CardsFTW #15: Another Crypto Card

Plus, lots of news in the debit card world

It was not a huge week in card news (or at least news that seemed interesting), so a shorter newsletter today… I’d also say we’ve all been a bit distracted lately by national events! Happy Inauguration Day.

Another Crypto Card at Bitcoin Goes Wild

In December we shared the news that BlockFi is launching a credit card with bitcoin rewards. Last week, cryptocurrency exchange Gemini announced it would be launching its own card. BlockFi promised 1.5% cash back equivalent and a partnership via Evolve Bank & Trust and Visa.

BlockFi looks to be a lot further along than Gemini, which doesn’t list an issuer or network and has a vague promise of “up to 3%” back.

Crypto is undeniably hot right now, with bitcoin prices surging to the $35,000 - $40,000 range over the past week, from the $5,000 - $10,000 range a year ago.

With such strong interest from consumers, all things cryptocurrency tend to have strong interest. As this newsletter notes all of the time with startups, building a credit card is hard and finding banks to work with cryptocurrency is also hard (although getting easier!).

There are also several card-linked offer programs related to bitcoin, such as Pei, which has an intriguing angle of paying rewards in bitcoin. Focusing on people who are into cryptocurrency is smart and it is a growing market. Bitcoin, currently anyway, grows in value over time, whereas most rewards tend to lose value over time.

It’s going to be interesting to watch a couple of bitcoin cards come to market, see how they compare, and see what wins. Details are light today and no product is yet launched, but I do think something will stick the landing in this category.

Upgrade Upgrades Debit Rewards

That’s not a typo. Lending startup Upgrade, which launched a credit card with rewards for paying back loans late last year, announced a new debit and checking product this past week. The rewards program sounds pretty substantial for a debit card, which typically has limited to no rewards due to the reduced income and higher expenses compared to credit.

Consumers will “earn 2% cash back on common everyday expenses and recurring payments, and 1% cash back on all other debit charges. Qualifying customers also enjoy up to 20% lower rates on Upgrade loans.” The program is live and, as far as debit programs go, quite compelling. Combining no fees with strong rewards is rare for debit and checking. Given that effective checking interest rates are at 0% these days, earning something back if you use a debit card is a big advantage.

It doesn’t appear you have to have a loan from Upgrade to have the account, although you do get a benefit by combining the two. If you just came for the checking account product, it stands out pretty well against other neobank debit card offerings.

Goldman’s Marcus Adds Checking

Speaking of debit cards, Goldman Sachs and Marqeta announced a partnership to launch a Marcus-branded checking account. Marcus is Goldman’s mass market brand and started with personal loans.It has been expanding rapidly with many rumors of other mass market financial products and this looks like the first. A core checking/debit account is certainly a necessary part of any banking bundle and Marqeta’s platform is a best-in-class processor.

No details on the features were provided, but this will fit in nicely with the Marcus savings and personal loan products. 

One More Word on Debit

Last week we talked about the demise of Simple, an original neobank. As you can see from this week’s news there are a lot of competitors out there. The web has produced a number of comparisons of neobank and alternatives to Simple, including Not So Simple which focuses on all the features Simple has that others are lacking.

The most insightful part of this comparison is to see how many unique features Simple developed and how little they have been copied. There is more to a debit or checking account than moving the money and many modern competitors appear to be missing the opportunity of creating a truly improved financial services experience.

As a side note, while browsing old notes in an unrelated search, I came across my original rejection for identity verification issues (which, to be fair, I also had at big banks). 

CardsFTW

Thanks for reading CardsFTW, a weekly newsletter about all things debit and credit. CardsFTW is written and curated by Matthew Goldman, Founder, and CEO at Vertical Finance, a challenger credit card startup. If you’re looking for insights into everyday payments beyond deal blogs, please subscribe for free at cardsftw.substack.com. If you enjoyed this, please share it with a friend! Follow me on Twitter @magoldman.