Buy now, pay later (BNPL) has seen a lot of hype since the popularity of the technology exploded in 2020. The U.K. Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) estimates that the U.K. BNPL market is worth $3.7 billion (£2.7 billion), and that five million British citizens have used BNPL tools since 2020. This growth is great for BNPL companies, but not necessarily so for the consumers they serve.
That’s because consumers in the U.K. are starting to take on debt to pay for purchases they’ve made using BNPL. According to a recent survey, more than 40% of U.K. consumers have done so. Citizens Advice, which conducted the survey, found that 51% of consumers ages 18 to 34 have borrowed money to pay for BNPL purchases, while 39% of 35 to 54 year-olds and 24% of people aged over 55 have done so.
The most common debt incurred to pay for purchases made using BNPL is credit card debt. Users have also borrowed money from friends and family, borrowed money from their bank overdraft, taken out loans, and have even taken out payday loans. The study also found that more than one in 10 customers of a major bank using BNPL services were already behind on their payments.
This misuse of BNPL technology is why the U.K. FCA released a set of four rules earlier this week. The agency anticipates they will protect millions of consumers.
- Lenders will be required to carry out checks to ensure that loans are affordable for consumers.
- Advertisements must be fair, clear, and not misleading.
- Lenders will need to be approved by the FCA.
- Borrowers will be be able to take complaints about BNPL schemes to the Financial Ombudsman Service.
The government will create secondary legislation by mid-2023, after which the FCA will consult on its rules for the short-term lending sector.
“Buy-Now Pay-Later can be a helpful way to manage your finances but we need to ensure that people can embrace new products and services with the appropriate protections in place,” said Economic Secretary to the Treasury John Glen. “By holding Buy-Now Pay-Later to the high standards we expect of other loans and forms of credit, we are protecting consumers and fostering the safe growth of this innovative market in the U.K.”
The FCA has made it clear that these regulations do not only apply to BNPL firms. Companies that extend other forms of short-term, interest-free credit will also be required to comply with the same rules. Not only that, the rules also apply to businesses who partner with a third-party lender to provide credit to their customers.