Payments, Podcasts, Power of Payments Podcast

Power of Payments Ep. 4: Why Americans can’t pay their bills on time, and how sibling-led Stax became a unicorn

  • This week, we discuss why Americans are struggling to pay their utility bills, personal loans, auto loans, and mortgages on time.
  • We also take a look at payments platform Stax, which recently became a unicorn and wants to go head-to-head with Stripe.

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Power of Payments Ep. 4: Why Americans can’t pay their bills on time, and how sibling-led Stax became a unicorn

Welcome back to Power of Payments. I’m your host Ismail Umar, and in today’s episode, we discuss why so many Americans are struggling to pay their bills on time, and we also talk about Florida-based payments startup Stax, which recently became a unicorn and wants to go head-to-head with Stripe.

If you’d like to access more of our coverage on payments, subscribe to our Payments Newsletter.

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The following excerpts were edited for clarity.

Why can’t Americans pay their bills on time?

Americans are struggling to pay their utility bills, personal loans, auto loans, and mortgages on time. Over half of US adults paid at least one of these bills late in the last twelve months, according to a recent survey by payments firm PayNearMe.

To better understand consumer attitudes around late bill payments, we need to determine not only how often they’re missing payments, but also which types of payments they’re missing most, and why.

The survey results show that personal loan pay­ments are most at risk overall: nearly one in three US adults admits to making late payments on their personal loan, which makes this type of bill the least likely to be paid on time.

But utility bills are too not far behind, either. Only 53% of respondents say they never miss a utility bill, and 29% say they pay utility bills late at least some of the time.

So what is causing these late payments?

While you may assume that most consumers miss their payments due to a lack of funds, that’s not the primary reason. It turns out that in most cases, the process of bill payment itself is what stresses consumers out.

29% of respondents say that the complicated bill payment process causes them stress and anxiety. And remembering login information is the top driver of this uneasiness.

Here are some trends across age groups:

  • Young adults aged 18-29 are the most likely of any age group to miss their payments, in part because they have a hard time keeping track of due dates and remembering passwords when they try to log in to pay a bill.
  • People aged 30-44 are most likely to lose or overlook their bill in a stack of mail, or in their email. They’re also most likely to become frustrated with the online bill pay process and not complete their payments at all. 
  • Adults aged 45-60 are most likely to procrastinate or forget to make a bill payment. They’re also most likely to not have enough money in their bank account to make a payment.
  • Baby Boomers (aged 60 and above) are the least likely to pay their bills late compared to other age groups.

So the question is, how do billers make it easier for consumers to pay on time to avoid headaches on both sides?

Consumers of all ages agree that having more mobile payment options would make it easier to pay their bills on time. 30% of respondents say that being able to pay bills using Venmo or PayPal would help them make more on-time payments.

Additionally, consumers say they can better manage their finances when they’re able to view and store bills in a digital wallet. Given the option, 38% of people would like to pay their bills using Apple Pay or Google Pay.

Sending reminders is also a good way to get customers to pay on time. 45% of people say receiving a text message or email reminding them when the bill is due would make on-time bill payment easier, and 38% say that a reminder that includes a payment link would be even more convenient. 

Many billers continue to use physical sign-up forms that must be filled out in person, making the bill payment process time-consuming and inconvenient for customers.

30% of people say that having a simple way to set up automatic payments would help them pay on time, which means it might be a good idea for billers to provide automatic payment options.

For the consumers who simply procrastinate completing their bill payments, a better online user experience could go a long way in encouraging them to pay on time.

I spoke with Anne Hay, head of consumer research at PayNearMe, to get her thoughts on what she sees as the most important takeaways from this research. Here’s what she had to say:

“We’ve seen that across generations, consumers are missing payments – but it’s not for a lack of funds. Our research shows that billers aren’t using the technology that consumers prefer or need to successfully manage paying their bills on time. 

When consumers were asked why they pay late, the top reasons were not “I don’t have money” or “I lost my job.” Those were actually in the bottom three. In fact, the top reason was that consumers simply procrastinated or forgot to make the payment, and right behind that, they lost a bill, or simply overlooked it. 

