On March 28, credit startup Bilt Rewards launched for the general public, bringing their “Earn points on Rent” solution to the mainstream.
Last June, the Mastercard-enabled startup first opened to an invite-only test white list, but this week announced a new issuer: Wells Fargo Bank.
Along with a debut for a hip, young brand-obsessed demo offering travel points on the average consumers’ most significant regular payment, the Bilt card is also the first major rewards card offering from Wells Fargo, aside from Hotels.com.
“We are thrilled to partner with a game-changing loyalty program like Bilt Rewards,” Dan Dougherty, EVP of Cobrand Partnerships at Wells Fargo, said. “Rent is the single largest expense for the vast majority of Americans, yet it’s never been a tool that helps consumers confidently enter the housing market.”
Monday night, the company held a launch party 93 floors up in the mirror-filled Summit One Vanderbilt, a newly completed experience at the top of 42nd and Madison Avenue. Against a panoramic background of New York City, three floors of attractions welcomed a private guest list of influencers, friends of the firm, celebrities, and reporters through a thesis of what the brand aims to be.
Even in simple design choices, like the all-black metal card and showroom-like app design: Bilt looks to be a cool, sleek, top-of-wallet choice for travel points: the life of the party.
Rapper Wyclef Jean opened for A$AP Rocky, who was quickly joined on stage by NYC celebrities. New mayor Eric Adams was there, chirping people who moved to Florida during the pandemic, complemented the vision of earning points on rent, hung out with Cara Delevign, and took pictures with Floyd ‘Money’ Mayweather.
How does Bilt work?
They offer the ability to earn points on rent, using rent to build credit, through Wells Fargo. The project was a long time in the making. Bilt is a project founded by Ankur Jain, founder, and CEO of Kairos, a “family of companies that make life more affordable,” established in 2017.
“We are excited to replicate the enthusiasm we’ve seen surrounding Bilt Rewards within our Bilt Alliance network and extend the rewards of renting to every renter in the U.S.,” says Jain, “With the cost of rent at an all-time high, there is no better time than now to show the world that paying rent doesn’t have to mean lighting your money on fire.”
Jain led the proceedings at the launch event, introducing the new venue and “surprise” guest entertainment. Bilt said it was the first-ever entire venue event at the Summit One Vanderbilt space.
LendIt’s Peter Renton chatted with Daniel Seder, head of Financial Strategy at Bilt, and learned about the Bilt system:
The initial goal was to make renting rewarding with a system to help renters work toward owning a home. As Seder explained, most rent is paid by ACH. So last year, the team signed a deal with Mastercard, who also invested in the endeavor to bring credit to the rent ACH space: every landlord counts as a sub-merchant.
Bilt made a deal with Mastercard: the credit card giant processes rent payments, and users can pay rent without the usual 3% transaction fees. They also teamed up with housing companies themselves, creating a network of 2 million homes that automatically work with Bilt Rewards.
Then came Wells Fargo: Bilt became the first fintech ever to bring a big bank to Mastercard. Without any branding on the card, Bilt became the first genuine Wells Fargo premium card offering, like Chase Ultimate or Venture X.
Wells Fargo has a network of 70 million checking customers and 10 million renters. Seder said that the bank gets one million applications for cards at their 4,700 physical branches alone every year.
Want to buy a painting with rent credit points?
Bilt now enables any renter that pays through ACH or checks to use credit and earn points with no annual fee.
They offer 1X points for rent payments, even if the customer chooses to pay a month through direct ACH, like a debit card for rent that still gains points. They offer 2X on travel purchases and bonuses like flight insurance when booking through the card, and 3X on dining.
The idea is that a customer can pay for rent for a year and get a complimentary flight to Europe.
All points rewards are transferable with brands like United Airlines, American, and more. Consumers can track rewards and even search for flights on the Bilt Rewards app.
“Now, renting means your next vacation, your next workout class, or even savings on your next home,” Jain said. “We’re thrilled to extend our relationship with Mastercard and can’t wait to work side-by-side with Wells Fargo to open the Bilt Mastercard to the world.”
Bilt members and cardholders can redeem their points for travel across over 100 central hotel and airline partners and fitness classes at SoulCycle, Solidcore, Rumble, and Y7. There are also status levels depending on the amount of points users rack up in a year, from Blue to Platinum, with increasing rewards.
The rewards program comes off as an exclusive club, with editorial magazine stories featuring locals across the globe and how to use Bilt Rewards points to travel there.
They even offer art and home decor pieces for exchange in the rewards app if all the other redemption options were not enough. Bilt answers a question no one asked: ‘yes, you can buy custom art with credit card points.’
The brand clearly aims for the sleek coolness factor of a new high-tech card, but in the year 2020+2, the BILT card itself has a noticeable lack of tap to pay tech.
According to the release, Bilt Rewards will also be the first program to let members redeem points towards a down payment on a home through Fannie Mae and the Federal Housing Administration.
“That means that by paying rent, cardholders can lower their future mortgage costs, making homeownership more affordable in the future,” the release states.
The Points Guy puts BILT Rewards’ value at about 1.8 cents per point, though it is rumored the site was an investor in BILT itself.
Bilt’s internal econ
BILT said it was the largest bank fintech partnership of all time: with every new customer they add for Wells Fargo, they get revenue and interchange.
Eventually, the company plans on adding a mortgage product for customers to pay a mortgage with points and count on-time rent payments toward credit score health.
It’s a prime credit score product, down to about a 600 FICO, and Evolve Bank & Trust powers it through their BaaS product.
Celebs mixed with card creators
The guests at the event were happy Bilt team members and their friends, excited for their hard work paying off alongside the cast of celebrities.
Most were well dressed in suits and dresses, with a smattering of jeans and sweaters. The fashion standouts were the host of influencers, whether on the dancefloor or in the giant “reflective balls filled with helium that demonstrates Bilt’s ability to use points for gym memberships” room.
The TikTok or finfluencer crowd toted long selfie sticks, impressive jewelry, sweatshirts, bucket hats, and windbreakers: excited to help cross-promote and get some B Roll of the city skyline.
Wyclef Jean poured water on his head and did handstands to rile the crowd saying, “it’s been two long years, too long not to be hyped up tonight.”
Mayor Adams: Two types of people
“There are two types of people on the globe,” Mayor Eric Adams said, taking the mic shortly after Jean played the guitar with his tongue.
“Those who live in New York, and those who wish they could. To everyone who moved down to Miami, come back.”
Mayweather and Delevingne popped up out of nowhere at the tail end of A$AP’s 20-minute performance.
When the show ended, the crowd was headed back into light show elevators that pumped simulated audio of the strong winds outside the building down with popping ears to the marble-lined lobby.