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Debt collection: The hidden downside of BNPL

Debt collection: The hidden downside of BNPL

One in 10 Buy Now Pay Later shoppers have been chased by debt collectors, rising to one in eight young people, Citizens Advice is warning.

The charity’s latest research shows Buy Now Pay Later (BNPL) shoppers were charged £39 million in late fees in the past year.

Of those who were referred to a debt collector for missed payments, 96% experienced a negative consequence. They reported at least one of the following: sleepless nights; ignoring texts, emails and letters in case they were about debts; avoiding answering the door; borrowing money to repay the debt; or their mental health getting worse.

Yet the charity found that not one of the BNPL checkouts on leading retailers’ websites warned people they could be referred to debt collectors for missed payments. Instead this was only flagged in the T&Cs on a separate page, if at all.

Citizens Advice conducted mystery shopping at 100 leading retailers and found 38 offered BNPL, with 22 offering more than two BNPL options, meaning there were a total of 74 BNPL checkouts.

The research also found that out of those offering BNPL, only 11% warned shoppers they were taking out a credit agreement, the remaining 89% put this information in the small print or T&Cs.

Dame Clare Moriarty, chief executive of Citizens Advice, says: “The sheer number of shoppers facing debt collection is startling. We know from our frontline advisers just how much stress this can cause.

“A seamless Buy Now Pay Later checkout process should not mean shoppers have to dig around in the small print to find out they’re taking out a credit agreement, and could be referred to debt collectors if they can’t pay. The warnings should be unmissable.

Citizens Advice asked the BNPL firms featured in the research if they ever referred customers to debt collectors. Klarna, Clearpay, Laybuy and Openpay confirmed they do this as a last resort. Splitit said it doesn’t. PayPal refused to comment.

The charity is calling on the Treasury to urgently regulate BNPL as it fears shoppers have been left unprotected and ill-informed during the rapid expansion of the sector.

Millie Harris, a debt adviser at Citizens Advice East Devon, says: “My concern is that people aren't processing the fact that Buy Now Pay Later is credit. They don't realise there are going to be consequences if they don't pay - it gives them a false sense of security.

“I’ve seen people using it for their kids’ clothes and shoes that they would otherwise never be able to afford. They are taking out what is effectively a loan, but they don't see it as one. For example, I helped someone who has tens of thousands of pounds of debt, but they don't see Buy Now Pay Later as part of that total.

"It's almost under-the-radar debt.”

Comments: (2)

A Finextra member
A Finextra member 06 September, 2021, 09:49Be the first to give this comment the thumbs up 0 likes

BNPL started out as the "convenient" way to pay for e-commerce shopping, no need for rigourous buyer authentication with one time text acceptance codes and the sort required for debit and credit card payments...Instead you order and give your personal data and agree to get an invoice in many times via e-mail. The famous "one click" experience andvoated by BNPL providers. The real-time credit check performed can be of various quality since e-comm merchants demand that "almost all" need to be approved - if not, the merchant takes its business to a new BNPL provider with higher approval rates. At the same time it is a challenge for the BNPL provider to make a profit from merchant fees only and buyers do not like to pay fees. So the answer to the revenue need is that the "invoice" becomes  an unsecure installment loan with in many cases a quite high interest rate from due date, payment reminder fees, delinquency fees, collection fees.  If all buyers pay up on due date the BNPL provider would likely make a loss. No wonder that one in eight ends up in collection. Their credit should never have been approved. What we see here is the famous Articicial Intelligence applied in credit approval. 

Ketharaman Swaminathan
Ketharaman Swaminathan - GTM360 Marketing Solutions - Pune 06 September, 2021, 11:54Be the first to give this comment the thumbs up 0 likes

"They are taking out what is effectively a loan, but they don't see it as one."

What *do* they see it as, then? Manna from Heaven??

If you're too stingy with loans, you're being elitist.

If you democratize loans, you're trapping people in a debt trap. 

This is total nonsense. Everyone claims to be an expert because Google, social networks, etc. How about using some of that expertise to understand the true nature of BNPL and decide whether to take a BNPL or not - and jolly well take responsibility for that decision?