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Upgrade acquires travel BNPL startup Uplift for $100M

Lucinda Shen
Jul 27, 2023
Illustration of a dollar sign being formed by jet streams.

Illustration: Maura Losch/Axios

Credit card and banking startup Upgrade has acquired BNPL startup Uplift for $100 million in cash and stock, the company announced Thursday.

Why it matters: As valuations in the sector cool, BNPL is becoming a hot acquisition target (again).

Driving the news: Uplift originally approached Upgrade in May, seeking investors for its Series D round.

  • Upgrade instead bought the business, seeing it as an opportunity to acquire 3.3 million additional customers and to build out its "b2b2c" business.
  • Upgrade has been offering financial products like home improvement financing through merchants — therefore counting the merchants as customers.
  • BNPL players, too, operate with a b2b2c model. Uplift works with Air Canada, Frontier, Southwest to offer travelers the option of breaking their payments into installments.

What they're saying: The deal gives Upgrade exposure to the travel industry, which now recovering after Covid lockdowns.

  • "Travel is a big market, it's $150 billion of annual spending," says Upgrade CEO Renaud Laplanche.

Context: With promises of upending the credit card market, BNPL startups boomed during the pandemic, leading to unions between Goldman Sachs and Greensky; Block and Afterpay; and, PayPal and Paidy.

State of play: As BNPL valuations fall, some companies are now seeing the opportunity to swoop at a fraction of 2021's costs.

What we're watching: Upgrade is eying further acquisitions in the future.

  • "Generally it is a good time to make acquisitions," says Laplanche. "We have the ability to make more acquisitions."
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