, an Ann Arbor-based financial technology company that helps banks and credit unions improve their customers' credit card health, recently raised $4 million in seed funding.
The funding round was led by Flyover Capital
and Reseda Group
, with participation from Detroit Venture Partners
and Michigan Rise
"From a mission perspective, this is the capital and resources that we need to be able to go out and prove that we can actually improve people's credit card health and improve banking credit unions' bottom lines in the process," says Joseph Gracia, the company's founder and CEO.
Nickels grew out of a nonprofit behavioral design lab called ideas42 Venture Studio
. Gracia says that research the studio conducted found that students were "actually more challenged with behavioral problems rather than financial ones." When Nickels was created in 2019, the initial intent was to try to help student borrowers better manage their federal student loan payments.
"But as they say, timing is everything, and our timing in 2019 was terrible," Gracia says. "I was in San Francisco to raise our seed round and all my meetings got canceled because of the pandemic. Then the government paused nearly all student loan payments."
With the payment freeze nearing three years, the company was nearing bankruptcy and on the brink of shutting down. However, Gracia says the Nickels team realized that there was "a similiar, tangential" opportunity around credit card debt, leading to the creation of Nickels' Credit Card Coach tool.
"Cardholders in the US are charged over $110 billion every year in interest in fees on their credit card debt, which is kind of a mindblowing number. Our goal is to try to get it as close to zero as possible," Gracia says. "There's no reason Americans should be paying that much in interest fees."
Banks and credit unions pay for Nickels' services to help them help their customers with credit card management. When credit card users seek to aggregate their cards, manage payments, control spending, or use their cards to improve their credit score, the banks and credit unions who use Nickels get access to what's going on with their customers' third-party credit cards.
"Then they can create a win-win situation of helping them refinance the revolving credit card debt into an installment personal loan and put them on a payment plan to actually pay off that debt," he says.
Gracia shares that, from a behavioral standpoint, the credit card system seems designed to optimize the fees that banks can charge – instead of promoting people's real, longer-term credit card health. Describing the area as "an aspect of financial wellness conversations that is woefully under-discussed," Gracia is confident that the new funding will help Nickels bring attention to this area.
"We can help banks and credit unions support their customers with a new aspect of their financial life that they're not supporting today, making happier, stickier, more engaged customers," he says. "We're excited that we're starting to get more resources in different areas to be able to go after this opportunity more aggressively."
Jaishree Drepaul is a freelance writer and editor currently based in Ann Arbor. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photos courtesy of Nickels.