CardsFTW #37: Some Personal News

Plus, Walgreens adds a debit program and more new co-branded cards.

Apto Payments Acquires Vertical Finance

I usually focus on industry news and analysis, but this is big news, and I am very excited to share it with my readers. Apto Payments, a leading card issuance technology platform, has acquired my startup Vertical Finance.

Apto Payments

Apto was founded in 2014 as Shift and issued the first-ever debit card that allowed you to spend bitcoin. (I had one of these cards!) Today, Apto offers a developer-centric debit card platform, including its ground-breaking instant issuance platform. It sounds unbelievable, but with Apto, you could launch a neo banking product in days. With no contract terms, no minimums, and transparent fees, plus a straightforward and highly-capable API, the Apto debit card instant issuance product is amazing.

I am very proud to be joining Apto, where I will be the Vice President for Sales and Marketing. The entire Vertical Finance team is joining me, and we are excited to bring our extensive payments experience and credit and rewards capabilities to Apto.

Please let me know if you want to talk about debit issuance (or any card topics). You can reply to this email or reach me @magoldman on Twitter. For more details, check out the official press release.

Walgreens’ New Debit Program

In CardsFTW #35, I covered Walgreens’ new co-branded credit card offering with Synchrony. Just a few weeks later now we see the introduction of Scarlet, Walgreens’ new banking product.

Scarlet Debit Card
Scarlet … O’Hara

Before neo banking was a hot topic and providers acquired most users online via Instagram ads, Green Dot pioneered the reloadable prepaid debit card product, primarily sold through the retail channel. In specific, drugstores were the top location for prepaid card sales. When I joined Green Dot in 2006, Walgreens was our leading retailer.

Drug stores make excellent replacement bank branches. They are ubiquitous with more than 9,000 Walgreens today alone, plus similar numbers for CVS and 2,500 Rite Aid stores. Many are open 24 hours per day and seven days each week. They are located in your neighborhood and especially in lower-income communities where they serve as general stores.

Early on, consumers needed education about these card products that are not bank accounts. Waiting for a prescription to be filled provides a lot of time to read detailed displays and packaging. These cards had access to ATM networks, cash deposits at retail, direct deposit, bill pay, authorized users, and more, even back in the early era.

Walgreens’ new offering is a strong one. Many big brands with access to customers, such as mobile phone providers, have attempted to build debit card offerings (we had a Cingular card at Green Dot), but they have mainly been me-too attempts that simply leverage the brand.

The Scarlet card is a debit card that does all the core functions, plus has rewards and a few extra features. Consumers earn “Walgreens cash” for rewards, which is only usable at Walgreens but allows the retailer to use some margin to provide a more prosperous program. This card has reasonable fees for the space ($7.95/month, waived with $500 in POS spend or direct deposit; no ATM fee; fee-free load options). It earns 3% Walgreens cashback at Walgreens and 1% elsewhere.

Features include early payroll direct deposit, peer-to-peer transfers, up to four sub-accounts, and goal-setting features. There is even a $10 signup bonus.

I wasn’t expecting to be impressed, but I am. While a fee-based offering is a hard sell versus free neo banking services like Chime, the brand, access, and offer are strong.

Credit One’s Latest Affinity Card

Credit One has been launching a string of new cards, elevating its profile from its traditional low-credit stance. Its latest, the Wander Card, was announced last week. Like most Credit One cards, this includes a $95 annual fee. There is an $80 credit towards your National Parks Pass during your first year. (It doesn’t sound like this credit is available each year, however).

Credit One Wander Visa
John Muir

Cardholders earn 5X points on eligible recreational & amusement park purchases (including national parks & sporting events), 3X points on eligible restaurant & lodging purchases (including campgrounds), and 1X points on all other purchases. Cardholders can redeem points in a standard program for statement credits or merchandise. It’s not clear if the points have a good value.

Surprisingly for a card with a fee and a travel focus, the card includes a 3% foreign transaction fee. If you’re going to travel, you better stay close to home.

Electronic Gaming Card

I’ve touched on a few recent startups working on rewards debit cards in the gaming space like Tiv or Mythia. Now traditional card issuer Pentagon Federal Credit Union announced a co-branded e-sports Visa credit card. The Power Cash Rewards Visa Signature Card is co-branded with The Washington Justice, an e-sports team (new to me!).

Penfed Power Card Rewards Card
Michael Holt

While it appears non-members could apply, the best rewards come for members of PenFed, which as a credit union, has specific requirements for programs, such as active military or a veteran.

These top members earn 2% cashback, which is a very strong rate and others earn 1.5%. Fans of The Washington Justice get discounts and access to events.

I’m a bit out of my depth here; I don’t know anything about esports. There will be a decent following if traditional sports are any guide, but this will not be the massive product that travel cards are.


Thanks for reading CardsFTW, a weekly-ish newsletter about all things debit and credit. CardsFTW is written and curated by Matthew Goldman, VP, Sales & Marketing at Apto Payments. If you’re looking for insights into everyday payments beyond deal blogs, please subscribe for free at If you enjoyed this, please share it with a friend! Follow me on Twitter @magoldman.

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