Plus, the ABLE account from Bangor Savings Bank & Fiserv's Unique Charter Application

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Bilt may be the most successful new credit card product from the fintech world ever. Rumor has it the company is well into the mid-six figures of cardholders. They just announced a monster fundraising round (some $200 at a $3.1B valuation; what is this 2021?). I don’t normally cover fundraising news, which is a few weeks old, but now it feels like half of my calls are about BILT.

In the fintech card world explaining your product as “BILT, but for X” is the new “Uber for X.”

There will be BILT competitors and there will be BILT-esque cards. This essay is not about trying to predict which ones will be successful (some absolutely will), but I did want to touch on a few key points that keep coming up.

A few things about BILT are unique:

  • The card is issued by a top-10 financial institution, Wells Fargo.
  • The company operates on both sides of the table, offering both a consumer rewards product and a merchant payment processing platform for its multi-family housing partners.
  • It brings one of (if not the) largest household expenses out of the no-reward world and into the reward world.
  • It has a lot of redemption opportunities for such a young program.

How did they get here? Good question; I don’t know the BILT crew (yes, they feel l like the only fintech card folks I haven’t met yet; drop me a line). There’s always a lot of value in timing, networking, and deal-making. BILT has clearly excelled across the board.

There is a path here that other startups can look at to emulate:

  1. BILT started with a more traditional fintech card issued by a fintech bank. After proving their model, they were able to jump to a larger bank with better capital costs and availability.
  2. They focused on new ways to earn rewards and gave people a rewards program that sounds really flexible: points, Amazon gift cards, etc.
  3. They made an ongoing monthly expense part of the hook instead of trying to out-compete traditional banks on signup bonuses.

I have a lot of questions about the sustainability of the current model. As someone at Totavi did, you can apply for the card, pay your rent with it (which occurs as an ACH debit to the landlord), earn points, and get a 30-day extension on paying your rent. That is very expensive!

Many cards, even more traditional travel cards like the Chase Sapphire Reserve, came out of the gate with stronger offers and points than they could sustain in the long run (anyone remember that 100K signup bonus and $450 fee?). This can work once you’ve established a market position and people have some inertia. I still have a CSR at $550.

We’re working on a few projects using some of these ideas, and I’m excited about them. What’s your idea? BILT for ______?


P.S. Watch this interview. It’s wild.

The ABLE Card

Last year, we stumbled upon an intriguing development: Bangor Savings Bank sponsors debit card programs. Honestly, it was a bit of a head-scratcher. A small bank in New England diving into fintech is not typically what comes to mind when considering tech innovation hotspots. (No offense intended–hailing from New Hampshire, this is made in jest.)

Our curiosity piqued, and we dug deeper and discovered a new article from Tearsheet about this bank. Bangor Savings Bank can sponsor card programs because they’ve grown their deposits to over $4.7 million. How? This isn’t new news, but Bangor Savings Bank partnered with the Maine State Treasurer and launched Maine ABLE Benefit Checking® back in 2021. This checking product is specifically made for differently abled people. They provide “tax-advantaged accounts that can fund disability expenses without impacting means-tested benefits eligibility” and have opened over 137,000 accounts. Super impressive.

We’re all for identity-based banking fintech products. In the past couple of years, we’ve written about quite a few:

  • Totem, an Indigenous-owned company that intends to change how Native Americans bank, featured in CardsFTW #66.
  • Guava, a digital banking and networking platform designed by and for Black small business owners, featured in CardsFTW #72.
  • Greenwood, a digital experience made for Black and Latino customers, featured in CardsFTW #6.
  • One VIP, One VIP, a rewards program focused on encouraging members to support Black-owned businesses and keep dollars within the Black community, featured in CardsFTW #6.

(Plus, a few more programs are no longer with us.)

Kudos to Bangor Savings Bank for zeroing in on a niche as critical as differently-abled individuals. Navigating the complexities of creating a product in such a regulated space is no small feat. Seeing such dedicated efforts to inclusivity in the financial sector is heartening.

We’re genuinely excited to see how Bangor Savings Bank continues to grow and the innovative card programs they’ll sponsor next. A big shoutout to Kasheesh, one of the standout programs launched in partnership with them last fall – and hey, they’re one of our clients! Their commitment to providing accessible financial solutions is something we’re all cheering for. Ventures like these redefine what’s possible in the fintech landscape, proving that thoughtful innovation can create impactful change.


Fiserv’s Bank Charter Pursuit

Paymentsdive covered Fiserv’s fourth-quarter earnings with a focus on their application for a special purpose bank charter in Georgia and the ways that may disrupt merchant acquiring. Analysts anticipate that more companies will pursue this type of charter, including legacy merchant acquiring firms and modern payment processors like Stripe, and suggest a possible trend toward seeking greater autonomy in payment processing. It also indicates recognition of its potential to enable companies to bypass traditional banking partners for direct access to payment networks.

The movement towards these charters could accelerate changes in financial services. In many other countries non-banks are allowed to be principal members of the payment networks, which can creat increased innovation and efficiency in payment processing. The flip side is potential gaps in consumer protection and regulatory oversight. There’s a risk that entities applying for special charters might not be held to the same standards as traditional banks, which can expose consumers to unfair practices if regulators play catch-up.



CardsFTW is a weekly newsletter, released most Wednesdays, that offers insights and analysis on new products in the credit and debit card industry for consumers and providers. CardsFTW is authored and published by Matthew Goldman and Ellen Perl of Totavi, LLC. Totavi is a boutique consulting firm specializing in fintech. We bring real operational experience that varies from the earliest days of a startup to high-growth phases and public company leadership. Visit to learn more.

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