22 April 2021
By Sumitra Krishnan, AusPayNet Innovation Analyst
The Australian Finance Industry Association (AFIA) launched its Buy Now Pay Later (BNPL) Code of Practice in March 2021. The voluntary Code was developed in collaboration with AFIA’s BNPL members, and through consultation with key stakeholders. In its media release, AFIA highlights that the Code sets “best practice standards for the sector” while strengthening consumer protections and preserving consumer choice.
Consumers globally are increasingly choosing to use BNPL services. The Worldpay from FIS 2020 Global Payments Report indicates that BNPL arrangements are expected to earn nearly 3% of global ecommerce spend by 2023.
The BNPL industry in Australia is booming. The 2020 IBISWorld report indicates that the market has grown by an average of 39.3% from 2015 to 2020 and is predicted to grow 9.1% in 2020-2021. The November 2020 Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) Report 672: Buy Now Pay Later: An industry update considers the growing use of BNPL offerings locally. In its review of six BNPL providers, the report observes that the number of BNPL transactions made, number of transacting users and total value of transactions had each increased by more than 20% from June 2019 to June 2020.
In parallel, the RBA Bulletin: Developments In The Buy Now, Pay Later Market, released on 18 March 2021, further highlights the growing BNPL market in Australia with new providers and business models emerging at an increased pace. The Bulletin finds the value of BNPL transactions has seen continued growth through the COVID-19 pandemic as the shift to digital payments and online shopping accelerates. Some findings include:
BNPL services are advertised as having attributes that appeal to some consumers:
The BNPL sector continues to be an area of focus for regulators to ensure that appropriate consumer protections are in place. ASIC’s 2020 Report 672 states that whilst competition from new and evolving BNPL arrangements provide consumers with “increased choice and access to payments and credit options with unique features and benefits”, it is evident that some consumers who use these services experience financial stress, particularly those wanting to avoid additional costs due to missed payment fees. The report indicates that in the previous 12 months, of the BNPL users surveyed:
On the other hand, the RBA is also considering policy issues raised by BNPL providers’ no-surcharge arrangement as part of its Review of Retail Payments Regulation. The arrangement means BNPL providers generally contractually prohibit retailers from levying a surcharge on consumers to recoup the costs of accepting BNPL payments. Some key views addressed in the Bank’s Review of Retail Payments Regulation: Issues Paper 2019 include:
The RBA’s March 2021 Bulletin further highlights two key points in relation to the no-surcharge arrangement:
The RBA Bulletin (March 2021) notes that the Bank is in discussion with industry stakeholders regarding possible thresholds to help determine the point at which it may be in the public interest to require a BNPL provider to remove its no-surcharge rules.
The Senate Committee on FinTech and RegTech in its interim report highlighted that industry self-regulation provides an “initial framework to protect innovation”, which can be supported later by a policy statement or a form of co-regulation. Using the BNPL sector as an example, the report asserted that this type of innovation “often occurs on the fringes of regulation” and should not be forced into a “one size fits all approach.” It will be interesting to see what approach the current Treasury Review of the Australian Payments System will take to regulation in the BNPL sector. Its report is due at the end of April 2021.
In parallel, ASIC’s 2020 Report 672 reveals that BNPL arrangements will become subject to its new product intervention power under the Corporations Act, and the design and distribution obligations for financial products which are due to commence in October 2021. It is expected that these new regulatory tools will focus on “consumer outcomes and harms rather than imposing prescriptive compliance obligations.”
The popularity of BNPL as a payment method is predicted to continue. Recent market developments include:
The BNPL market in Australia is growing rapidly with strong consumer and merchant adoption. These payment arrangements are regarded as innovative and provide services that meet consumers’ needs. The RBA Governor, in his speech at the December 2020 AusPayNet Summit, noted that the Payments System Board (PSB)'s preliminary view was that the BNPL operators in Australia had not yet reached the point where it was clear that the costs arising from the no-surcharge rules outweigh the potential benefits in terms of innovation. Considering the significant growth in this sector, it will be interesting to see if, over time, this changes.