Customer Loyalty and Fluidity in AFS and Traditional Lending

November 26, 2019 by Ann Chen

Article written by Melanie Smith, Senior Copywriter, Experian Clarity Services, Inc.

It’s been almost a decade since the Great Recession in the United States ended, but consumers continue to feel its effects. During the recession, millions of Americans lost their jobs, retirement savings decreased, real estate reduced in value and credit scores plummeted. Consumers that found themselves impacted by the financial crisis often turned to alternative financial services (AFS).

Since the end of the recession, customer loyalty and retention has been a focus for lenders, given that there are more options than ever before for AFS borrowers. To determine what this looks like in the current climate, we examined today’s non-prime consumers, what their traditional scores look like and if they are migrating to traditional lending.

What are alternative financial services (AFS)?

Alternative financial services (AFS) is a term often used to describe the array of financial services offered by providers that operate outside of traditional financial institutions. In contrast to traditional banks and credit unions, alternative service providers often make it easier for consumers to apply and qualify for lines of credit but may charge higher interest rates and fees.

More than 50% of new online AFS borrowers were first seen in 2018

To determine customer loyalty and fluidity, we looked extensively at the borrowing behavior of AFS consumers in the online marketplace. We found half of all online borrowers were new to the space as of 2018, which could be happening for a few different reasons.

Over the last five years, there has been a growing preference to the online space over storefront. For example, in our trends report from 2018, we found that 17% of new online customers migrated from the storefront single pay channel in 2017, with more than one-third of these borrowers from 2013 and 2014 moving to online overall. There was also an increase in AFS utilization by all generations in 2018. Additionally, customers who used AFS in previous years are now moving towards traditional credit sources.

2017 AFS borrowers are migrating to traditional credit

As we examined the borrowing behavior of AFS consumers in relation to customer loyalty, we found less than half of consumers who used AFS in 2017 borrowed from an AFS lender again in 2018. Looking into this further, about 35% applied for a loan but did not move forward with securing the loan and nearly 24% had no AFS activity in 2018.

We furthered our research to determine why these consumers dropped off. After analyzing the national credit database to see if any of these consumers were borrowing in the traditional credit space, we found that 34% of 2017 borrowers who had no AFS activity in 2018 used traditional credit services, meaning 7% of 2017 borrowers migrated to traditional lending in 2018.

Traditional credit scores of non-prime borrowers are growing

After discovering that 7% of 2017 online borrowers used traditional credit services in 2018 instead of AFS, we wanted to find out if there had also been an improvement in their credit scores. Historically, if someone is considered non-prime, they don’t have the same access to traditional credit services as their prime counterparts. A traditional credit score for non-prime consumers is less than 600.

Using VantageScore 3.0, we examined the credit scores of consumers who used and did not use AFS in 2018. We found about 23% of consumers who switched to traditional lending had a near-prime credit score, while only 8% of those who continued in the AFS space were classified as near-prime. Close to 10% of consumers who switched to traditional lending in 2018 were classified in the prime category. Considering it takes much longer to improve a traditional credit rating, it’s likely that some of these borrowers may have been directly impacted by the recession and improved their scores enough to utilize traditional credit sources again.

Key takeaways

AFS remains a viable option for consumers who do not use traditional credit or have a credit score that doesn’t allow them to utilize traditional credit services. New AFS borrowers continue to appear even though some borrowers from previous years have improved their credit scores enough to migrate to traditional credit services. Customers who are considered non-prime still use AFS, as well as some near-prime and prime customers, which indicates customer loyalty and retention in this space.

For more information about customer loyalty and other recently identified trends, download our recent reports.

State of Alternative Data 2019 Lending Report