Home Banking New Synchrony CEO bets on health care, e-commerce to drive growth

New Synchrony CEO bets on health care, e-commerce to drive growth

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Brian Doubles, the new CEO of Synchrony Financial, is focusing on partnerships with e-commerce companies and health care providers as the credit card issuer expects a resurgence in consumer spending.

Doubles is a longtime Synchrony executive who last week announced a reorganization of the company that will separate online partners such as Amazon and Venmo into their own group. In one of his first interviews since taking the helm in April, he said that the revamped corporate structure will help Synchrony’s teams gain more expertise in each industry in which their retail partners operate, and also better anticipate its partners’ needs.

“The products and capabilities that a Venmo needs from us and how we integrate inside of the Venmo app is very different from what we would do with a retail partner who has a big digital presence but also has a big store footprint,” Doubles said Wednesday.

Synchrony Financial CEO Brian Doubles, who took over from Margaret Keane in April, announced a reorganization plan last week that will put credit-card partnerships with e-commerce companies into their own unit.

Stamford, Connecticut-based Synchrony, a longtime specialist in store-branded credit cards, has pushed aggressively into e-commerce in recent years. The $96 billion-asset company works with PayPal on the Venmo credit card, which launched in October. It also lists eBay, Rakuten and Google Store among its partners.

As part of the reorganization, Doubles created a new division within Synchrony that will focus solely on digital players. The moves split e-commerce firms and other digital companies off from a division that had lumped them together with more traditional retailers like Lowe’s, JCPenney and Dick’s Sporting Goods.

Synchrony, which currently offers a private-label card with Amazon, is reportedly interested in expanding its relationship with the e-commerce giant. Bloomberg reported Wednesday that both Synchrony and American Express have put in bids to take over a general-purpose Amazon credit card portfolio currently run by JPMorgan Chase. Doubles declined to comment.

The recently announced reorganization goes beyond creating a sharper focus on digital retailers. Synchrony’s three preexisting divisions will grow to five, with Lowe’s and Crate & Barrel moving into a new Home & Auto division, and the discount retailers Sam’s Club and TJX, which runs T.J. Maxx and Marshalls, moving into a new Diversified & Value group.

Partner companies that had been part of Synchrony’s CareCredit unit will now be in a Health & Wellness division, which Doubles sees as an avenue for growth.

The CareCredit arm, which customers use for out-of-pocket health expenses and veterinary costs, has been a relatively small portion of Synchrony’s total loans, with $9.3 billion in loan receivables at the end of March, making up a 12% slice of its loan book.

While CareCredit is accepted in many dental and veterinary offices, Doubles said that the company’s “new frontier” is tapping into the broader health care market, particularly the elective procedures that Americans are starting to schedule again.

Synchrony has so far signed on only 13 health care systems and hospitals, but that list includes two heavy hitters in Cleveland Clinic and Kaiser Permanente.

“We have first-mover advantage here,” Doubles said. “We’re the first ones in there talking to them about a product like CareCredit.”

The potential upside for CareCredit is “underappreciated,” said Wolfe Research analyst Bill Carcache. Synchrony has less than 2% share of the $500 billion U.S. market for out-of-pocket health care expenses and pet expenditures, and even a small gain in that percentage could boost its recurring earnings substantially, Carcache said.

Doubles was elevated to the CEO role following a two-year stint as president and 10 years as chief financial officer. He succeeded Margaret Keane, who retired more than five years after guiding Synchrony through its spinoff from General Electric.

Like other consumer lenders, Synchrony has seen its loan balances decline over the last year, as customers have used government stimulus checks and savings accumulated throughout the pandemic to pay down debts. But that trend is starting to change, with card purchases picking up as the economy reopens, Doubles said.

“There’s pent-up demand no matter where we look across our portfolio,” he said. “No matter what industry we look at, we’re seeing pretty good consumer trends.”

Synchrony is hoping to tap into that demand, not only through retail partnerships but also by dipping its toes into the market for cards that are not store-branded. The Synchrony Premier World Mastercard, which is currently only available with an invitation, offers 2% cash back on all purchases.

One of Doubles’s top priorities as CEO is to diversify Synchrony’s revenues, and the 2% cash back card offers an opportunity in that regard. But the product faces substantial competition from the likes of JPMorgan Chase, Capital One and Citigroup.

Doubles said that catching up with the big issuers of general-purpose credit cards will not happen overnight. “We know how to do this, but we also know that it takes time to build a business to that scale,” he said.