The Truth About Nimble Loans

Wealthy businessmen have been exploiting poor people for hundreds of years. The Nimble founders are just tweaking it slightly and ripping off kids.

This week I’ve been on the hunt.

I’ve been looking for a DUFF — Designated Ugly Fat Friend. For those of you over 25, it’s the new hip phrase. They’re even making a teen comedy about it.

More accurately, though, I’ve been searching for a DUFFF, a Designated Ugly Fat Finance Friend.

It didn’t take long to find one. They’re called Nimble, and they peddle payday loans, via a slick mobile app, primarily to young people. You may have seen their ads, featuring a hipster “spokesbunny”.

Nimble are very DUFFF. They’ve got such fat and ugly fees, I just had to meet them.

Barefoot: “I’d like to interview your CEO.”

Nimble PR: “OK, sure … give us
30 minutes.”

What that really meant was: “Give us 30 minutes to Google you, to see if you’re going to write something bad about us like everyone else does.”

And if they Googled “Barefoot Investor + Loan Shark”, they wouldn’t have liked what they read. I’ve chased many a predatory lender down a burrow over the past decade, and it all started the day I heard about a young man I’ll call Trevor.

Trevor was in his 20s, lived at home with his ageing parents, and was mentally disabled. He also had a heart of gold. Trevor decided he wanted to surprise his parents with a gift, something to say “thank you” for a lifetime of care.

To get the money he needed, he went to a payday lender, and they ended up slugging him with what turned out to be 720 per cent per annum interest. Trevor was distraught. Confused. Beside himself.

I learned an important lesson that day. At the time, the lender wasn’t doing anything illegal (thankfully the government has now tightened the lending rules).

But that didn’t mean Trevor shouldn’t have been protected from these scumbags. I made a pact with a community-based financial counsellor (who’d told me about Trevor) that from then on, I’d go out of my way to spit in the eye of the village witch (or rabbit) at every opportunity.

Now back to the PR hack — 30 minutes later.

Nimble PR: “I’m sorry, the CEO is very busy, but he’ll do the interview if you email the questions.”

Barefoot: “Come on! Surely we can hook up on Snapchat, or Tinder, or what about … the phone?”

I was clearly getting nowhere. And I was counting on the CEO to give the background on the company, so I’ll have to fill in the blanks for him.

About 10 years ago, two young entrepreneurs started a loan sharking business. They called it Cash Doctors.

They found the market tough — competing against the pioneers of the payday lending industry, Cash Converters.

Thirty years before, Cash Converters had themselves been pretty hip, taking pawn shops from the dodgy end of town to high-street shopping centres. But it was never about golf clubs and pictures of dogs playing pool: rather, it legitimised high-interest-rate payday loans for cash-strapped suburbanites. It worked: today Cash Converters has a global empire of 700 stores in 21 countries.

Unable to compete, the dudes at Cash Doctors needed a new angle. So they focused on an untapped market that didn’t go into shops: Gen Y. But before they could, they needed to “doctor” their image.

You can imagine the Mad Men-style advertising pitch:

The two young entrepreneurs are leaning back in their chairs holding a bag of money. “What have you got for us?” they ask.

The ad exec takes a deep breath, and goes for it.

“Well, we’ve got a mascot. His name is Sam … Sam the Shark, and he wears shades like a real cool dude! And we’ve even given him a cool catchcry: ‘Pay back your loan, or I’ll break your f—ing legs.”

“No, No, No!” scream the entrepreneurs in unison. “We need the kids to see us as friendly. It needs to be hip, goddamn it!”

Eventually Cash Doctors got a slick Apple-inspired marketing makeover and became Nimble. Their ads cleverly target Gen Y: an attractive girl sobs because she’s taken too many selfies (LOL!) and can’t pay her phone bill. A hipster-looking bloke in a rabbit suit comes to her rescue with a payday loan. The catchcry is “Smart Little Loans”, and they’ve even created a verb: “Nimble it.”

That’s not the only thing they’ve created.

Let’s look at the facts. Nimble has the same charges as all the other loan sharks — the maximum the government’s payday laws allow.

The founders have cloaked themselves in a cool tech start-up vibe. They’re 100 per cent online, because Gen Y wouldn’t be seen dead in a traditional shark shop. (In fact, they’ve taken a lettuce leaf from the porn industry: why do something socially unacceptable in broad daylight when it’s much easier to sit at home and play with your rabbit without anyone judging you?)

And there’s the rub: these entrepreneurs are doing everything they can to distance themselves from the uncool, predatory lenders they compete with: “I shiver a little bit when I hear people talk about payday lending, because it has quite a negative stigma attached to it,” said Nimble’s chief, Sami Malia, in the media recently.

What a bloody bunny.

Let’s look at the facts. Nimble has the same charges as all the other loan sharks — the maximum the government’s payday laws allow (20 per cent of the principal, plus 4 per cent of the principal per month). Plus, if you miss a payment there’s a $35 fee, and if you don’t get your act together you’ll be whacked with an additional $7 a day … capped at 200 per cent of the principal borrowed. It doesn’t sound like much, but to a broke Gen Y it’s crippling.

And in that regard Nimble is the ultimate Designated Ugly Fat Finance Friend. Despite its slick advertising and its tech-2.0 window-dressing, Nimble isn’t anything new or funky.

Wealthy businessmen have been exploiting poor people for hundreds of years. The Nimble founders are just tweaking it slightly and ripping off kids.

As my old footy coach, Jonesy, used to tell us: “If it barks like a dog, licks its balls and sniffs other dogs’ butts … well, it’s a dog.”

Or at the very least, a very confused hipster rabbit.

Tread Your Own Path!

Now Read: How To Manage Your Money