I’m Helping Start a Credit Card Company, but I’ve Never Owned a Credit Card

By: Ben Apel on 10 February 2015

Is that a dumb thing to admit to on our company blog? Maybe. Fortunately I’ve got a few co-founders that love playing with plastic. Aaron alone has over thirty different cards he keeps in a not-so-neat pile at the corner of his desk. When it comes to competitor research, they’ve got the bases covered.

So are there benefits of having fresh eyes? In some cases (and roles), certainly. Naiveté can be a helpful tool. It’s tough to think inside the box if you’ve never seen one. As we continue to develop our interface and consider the user, my assumptions of how bill pay should function, onboarding, customer service, branding, all of them are fluid, and that’s advantageous. And maybe not at a legacy bank, but for a startup that’s trying to innovate around every touch point we have with a user? I think there’s value in witlessness.

But why didn’t I ever have a credit card before joining Final? It’s certainly not because I’ve never been broke. Honestly, I think it’s an issue of misalignment. And with some research showing that roughly 60% of millennials aren’t using credit cards, it seems like maybe I’m not the only one to feel that way.

I think growing up in the digital age has helped me to develop an ability to filter out anything less than genuine when it comes to the bullshit barrage that is mainstream media. My cynicism for poorly targeted messaging is acute, and something I think the majority of millennials share.

That’s a long-winded way of saying, every time I watch a Capital One commercial, I cringe. The same goes for all the big banks – even the ones that hire the trendiest agency in Brooklyn instead of BBDO.

But even getting past the cheesy advertising, I think there’s asymmetry with the product itself. And why use a payment tool when it clearly hasn’t been designed with me in mind? This might seem like an extreme perspective to some, but I’m clearly not the only one that feels very little brand affinity for these companies.

When I first joined the team, there were jokes about how funny it would be if my first credit card were from Final. As we get closer to launching, that’s looking more and more likely. Fingers crossed my application isn’t rejected. But beyond the obvious loyalty to this company, there’s a feature of Final I want to use that no other card seems to offer, and it’s in the shape of a giant middle finger.

Let me explain: On two different occasions, I’ve had to close a checking account because of impossible-to-cancel services. One was a gym I joined in Boston, the other an incredibly shady health insurance provider. Even without a contractual obligation on my part to continue, neither would accept cancellation as an option.

We’ve all heard stories about Comcast doing something similar, but they aren’t alone in this behavior. There are several other companies that feel it’s within their prerogative to control how and when they charge you.

My only way out of both the gym membership and health plan was to call my bank (in reality a series of several calls), cancel the entire account, open a new one, and go back to every single merchant that had my card on file and provide updated card information.

First your bank cancels your card and eventually they’ll notify you via physical letter and send out a new card within 7-14 business days. But what they aren’t insuring or acknowledging is your time and how many ongoing relationships you have with merchants. And that’s what gets me the most - with a financial reputation in good standing, no single merchant should ever be able to dictate my access to funds or how or when I interact with any other merchant. Ever. And that’s something I’m pretty passionate about changing.

When we first put up this website in October, we decided to get the word out by posting on Product Hunt, (if you’re interested, I wrote about it here). The strategy behind doing that instead of trying to get a piece into one of the major tech publications underpins our approach to this whole business; bottom up vs. top down. By going to that community first, we could achieve genuine engagement with a group that could very well be our first-adopters, and the feedback we got was both constructive and overwhelmingly positive. Over 20,000 people signed up within 48 hours.

For us, those first couple days were exactly how we want the next few months, even years to be – an ongoing dialogue with our users. One where we can learn as much as possible and implement that directly into what we’re building.

Looking forward to the journey ahead,

— Ben Apel
Co-founder, Marketing