Challenger bank Upgrade debuted its contactless card Thursday, a product the company's co-founder and CEO, Renaud Laplanche, hopes will do its part to help slow the spread of the novel coronavirus.
Spurred by the global pandemic, which has altered daily life for millions around the globe, Laplanche said the company made the decision a month ago to launch the card ahead of schedule. The company had originally aimed for a fall rollout.
"Going contactless in this environment, if there's ever been a time to do so, that's now," Laplanche told Banking Dive.
The World Health Organization (WHO) last month recommended consumers use contactless cards or smartphone payments whenever possible to help reduce the risk of spreading the coronavirus, which can live on smooth surfaces, according to The Telegraph.
Upgrade’s new card lets consumers make payments without any surface contact, Laplanche said. Users can pay for goods by holding the card up to two inches away from a payment terminal.
"There's no need for physical contact, so you're not in a situation where you might hand over the card to the cashier or put the card in the reader after someone else has put their card in the same reader," he said. "That could be a way to transmit the virus."
The card, which is issued by Ohio-based Sutton Bank, is also available in digital form through Apple Pay and Google Pay for mobile payments.
"It took a little bit of work with both Google and Apple to register the card, but it's just another way we can help our customers avoid any kind of contact at the merchants," Laplanche said.
Laplanche, who founded San Francisco-based fintech LendingClub in 2006, launched Upgrade in 2017. The Upgrade platform has originated more than $2.5 billion in loans and cards, the company said.
Laplanche said he expects contactless payments will become a more widely adopted method of payment as the world adjusts to social distancing guidelines amid the pandemic.
"I think only 5% of payments in store are mobile right now in the U.S. But I think it's going to continue to increase," he said. "Unfortunately, a situation like this one brings just another reason to accelerate the transformation."
About 38% of consumers now view contactless as a basic need or feature of payments, according to a March study of 3,187 U.S. consumers conducted by the Futurist Group. That's up from 30% a year ago.
The financial services and information management consultancy's study also found the segment of consumers saying they don't need contactless payments has thinned from 41% in March 2019 to 33% in March 2020.
"Bank notes change hands all the time, so I think the more we can move away from cash and use digital payments, the better. And I think this situation is a reminder of that," Laplanche said.
Upgrade's credit card, which the company launched in October, is unique in the way it combines monthly charges into installment plans and allows customers to choose an period between 24 and 60 months to pay it off.
"They’re not living paycheck to paycheck and can afford to miss a few paychecks," said Laplanche, adding Upgrade’s customers are an average of 42 years old with an average income of $90,000 and a credit score of around 700.
"That being said, we put together a forbearance program for those of our customers impacted by the virus one way or another, whether they are being furloughed or have lost their jobs entirely," he said. "The program allows customers to have a release for the next three months. That gives them the time to turn around and recover."
About 3.5% of Upgrade’s customers have applied for the program as of Wednesday morning, Laplanche said.