Marketing credit builder to the U.S. market

Ankit Bagga
8 min readNov 18, 2022

Zolve is a global neo-bank that started with an aim to provide banking solutions to immigrants from India to the U.S. Owing to the niche demographics (specifically students and working professions immigrating to the U.S.), we soon realized that scaling this through digital would be tough. Alternatively, Affiliates, visa-centers, and referrals continued to be a great catalyst for growth for the company considering the CAC and market share expectations.

Since Zolve’s partner bank was a US bank (CFSB) and we had access to the credit scores of Indians who were supposedly immigrating, we could underwrite them farily easily. But the market was limited, as during fall anywhere between 80K students went to the U.S.. While working professionals were in the range of 250K annually and working professionals who were immigrating (under L1 and H1B) could easily get a credit card in the U.S. and moreover their companies also helped them.

Thus, Azpire came into inception.

Zolve Azpire is a credit builder card (sort of like a secured credit card) that lets you build credit using your own bank balance. You park your money in a security deposit with no minimum balance and the same amount is extended to you as credit.

Since almost everybody in the U.S. cared about their credit scores, Azpire lets them build/repair credit scores without worrying about spending more than what they could afford.

Credit scores affect the interest rates on loans, insurance premiums, and even people’s job prospects.

There was no subscription or application fee, no minimum deposit, no late fee, no APR, No SSN requirement, and no credit checks required. And the interchange was the only source of revenue and Azpire was meant to serve as a gateway to some of the other services that we were building.

Link to Azpire Landing page:

User Persona

There were a lot of persona who could benefit a lot from a credit builder product like Azpire. From international students and immigrants from Mexico (10M in SAM) to the U.S. who want to build their credit scores without having any SSN to dependents of the working professionals who go along under L2 and H2B visas.

As far as the native U.S. residents were considered, there were debit-preferred users (who are wary of using credit cards), New To Credit (NTC), or people looking for credit repair services, and gig workers (60M in SAM).

Marketing Mix

Since we were operating out of India, marketing a product like Azpire to the US audience has it’s own challenges. After doing a competitive analysis and considering the challenges of execution and attribution that we would face with the offline advertising, we froze on the following marketing mix;

1. Building In-house affiliates and Ad networks like Rakuten and publishers like (NerdWallet, Pennyhoarder and WalletHub) (30%)
2. Paid marketing across AdWords, Facebook, TikTok, Taboola, and Reddit (30%)
3. Influencer marketing across Youtube, TikTok (20%)
4. Community engagement across Reddit and Facebook (10%)
5. Email and direct mail marketing to Experian database (10%)

Cold Warm and Hot Strategy

For the first cut on the marketing strategy, we were sending users to a page that directly talks about the product and its features had the following drawbacks:

1. It doesn’t educate people about the concept of credit builder cards
2. Doesn’t distinguish product features from the category (secured credit card) features
3. Feels very pushy
4. Doesn’t differentiate users on the basis of their level of product and problem awareness

For the Cold-warm-hot strategy we followed a 3 tiered approach;

Cold: to educate people on the problem of why credit scores are important and why they need to fix it and how to fix it
Warm: to educate users on the solution of a credit builder card in the form of a secured credit card
Hot: to educate users on how Azpire is the best credit builder card of all

Cold Segment:

Here the marketing collaterals talks about
1. Stories of how credit score tanked for people and how they recovered it. These are meant to evoke emotions and make these videos relatable.
2. How Recession can take a toll on credit scores
3. Statistics based image ads: “47% of employers check credit score before hiring” “52% of credit default is because of health emergencies”
4. Cost of having a bad credit

Link to the page:

credit score tracker page
Cost of having a bad credit

Warm Segment

Here the marketing collaterals talks about
1. Why you should use a credit builder/secured credit card?
2. How secured credit cards are better than typical debit and credit cards
3. What should you consider before you get a secured credit card?
4. How Azpire is one of the best credit builder/secured credit card in the market

Link to the page:

Secured credit builder card with typical debit and credit card

Hot segment:

Here the marketing collaterals are about;
1. What is Zolve Azpire?
2. Comparison with competitors
3. Reviews and testimonials
4. FAQs about Azpire

Link to the page:

Azpire reviews

Execution of strategy

For us to implement the cold-warm and hot strategy
1. People are driven to the different landing pages according to some key interactions on the videos/collateral/landing pages to access where tier they belong to.
2. People who go to the Cold landing page are re-marketed through cookies to the warm landing page
3. We experimented with video replacements of the landing pages and capture intent by the avg watch time on a video to gauge interest. Eg: a video on how credit builder card/ secured credit card works to build credit can replace the warm landing page

1. If we drive people to credit tracker page, wouldn’t that increase leakage?
No, as the credit score tracker itself takes the user inside the funnel
Also, we don’t always need to re-market people, the users have the option to go inside the funnel by themselves by clicking on hotlinks on all the pages that takes them from Cold to warm to Hot Landing pages
2. The ads need to be click baity for the cold and warm strategy to work as there is no product placement but sheere content value on those pages

Positioning test

To get through the initial phase of the positioning tests, we had some hypotheses around what would appeal to what kind of audience, we created a way to integrate a Google Sheet with the Hot landing page to dynamically change the above-the-fold text on the product page. This helped us create offers on the fly and test value propositions by appending a query parameter with the URL of the page.

The sheet looked like this;

The above shows the various positionings that we were able to test. We started the digital campaigns with search ads (targeting people searching for credit builder products), video ads on youtube videos related to credit card/credit builder cards, targeting affinities like gig workers, and immigrants along with custom affinity audience targeting competitor traffic with ads and landing pages that showcased about Azpire was better than other competitors including Chime, Credit Sesame etc.

Link to competitor comparison page:

Tackling Fraud

In the last leg of the product launch, we started a waitlist campaign to get people excited about Azpire and get some early sign ups. The campaigns then were very limited to Zolve existing users that we couldn’t cater to as they might not have a good credit score in India or belonged to countries other than India.

As soon as the product was launched, we started the paid digital with highly targeted campaigns on Google and Facebook, some organic posts on Reddit, and some bit of cold emailing to databases bought from third-party vendors (of people with low credit scores in the U.S.). Soon people started joining the program and we saw a humongous increase in sign-ups, profiles and account creations. So much so that we once thought that the product had gone viral.

Soon the reality hit and we realized that we were hit by a fraud ring and the number of ACH withdrawals increased to 70% which had to be capped to a maximum of 15%.

Next couple of weeks, there were a lot of stringent checks implemented from Sardine to Socure to Plaid integration along with additional checks on email vintage to make sure that we minimize fraud along with putting limits on ACH reversals.

This drastically hit our conversion rates and KYC costs.

But ACH reversals were one thing, if these fraudsters would continue to be in the system, they would soon be a big chargeback fraud. After placing all checks on the fraud, we figured out that marketing would now need to be in full coordination with the fraud team to understand the risk level on a user id level. Thus we passed our internal User id as a custom dimension in GA to optimize campaigns and pass on our fraud learnings to the channel and audience resulting in more fraud.

While the situation came under control, fraud is one of the biggest problems plaguing the U.S. finance market owing to the ACH system. While FCRA promotes the accuracy, fairness, and privacy of consumer information contained in the files of consumer reporting agencies, it poses restrictions on how this data on fraudsters is shared among other financial institutions. Thus giving fraudsters an incentive to continue being in the system.

While we continue to refine the fraud engine and work seamlessly with the marketing team to optimize the campaigns, making a product like Azpire successful requires a fine and real-time balance between fraud and marketing, taking into account the cost of KYC as part of the CAC.

Originally published at