Britain is cracking down on the $3.7 billion 'buy now, pay later' industry

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  • The U.K. Treasury said buy now, pay later (BNPL) firms would come under the supervision of the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA).
  • BNPL products have exploded in popularity during the coronavirus pandemic, as people turned to online shopping due to lockdown restrictions.
  • Consumer groups have warned that the £2.7 billion ($3.7 billion) BNPL market may encourage people to spend more than they can afford.

LONDON — Popular “buy now, pay later” shopping services like Klarna will face stricter regulation under proposals announced by the U.K. government Tuesday.

The Treasury said buy now, pay later (BNPL) firms would come under the supervision of the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), which regulates financial services firms and markets in Britain.

Such firms will be required to conduct affordability checks before lending to customers, the government said, while people will also be allowed to escalate complaints to the U.K.’s financial ombudsman.

BNPL products are used as an alternative to credit cards and have exploded in popularity during the coronavirus pandemic, as people turned to online shopping due to lockdown restrictions.

Popularized by the Swedish start-up Klarna, these services let customers spread out the cost of their purchases over a period of interest-free instalments. Other companies in the space include Australia’s Afterpay, which operates the Clearpay brand in the U.K., and Laybuy.

Consumer groups have warned that some people — particularly younger people — could be lured into a debt trap. The consumer and product review company Which? in the U.K., for instance, says it’s concerned BNPL products may encourage people to spend more than they can afford.

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A review from the FCA’s Christopher Woolard found that the U.K. BNPL market is worth £2.7 billion ($3.7 billion), with 5 million Brits using such products since the start of the pandemic. Meanwhile, more than one in 10 customers of a major bank using BNPL services were already in arrears.

“Buy-now-pay-later can be a helpful way to manage your finances but it’s important that consumers are protected as these agreements become more popular,” John Glen, economic secretary to the Treasury, said in a statement Tuesday.

“By stepping in and regulating, we’re making sure people are treated fairly and only offered agreements they can afford – the same protections you’d expect with other loans.”

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