The reality is that the global pandemic has made shoppers wary of using cash. Lots of transactions still happen in person, but the buying and selling process is shifting to accommodate new preferences. As such, we’re seeing more consumers opting to go cashless and contactless. Savvy retailers are adjusting to accept consumers’ preferred payment methods; all the while, keeping fraud prevention and regulations at the forefront of every transaction.
As part of our series about the future of retail, I had the pleasure of interviewing Arad Levertov, Founder & CEO of Sunbit.
A FinTech veteran, Arad’s strong leadership skills come from his background as a Major in the Israeli Navy Seals. Arad holds an MBA degree from Duke University Fuqua School of Business. Previous to Sunbit, Arad was COO of Enova International, where he successfully managed an 800M dollars business and led teams across product, marketing, strategy, HR, and operations. Prior to Enova, he ran Operations and Systems Development at Intel.
Sunbit is a technology company that improves the buying and selling experience for everyday purchases. Sunbit reduces the stress involved at the register by providing fast, fair, and transparent installment financing solutions to people across the credit spectrum. Sunbit is offered in more than 4,000 retail locations in 42 states, including 1-in-5 auto dealerships, veterinary care, eye care, dental and specialty health care service industries.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
A few years after moving to the U.S., I was shopping with my family at a well-known, big box retailer. At checkout, the cashier invited me to apply for the store’s credit card. I agreed, and after the long application process, I was asked for typical, yet intrusive, personal information like household income and whether I rented or owned, I was declined. As someone who worked in financial services, I knew it was due to my limited credit file as a recent immigrant to the U.S. — but it was embarrassing nonetheless. Not an ideal customer experience.
At the time, I was COO of Enova International, a fintech company. I knew that there had to be a better, more transparent way of offering credit that would be based primarily on a consumer’s ability to make required payments. I was inspired to begin working on Sunbit, which has become a key player in the buy now, pay later (BNPL) category.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting?
Like many startups, the early days usually mean operating on a shoestring budget. We tried to keep our expenses lean until we could truly get the business off the ground and running. One of my co-founders, Tal Riesenfeld and I were visiting the Bay Area for both VCs meetings as well as client activations and in-person training. The visit required us to stay overnight and we had booked a shared room for us both in order to save a few dollars.
As we headed to the hotel, after a long and tiring — albeit an optimistic day, we felt we weren’t in Kansas anymore. The area felt uneasy where the hotel was, but we shook off the feeling and checked-in anyway.
After parking the car, I met Tal in the room and found him buckled over in a fit of laughter. Of course, what he was laughing at wasn’t immediately known to me. So, I put my bags down, pulled out my trusty dopp kit, and headed to the bathroom — only then did I figure out why Tal was laughing so hard. Our bathrooms weren’t in the room, but rather were shared facilities at the end of the hall.
After five years of being an executive in a public company (prior to Sunbit), flying business class and staying in good hotels, it was humbling to find myself making my own travel arrangements, which allowed me to make some humorous mistakes along the way — like booking hotel rooms without bathrooms. But through it all — mistakes or no mistakes, I’ve never taken my eye off the prize — building a successful business that helps many Americans afford the things they need in life.
While I continue to keep myself in-check, I realized that it’s perfectly ok to make small honest mistakes in business and in life, as long as you focus on the things most important to you in your life. For me that has been to build Sunbit.
Can you tell us what lesson or takeaway you learned from that?
While learning to accept the mistakes we’ve made has been an important takeaway — and certainly a learning curve at times — other lessons that have been equally of value have been focused around how to build this business.
When I started Sunbit, we had two goals in mind: secure investment and funding, and ultimately prove our scale. Many companies choose to scale as quickly as possible — and later have to correct their mistakes. We knew being methodical and deliberate in our choices, from what markets to focus on to the type of culture we wanted to build, would take longer. But building the company the right way was our priority.
We also learned that sometimes people say ‘no.’ And we learned that those rejections should push us harder to succeed — not to give up. Determination and belief in what you’re doing works is all the fuel you need to find your successes in business and life.
