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Is this the man who invented BNPL?

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A few people got excited about Affirm working with Apple Pay to embed BNPL (buy now, pay later) in their services. As reported by CNBC:

  • Apple device users will be able to tap into buy now, pay later loans from Affirm for purchases
  • Affirm will surface as an option for Apple Pay users on iPhones and iPads later this year
  • Apple also said that instalment loans via credit and debit cards would be available on Apple Pay in the U.S. with Citigroup, Synchrony and Fiserv-related issuers

Great stuff.

BNPL is everywhere now but the first time I heard the term was when I interviewed Klarna’s co-founder Niklas Adalberth in 2015. Back then BNPL was very new and, like payday loans, there has been a big rise in questioning whether BNPL is appropriate or encourages bright young things to get into heavy debt. It’s no now and so new and so everything … or is it?

I stumbled across a report a banker in Rome 2,000 years ago who offered BNPL and tutted, as the idea is not new. Who was this man and what was his idea?

Lucius Caecilius Iucundus. According to Wikipedia, Lucius Caecilius Iucundus was a banker who lived in the Roman town of Pompeii around AD 14–62. His house is known for its frescoes and the trove of wax tablets discovered there in 1875, which gave scholars access to the records of Iucundus's banking operations. He is also the basis of the Doctor Who character Lobus Caecilius, played by Peter Capaldi*.

Truth be strictly told, he wasn’t your everday banker. He was a BNPL banker called an argentarius. An argentarius  acted as a middleman in auctions, which mean that Caecilius would pay the vendor at the action for the purchased item by his client. He would then grant the buyer a time frame in which to repay him, which was anything from a few months or even a year.

In doing this, the argentarius would receive interest on the loan, as well as a commission (known as a merces). Oh, and if you didn’t pay the loan back … you were sold into slavery or jailed. Times haven’t changed much, have they?

 

* Lobus Caecilius was trying to impress the augur Lucius Petrus Dextrus, and so he bought Doctor Who’s TARDIS at the market, intending to display it as "modern art". Meanwhile, initially planning to leave them to suffer the horrors that history had planned for them – Mount Vesuvius was about to erupt and destroy Pompeii – the Doctor (then played by David Tennant) was convinced by his assistant, Donna Noble, to save Caecilius and his family. The result was that Caecilius and his family resettled in Rome, and adopted the Doctor and Donna as their household gods.

Peter Capaldi played the part Lobus Caecilius of Meanwhile in this episode of Doctor Who: The Fires of Pompeii, which aired April 12 2008. In the episode, the tenth Doctor told Donna that he was not going to forget Caecilius' face in a hurry, as he considered it to be a good, "strong" face. Indeed, the Doctor later took on the face of Caecilius when he regenerated into his twelfth incarnation … played by Peter Capaldi.

 

** purely as an fyi most people believe that money lending goes back about 5,000 years to ancient Mesopotamia (yes, the same people who invented money for sex!). Located in today's Middle East, ancient Mesopotamia was home to many different groups and, before fiat currency was widely used, these ancient peoples would borrow cash with the promise to pay later with food when their crops yielded in the summer.

 

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Chris M Skinner

Chris Skinner is best known as an independent commentator on the financial markets through his blog, TheFinanser.com, as author of the bestselling book Digital Bank, and Chair of the European networking forum the Financial Services Club. He has been voted one of the most influential people in banking by The Financial Brand (as well as one of the best blogs), a FinTech Titan (Next Bank), one of the Fintech Leaders you need to follow (City AM, Deluxe and Jax Finance), as well as one of the Top 40 most influential people in financial technology by the Wall Street Journal's Financial News. To learn more click here...

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