtual card within minutes to your Apple Wallet as you await the physical card to arrive in the post.

Stripe is big on data in its own business, and it’s bringing some of that into this product with spending controls that can be set by person and by category; real-time expense reporting by way of texts; rewards of 2% back on spending in the business’s most-used categories; and integration with financial software like Quickbooks and Expensify.


By Ingrid Lunden