Gray, a 25-year credit industry veteran and COO of Zip, co-founded Zip with CEO Larry Diamond in 2013. The Sydneysider, who is married with two daughters, is also passionate about horse racing and owner of several race horses. He owns a little over 3% stake in Zip and is one of the big winners in the rise of the BNPL sector in Australia.
In Australia, which Gray argues is arguably the most “mature” BNPL market in the world, Zip has around 2.5 million customers and is considering other financial services it could provide to this predominantly younger cohort. So far, it offers business loans as well as BNPL, but it has flagged the possibility of offering cryptocurrency, stock, or high yield savings accounts.
The rapid growth of the sector has sparked a growing battle with the banks, with the Commonwealth Bank llaunches its own BNPL servicee as part of its attempt to maintain its dominant position with young clients. Gray argues that there is still a lot of domestic growth to be achieved, including rolling out BNPL in traditional bricks and mortar, and dismisses the banking sector’s lack of innovation.
“At the highest level, they [banks] all jostle and fall asleep at the wheel to some extent to interact with young customers by listening to what they want and market trends, ”he says.
For investors, however, it is the potential for growth abroad that is most exciting.
Tribeca Investment Partners portfolio manager Jun Bei Liu, a shareholder in Zip and Afterpay, says there is a “huge” urgency for overseas expansion, and Zip is keeping up with its larger competitors. “They don’t necessarily take part in anyone, but they follow the growth,” she says.
However, making inroads into new regions outside of the major western markets of North America, UK and Europe could be more difficult.
According to Morningstar analyst Shaun Ler, regions such as Asia, South America or Russia would be more difficult to penetrate due to a stricter regulatory environment. That said, he says the strategy of pursuing rapid growth overseas is good for Zip, because if they don’t enter those markets, someone else will.
“Much of the land grab will take place over the next 6 to 18 months. This is where you have to grow up, ”says Ler.
So where could Zip go next? He has a team looking for opportunities and recently made a strategic investment in the Philippine operator TendoPay. When Gray is asked about Asia as a prospect, he highlights this investment and says the company is “certainly very interested” in other potential opportunities.
But for now, the United States is the main game.
During this period, revenues from its US Quadpay business will exceed Australia’s, which will likely raise even more questions about a possible US listing, as Afterpay continuesg. Gray says that a potential Nasdaq listing or double listing “ticks quite a few boxes” and could help his assessment, but he points out that this option is only considered at the beginning.
“An increasing percentage of our business will be based in the United States. So having exposure to this exchange, giving us access to a broader set of US investors who could value the company in different ways relative to other markets makes a lot of sense, ”he says.
Amid all the focus on growth, the company is not yet profitable, and skeptics warn that today’s high valuations are downplaying Zip’s future capital needs, as well as the risks associated with the competition and tighter regulation.
But Zip has seen an astonishing change in fortunes. Gray recalls that around this time last year, the company was forced to lay off around 20% of its staff and was “really looking at the unknown”. Since then, its stock price has increased roughly fourfold, it has made a transformative move in the United States, and membership has nearly doubled to around 700.
“It has certainly been a pretty crazy 12 months,” he says. “The fact that the company has been so resilient, and not only resilient, but that we have been able to make successful acquisitions and grow during this time, is pretty crazy.
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