Why Varo’s Believe credit-builder card stands out in a crowded market
Interview with Varo’s former GM and Chief Lending Officer, Shishir Signhania
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Varo’s Believe Credit-Builder Card is flipping the script on traditional banking by directly addressing the challenges that our customers face while building credit. This isn't your average credit-building tool — it's a no-interest, security-deposit-free card deliberately crafted to help bolster credit scores with confidence1. Let's dive into a candid chat with Shishir Singhania, Varo’s former GM and Chief Lending Officer, who will reveal the customer-centered vision and innovative journey that brought the Believe Card to life.
What was the initial vision for the Believe Card?
We wanted to create a card that reduced the friction that our customers experienced with other secured credit cards. Competitor cards typically come with account management fees, late fees, and a deposit that can be locked away for the lifetime of the card. Additionally, the ability to pay only part of what you owe on other cards can lead to greater debt (defeating the purpose of building credit in the first place).
We looked at these concerns and wondered, "How can we craft a card that doesn't just add to the pile, but can actually make a difference for everyday Americans?" That was our starting point for the Believe Card — a genuine solution for safer credit-building without the financial strain of traditional offers.
Can you explain what makes the Believe Card stand out in a crowded credit card market?
Sure, two features really set the Believe Card apart.
First up, we ditched the traditional security deposit. You know, the ones that can potentially be held indefinitely. With Believe, you stay in control of your money – if you need it back, it’s yours to take.
And second, we've eliminated fees and interest charges, meaning there are absolutely no hidden costs associated with customers using their Believe Card for everyday spending.
No interest. No fees. That’s kind of the point.
Which customer segments does the Believe Card target?
We've zeroed in on a few groups here.
First, the 'credit invisibles'—those who are either entirely new to credit and don't appear on the credit radar at all because they've never had access. These customers are off the grid and they need a way in.
Second are those who've had credit before but may have hit a rough patch, missing a bill or two and suddenly being on the outskirts, trying to claw their way back to good standing.
Lastly, we've got the 'main street' segment. These are customers with a decent job, a steady paycheck, and on-time payments, but without enough savings to cover emergency costs. Despite stable income, their credit score has taken a hit.
How does the name "Believe" capture the essence of your credit card?
The name "Believe" really encompasses what this card is all about — the ability to turn things around and boost your credit, even from a tough spot.
While creating this product, we slapped our version of Ted Lasso’s "Believe" poster onto the wall during our meetings and daily stand-ups. This was to remind ourselves that despite the hurdles, we had the ability to make something truly impactful for our customers.
What did you prioritize when developing the Believe Card?
When building the Believe Card, there were several primary factors to consider:
Customer Needs: What does the customer need to accomplish? If we can create a compelling product that addresses our customers’ biggest pain points, people will use it.
Regulatory Requirements: What regulatory guidelines need to be abided by? It is crucial that we work by-the-book and with the best interest of our customers in mind at all times.
Capturing Spend: How can we motivate customers to increase their usage of the Believe Card? We want this card to be treated as a compliment to (rather than a replacement for) their Varo debit card.
Can you elaborate on how you kept customer needs top of mind throughout development?
Customer focus was baked into our process from the get-go. We kicked off meetings with straight-shooting questions like, "what are our customers aiming for when it comes to finances, and how do we measure up?"
We dug deep to figure out what mattered most to them and landed on their credit score — the real litmus test of financial health for many. From there, we molded the Believe Card to be a tool that can safely help boost their score over time. It wasn't about crafting something flashy for its own sake; it had to make a real difference for those who trusted us with the health of their credit.
And this didn’t stop at launch. We made a point of keeping the communication lines open, constantly taking the pulse on customer experience. If there was a hiccup or a snag, we turned that feedback into fixes. That’s how we made sure the Believe Card wasn’t just a good idea, but a living, evolving financial resource.
How did you maintain a clear vision for delivering simplicity, convenience, and transparency?
We're all about taking it step by step, especially with something like the Believe Card. We paid close attention to incremental changes that may not seem huge day-to-day, but could become significant over time.