Are you working on any new exciting projects now? How do you think that might help people?
The shift to contactless payments has been a major change in in-store shopping trends, and we accelerated our own development schedule to meet these changing demands.
Over the past several months, we have augmented our established in-store offering with contactless payments, and e-commerce capabilities, so that consumers can comfortably use Sunbit technology wherever they shop in their local communities, whether it is an auto body shop, or an optical retail center, or a dental office.
As we expand our footprint, bringing on more merchants, more people will have access to fast, fair and transparent financing for buying the everyday things they rely on. We’re excited to continue our progress in bringing Sunbit to more communities across the country.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
I was a Navy SEAL in the Israeli special forces where I learned an important lesson about how to thrive — and how to push yourself.
A few weeks after you join the special forces, you do a drill where you have to run 5 miles while carrying 30 pounds. I remember barely finishing that first run, and relying on my teammates to help me. A few months later, we finished a run which is one of the capstones of the training: a 50 mile team run where everyone carries about 70 pounds. And to top it off, we did a 3 mile swim on top of that.
The lesson for me was that we can accomplish much more than we can imagine possible when we get out of our comfort zones, especially when you’re working as a team.
That’s the spirit of the special forces unit. The “get things done” mentality I learned as a SEAL is something I practice everyday in the corporate world. I believe teamwork and dedication are critical to success.
We work a lot on teamwork, which is ultimately about relationships. Having a sense that you’re working together with people who inspire you really helps to keep a sense of purpose.
I also make sure that people prioritize life outside of work for the same reason. Maintaining relationships — whether it be family or friends — is an important part of staying balanced.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person to whom you are grateful, who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
In the Israeli special forces one of my peer officers used to say, “Talk less and do more” — in essence, get things done. That has been a guiding principle for me in life, and in business.
I was inspired by him and my other colleagues, who believed that with hard work, dedication and teamwork, anything is achievable.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
Based on my personal experience getting declined, in-person, at a big box retailer I wanted to give people like me, and really people everywhere, choices.
This meant the process had to be lightning fast, simple, and approve nearly everyone who applied for large and small purchases alike — eliminating the public humiliation I once experienced. In just a few short years, we accomplished our aim. Now, we help thousands of local merchants like auto shops, eye doctors, dentists and vets, take better care of their customers with a pay-over-time solution that works for them.
The Pandemic has changed many aspects of all of our lives. One of them is the fact that so many of us have gotten used to shopping almost exclusively online. Can you share five examples of different ideas that large retail outlets are implementing to adapt to the new realities created by the Pandemic?
- The pandemic has certainly changed the way the world shops. Every retailer needs to be accessible both in-person and online. In fact, having an online presence is simply table stakes at this point. This goes for businesses large and small. For any laggards, the pandemic has been a forcing function, motivating them to get online very quickly and effectively — without compromising their customer experience (CX) and checkout processes.
- The reality is that the global pandemic has made shoppers wary of using cash. Lots of transactions still happen in person, but the buying and selling process is shifting to accommodate new preferences. As such, we’re seeing more consumers opting to go cashless and contactless. Savvy retailers are adjusting to accept consumers’ preferred payment methods; all the while, keeping fraud prevention and regulations at the forefront of every transaction.
- Personalization is also becoming commonplace. Just as advertising has become very personalized, so will payment options. At some point in the near future, payments will be tailored to each and every person based on the specific purchase, the specific buyer, the point in time, and a number of other unique factors.
- Retailers should offer the same checkout options in-store as they do online. While many retailers have offered a BNPL option online only, their customers should expect to have the same service in their brick-and-mortar location as well.
- Retailers should tap into the resources available through their BNPL provider — things like POP signage, tablets, marketing messaging, and more can save a retailer precious time and money when it comes to promoting their payment services to their shoppers.
In your opinion, will retail stores or malls continue to exist? How would you articulate the role of physical retail spaces at a time when online commerce platforms like Amazon Prime or Instacart can deliver the same day or the next day?
