Calling Out Points Programs As A Ruse, Expensify Enables ‘Instant’ Karma

Expensify founder and CEO David Barrett on Monday evening announced an ambitious program for social change that, among other measures, directs 10 percent of revenue generated from its corporate card to charity.

The company created a charitable organization that solicits donations from non-customers as well as those using Expensify’s payment and expense solutions. The mission is fighting hunger, homelessness and climate change, among other ills. The card program is called Karma Points.

“Just use the Expensify Card for any business purchase like normal, and you’ll earn Karma Points that we’ll donate on your behalf, along with an instant notification about which cause that purchase supported,” Barrett wrote in an impassioned email to contacts that also detailed Expensify’s philanthropic origin story.

Looking to share spending power with the people, Barrett called out traditional card points programs as little more than a prank.

Expensify Karma Points

“After you swallow the ‘hook’ of free points to sign up, it’s real hard to make the points you earn later justify all the hidden fees and extra interest payments,” he wrote. “The large print giveth, the small print taketh away. If ‘points’ were instead called ‘pennies’ then nobody would care about them — even though they aren’t even worth pennies. Points are like pennies you can only spend on a full moon at an invisible concession stand guarded by pumas. I’m sure many, many will disagree, but it seems like the whole points game exploits the same statistical fallacies (and questionable motivations) as casinos: the billboards show ordinary people with fists full of money living lavish lives, but in reality the house always wins. Rewards worth hundreds of billions of dollars go unredeemed every year, and most people with rewards cards spend more in fees and interest than the paltry rewards they earn.

“When you remove all the marketing spin and statistical subterfuge, splitting something as small as fractions of pennies between a million different cardholders isn’t inspiring — to anyone,” according to Barrett. “But what if we instead combined all those millions of fractions of pennies, and put them into the hands of those who need them a whole lot more than we do? We’re taking the tiny amount that every other provider tries to convince you is a big deal, and instead giving it to someone to whom it is a big deal.”

The card program uses merchant category codes to sort spending toward relevant donations.

Buying meals or groceries helps give children “reliable access to school lunch.” Booking hotels could “reunite someone with their family for good.” Booking a flight or car rental — or paying for gas or a taxi — results in carbon capture “to mitigate the worst effects of climate change.”

A fourth program reconnects graduating foster kids by treating them to lunches with parents (supported through purchases of office supplies). Another helps previously incarcerated individuals get back on their feet, funded when paying typical utility or services bills.

“While this automatic offsetting feature is built into every purchase with the Expensify Card, no company has perfect corporate card compliance,” Barrett noted. A corporate offset feature allows clients to make donations for spending not on the Expensify Card.

Users whose firms do not elect to participate can make “personal offsets.”

David Barrett, Expensify
Expensify CEO and founder David Barrett

Barrett concluded with an appeal: “We are inundated by messages, messengers and memes calculated to enrage us all, to a point of paralysis. There are countless thousands of engineers who are devoted to perfecting social networks, seemingly designed for little purpose but to reinforce our confirmation biases by scouring the global detritus of amateur tabloids. There are countless millions of people crafting these messages, using these tools and harnessing your incapacitating anger to further their ends. It’s easy to give up, to accept that they are responsible, and that you are helpless. My resolution in 2020 is to turn off that noise, and I’d ask you to do the same. Turn off the talking heads on TV. Turn off the echo chamber online. Stop being the fuel for their machines. Stop caring so much about the outrageous thing that person you don’t know did in that place you can’t find on a map, and redirect that caring to the people living on the street outside your door, to the kids struggling to get lunch at your kid’s school, and into truly constructive action to solve the sobering problems facing this world.

“We spent a staggering amount of time, money and creativity,” he wrote, to birth “a globally distributed platform for locally applied charity. But we’re just one company. The Expensify Card is our way of helping all companies not just save hours doing expenses, but truly combine forces to save the world, one swipe at a time. This is our world after all, and for the foreseeable future, we’ve only got the one. Let’s make the most of it.”


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Jay Campbell

Author: Jay Campbell

Jay Campbell in 2004 created travel business newsletter The Beat, in 2006 co-founded Travel Procurement magazine and in 2010 integrated them with Business Travel News. He served as editorial director until 2013. Jay made his travel industry media debut in 1993 at the Air Travel Journal of Boston while earning his undergraduate degree in journalism at Boston University.
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