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Wilmington credit card company rebrands, eyes growth

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Mercury Financial is the largest non-bank credit card company. It’s experiencing explosive growth in targeting “near-prime” credit customers. | PHOTO COURTESY OF MERCURY FINANCIAL

WILMINGTON – CreditShop, the nation’s largest non-bank credit card company, has rebranded to Mercury Financial as the small company eyes increasing its market share among so-called “near-prime” customers.

For Mercury, the 8-year-old company with operations split between Wilmington and Austin, Texas, the new name comes from its flagship product, the Mercury Mastercard, launched in 2017.

“As we did the research behind the CreditShop name, it wasn’t quite as inspiring as we wanted it to be. So, given the strength of our brand and how far we’ve grown it, we decided that we wanted to use the Mercury name to reinforce our products in the marketplace,” Sisy Vicente, the company’s product and marketing officer, told Delaware Business Times.

As part of its renewed focus under CEO James “Jim” Peterson, who took the helm in late 2019, Mercury is targeting its offerings at those with credit scores between 600 and 700, or just under “prime” levels, among other factors, Vicente said.

“We’re talking about those people who have actually had a financial setback. They have a very hard time getting approved for credit from other bigger players,” she said. “Life happens, and what we’ve understood from our customers is that a number of the setbacks are really caused by life events, like losing a job, which has been especially prevalent during COVID, or having a sickness in the family that caused very high medical bills.”

Mercury’s offerings have no annual fees, security deposit requirements, or fraud liability, a departure from many industry norms for those under top credit levels. It also offers 1% cash back rewards on purchases, another feature common to many cards nowadays but rarely to Mercury’s targeted demographic.

Vicente said that Mercury’s proprietary software assesses applicants on a variety of factors, including employment and recent payment history despite previous troubles.

“Good behavior on their other credit lines shows you that they’re really making an effort to move their cards forward,” she said. “We’re also looking at people who have secured cards who are looking for other forms of credit to help supplement what they have.”

Mercury has seen 50% customer growth over the past year, which could lead to additional job growth in Wilmington. | PHOTO COURTESY OF MERCURY FINANCIAL

The company has about 600,000 current cardholders and experienced about 50% growth over the past year as many consumers turned to credit cards to buy goods online or pay bills. Vicente touted Mercury’s low exit rates, noting that it commits to making payments easy for customers looking to rebuild their credit, even allowing debit cards for payment.

“In the next couple of years, we’d like to double our growth,” she said.

Part of Mercury’s growth plan comes via co-branded cards, such as the agreement it struck with low-cost airline Spirit Airlines in February. While Bank of America serves prime credit customers for Spirit’s co-branded credit cards, Mercury will now target a group of customers that the larger bank avoided. Vicente said Mercury is in the midst of discussions with a number of travel and entertainment companies about similar products.

“The next phase for our growth and development is to look at how we can become a complimentary lender for these loyalty programs that want to reach the near-prime audience,” she said, noting that success with Spirit’s program could lead to other opportunities in which Bank of America is involved.

Mercury employs more than 80 people in Wilmington, working out of the Star Building on the Riverfront that is also home to student loan servicer Navient. Vicente said that the company recently expanded its lease across an entire floor in the building and refurbished the space in preparation for the staff’s post-pandemic return.

“We want to grow our employee base in line with our growth targets for the company,” she said, noting that the roles in Wilmington already span the gamut from operations to marketing to customer service.

The company’s growth plans are backed by a new $100 million incremental investment by its longtime investor, Minneapolis-based private equity firm Värde Partners, and new investor Brigade Capital Management, a private equity firm based in New York. A Brigade representative will join Mercury’s board with the investment.

Vicente said that the company was also encouraged by the recent closing of its inaugural master trust securitization, totaling $950 million across different asset classes. Mercury was oversubscribed on its offering, raising the securitization about 25% from its $750 million initial offering, she added.

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