I do not believe that traditional brick-and-mortar businesses will be replaced. People are social creatures and for many, they still want the ability to gather at traditional shopping centers, touch and feel products in-person, and make necessary purchases where online purchases may not make sense — like getting your car fixed or getting an annual eye exam.
These retailers are part of the fabric of their communities. Many retailers are essential to communities and the ones who will get it right will be those who offer a hybrid checkout solution, and be able to show the customer the entire experience, right in front of them. This means that wherever the customer wants to shop — the payment options should be right there where they are — online, in-store, contactless, etc.
The so-called “Retail Apocalypse” has been going on for about a decade. While many retailers are struggling, some retailers, like Lululemon, Kroger, and Costco are quite profitable. Can you share a few lessons that other retailers can learn from the success of profitable retailers?
At the end of the day, when you do the right thing, you will succeed. When retailers offer a great customer experience that is smooth and memorable, they will build loyalty and will be successful. It’s not always about price with consumers. For example, one such retailer that many of us are familiar with is Lululemon. Their products may cost a little more than their competitors, but they have built a loyal following because their customers trust the quality of their products. Another example is Nordstrom, who is widely recognized for their white glove customer service. And Kroger is known for the consistency of their experience no matter the location.
All of these examples tie into CX — trust, service, and consistency.
Our merchants are able to demonstrate trust, superior service, and consistency, by offering Sunbit technology. These retailers are happy that their customers can trust that they offer access to a flexible payment option that doesn’t ding their credit score, is personalized to their lifestyle, provides multiple options that work for them, and is available to almost everyone.
A Service Director at Downing Honda who offers Sunbit technology for parts & service transactions shared this: “We’ve already passed 500,000 dollars in revenue through Sunbit in 2019! With 93% approval and a sub-one-minuted process, our team is generating an average of 52K dollars a month through Sunbit. We estimate that 80% of Sunbit purchases would have otherwise walked out the door, so we get the double benefit of increased parts and service revenue and retention!”
Amazon is going to exert pressure on all of retail for the foreseeable future. New Direct-To-Consumer companies based in China are emerging that offer prices that are much cheaper than US and European brands. What would you advise to retail companies and e-commerce companies, for them to be successful in the face of such strong competition?
In order for retailers of all sizes to compete with global heavyweights, they need to provide a personalized and exceptional experience that is available wherever a customer prefers to shop.
Human-to-human experiences are where ecomm-only businesses lack and brick-and-mortar businesses excel. As I mentioned previously, the merchants we partner with operate within and serve their local communities. These essential businesses become an integral part of the social systems of their neighborhoods.
We’ve heard from countless retailers who use Sunbit, that they are able to help their customers afford their everyday needs. This happens through the natural conversations that take place at the register or during the sales experience. Many auto service centers offer Sunbit technology at check-in rather than solely at checkout. They position Sunbit as an amenity, giving their customers another option to pay without the stress or intimidation of paying for service.
The retailers who are able to hold these in-person conversations are seeing higher ticket sales and happier customers — who come back to shop again and again.
Thank you for all of that. We are nearly done. Here is our final ‘meaty’ question. You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I believe that my movement has been around democratizing access to consumer credit for everyone, everywhere. Most Americans don’t like to talk about personal finances, but we all have an income of some kind and we all have expenses. Our mission at Sunbit is to help everyday people access their everyday needs without breaking the bank. Whether it’s getting a primary vehicle fixed so people can get to where they need to go safely, or getting a new pair of glasses that are outside of what typical vision insurance covers, we’re helping shoppers make purchases without having to foot the entire bill upfront. At the same time, we’re helping retailers sell more, increase revenues and ensure positive cashflow by getting paid the next day. Sunbit is helping to keep local merchants and communities moving — especially during one of the toughest economic times we’ve faced.
My mission is to extend this model to help everyone make the most of their purchasing power and access the things they need. To fulfill this mission, we must continue to reduce the risks and costs associated with accessing financing for all people across the credit spectrum. I believe as we build better analytics and leverage machine learning and artificial intelligence, we will be able to give more people access to fair and transparent credit — without contributing to the debt spiral many people find themselves in with traditional financing solutions.
How can our readers further follow your work?
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!