Nearly one in five adults says they paid a bill late because the online bill payment process was so complicated that they became frustrated and didn’t complete the payment.

When tens of millions of people are paying their bills late, that means billers need to adapt the bill pay process to meet customers where they are – and they are on their mobile phones.

Having a mobile bill pay strategy can increase on-time bill payments across all age groups. Our hope is that this data will help businesses create a plan for reducing late payments by improving their overall payments strategy.”

How sibling-led payments platform Stax became a unicorn

Stax, which was previously branded as Fattmerchant, just recently became a unicorn.

Stax is a payments platform that caters to businesses of different sizes. The company recently raised $245 million in a Series D funding round to reach a $1 billion valuation.

Based in Orlando, Florida, Stax was co-founded by siblings Suneera Madhani and Sal Rehmetullah. It’s one of the few fintechs led by a minority woman, Madhani, who is the CEO, while Rehmetullah is the company’s president.

Stax achieved this feat against a backdrop where less than 3% of venture capital goes to minorities, and less than 1% of investment goes to businesses with women of color as CEOs. 

Madhani says that as a minority woman executive in fintech, she’s no stranger to discrimination and doubt. She built the company along with her brother in their parents’ home back in 2014.

Since then, the firm has grown 500% in the past three years, and has processed more than $23 billion in payments for 22,000 businesses across the country. Madhani says she shares this milestone not just with her own team, but with every person of color trying to hustle, build their own business, and make a difference.

So what exactly does Stax do?

It’s a payment technology provider that allows merchants and companies to manage their payments and simplify their customer experience through integrated solutions. The service comes with a unified dashboard where businesses can review all their accounts in one place.

Additionally, the dashboard generates data analytics to help firms with decision-making and managing the health of their business.

Stax offers its clients two complementary services — Stax Connect and Stax Pay — to facilitate the entire payment journey, from invoicing customers to debiting the company account. 

Stax Connect aims to accelerate integrations, enhance user experience, and monetize payments for software-as-a-service platforms. And Stax Pay simplifies accepting and managing payments by eliminating the need to work with multiple vendors. 

In addition to multiple payment methods including cards, ACH transfers, and point of sale, clients also have the option to tokenize a bank card or a bank account.

Being heavily involved in the SMB market, Stax views billing as a key part of how it structures its business.

The firm’s president, Rehmetullah, says that most merchant service providers make their services challenging to understand and as complicated as possible on purpose. But Stax brings merchants to the direct cost of processing credit cards through a unique subscription-style pricing model.

Stax claims to be the only firm on the market with a subscription-based model. It offers flat-fee subscriptions for processing business payments, rather than charging a couple of percentage points on every transaction like many rivals in the industry. 

Customers seem to appreciate Stax for its products, customer service, and pricing structure.

The firm has a Trustpilot rating of 4.3 out of 5. For context, its competitor Square has a rating of 4.5, while Stripe is rated 3 stars. Net Promoter Scores in the space have traditionally been low, but Stax seems to be doing well in that area, with an NPS of 73 against Square’s 48 and Stripe’s 30.

Stax considers 2021 to be a “milestone” year in which it continued growing its business, completed a number of acquisitions, and won some major awards.

For the second year in a row, Stax was named one of the Best Credit Card Processing Companies in Money Magazine’s Best Shopping list. Additionally, Forbes included the firm in America’s Best Startup Employers. Stax also made it into the Deloitte Technology Fast 500 list for the third year in a row, and its two co-founders were finalists in the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award as well.

Stax’s acquisitions in 2021 included CardX, Payment Depot and Fusebill. Rehmetullah says these acquisitions provided the firm with the capability to create new offerings, and gave it a much-needed lifeline to navigate a quickly changing payments landscape.

Following the recent funding round, the firm plans to grow its customer base, increase its headcount, and invest in its current team. There’s also a renewed push to expand globally and integrate with more businesses.

Stax expects to continue its growth trajectory this year. The firm also plans to invest in the community through a $1 million pledge to Stax Cares, which aims to help speed up the growth of other women-and-minority-led companies.

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