For us, transparency starts with the basics like making sure customers understand how the Believe Card differs from their debit card, clarifying the repayment process, and explaining how their activity is reported to credit bureaus. These are crucial touchpoints for someone working to build their credit.
Additionally, our design team is responsible for user experience. Since the Believe Card is woven into our app's ecosystem, the team was laser-focused on making a crystal clear user flow. When customers open their Varo app, they're met with only the info they need, no confusion or clutter. We delivered on simplicity and convenience through smart design, always keeping the customer's perspective front and center.
Which development challenges took you by surprise?
Just as we were about to launch, our internal team waved us down. They spotted something that wasn't quite right. It became a team effort to pause, circle back, and tweak wording until it hit the mark.
Account statements also presented their own challenge. Predicted to be simple, they turned out to require a fine touch, proving that even the smallest details demand a team's full attention. Together with our teams, we were able to smooth out the complexities. It's collaborative moments like these that remind us we're all sprinting towards the same finish line.
Reflecting on the Believe Card project, what were your key takeaways?
One of the sharpest lessons learned is the high cost of learning as you go, particularly with something as nuanced as building a lending product. It's not about raw talent alone. You can't just tap your most brilliant Product Manager, who's a rookie in lending, and ask them to build a successful lending product. You need a Product Manager with deep lending experience.
The terrain of lending is unique—there's a delicate balance between shaping a stellar customer experience and navigating regulatory compliance. It’s essential to have a savvy conductor who's familiar with the rhythm and potential hiccups of product development.
To address this, we made one pivotal move early on, assembling a team seasoned in lending alongside our existing talent to complement our existing views. If I had one takeaway from this whole journey, it would be that experience is vital in leading the way through uncharted territories.
What was the go-to-market plan for Believe?
For the rollout of the Believe Card, we honed in on those who know us best — our existing Varo customers. We rolled out a waitlist, sparking buzz by giving current customers the VIP treatment to sign up first.
Honestly, we were thinking maybe we'd see 30,000 to 40,000 jump on board. But the response? It floored us. The engagement and number of customers soared past our expectations.
That's the thing about the Believe Card; its potential just resonates. It's not just another product, it has become a core part of the Varo ecosystem — a real reason for customers to come to Varo.
Has the response to Believe been personally fulfilling?
Absolutely. Knowing that the Believe Card is giving financial breathing room to our customers is both humbling and exhilarating. It's rewarding to hear their personal stories and to see the real-world impact of our work.
This feels like just the beginning. There's a palpable sense that we're on the cusp of expanding the Believe Card's potential, allowing for longer-lasting impacts on everyday Americans.
Learn more now about how Varo Believe helps Americans build their credit easier.
Unless otherwise noted above, opinions, advice, services, or other information or content expressed or contributed by customers or non-Varo contributors do not necessarily state or reflect those of Varo Bank, N.A. Member FDIC (“Bank”). Bank is not responsible for the accuracy of any content provided by author(s) or contributor(s) other than Varo.
¹ The Varo Believe Secured Credit Card is designed to help you build your credit; however, a variety of factors impact your credit including payment history, utilization, derogatory marks, account age, total number of accounts, and inquiries—not all factors are equally weighted. Building your credit may take time and is a process, but the Varo Believe Card may be able to help when you consistently make on-time payments.
2 Customers who had an existing credit score showed an average score increase of approximately 42 points after three months of having Varo Believe and no late payments on their credit. Individual results may vary.
Some customers may not see an increase, but customers with bad or thin credit histories are likely to see the biggest positive impact on their score from using Varo Believe and making consistent on-time payments.
Score increase is based on the VantageScore 3.0, a credit score alternative to the FICO score. VantageScore and FICO use different models and weigh factors differently when determining a credit score.
3 Data based on comparison between VantageScore® 3.0 score from the initial pull after Believe card activation and the VantageScore® 3.0 score pulled after one month of reporting Believe Card activity. Individual results may vary.
The Varo Visa® Believe Card is issued by Varo Bank, N.A. pursuant to a license from Visa U.S.A.Inc.
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