How Upgrade Founder Renaud Laplanche is Transforming Banking

Upgrade is a credit-led neobank transforming the field by providing consumers access to responsible financial products. The company is valued at over $6 billion, and the Financial Times named it in 2021 the fastest-growing companies in the Americas. This company’s success is a breath of fresh air, given the negative impact on the development of fintech caused by the Silicon Valley Bank failure.

But fintech is here to stay — and those interested in its development and future would do well to look to Upgrade co-founder and CEO Renaud Laplanche. “At its core, fintech is about using online or mobile devices to access financial services,” Laplanche explained. “By limiting in-person interactions and reducing trips to the local branch, fintech products help users meet their needs from the safety of their home. While fintech innovation often comes from startups, banks often play a major role in taking the innovation mainstream.”

Renaud Laplanche knows what he’s talking about. He manages the company’s day-to-day decision-making and business strategy. Under his leadership, the blueprint has been devised with a customer-centric approach and this focus has allowed Upgrade to design products that truly respond to its customers’ needs. The success of these products can be gauged from the fact that Upgrade has disbursed over $23 billion in affordable consumer credit in only five years.  

In 2021 and 2022, the Nilson Report listed Upgrade Card, Upgrade’s credit card, as the fastest-growing credit card in the United States. This has made Upgrade the only fintech company in the United States among the top 25 U.S. card issuers.

Said Renaud Laplanche, “We are excited to see the continued momentum of Upgrade Card. We believe we offer the lowest cost and most consumer-friendly card in the market, designed in such a way that consumers pay down their balance every month, save on the cost of interest, and sleep better at night as they’re paying down their debt.”

The Banking Industry and the Fintech Sector

The success of Upgrade is interlinked with the overall health of the fintech sector, which has been impacted by the ongoing banking crisis. Many fintech companies are partnered with banks and this interdependence has created a precarious situation. However, under Renaud Laplanche’s leadership, Upgrade’s success is proof of the capabilities of fintech, and all that’s needed is to harness these capabilities is innovative and responsible leadership. 

Laplanche is perfectly suited to be at the helm of a credit-focused fintech company because he’s been working at the convergence of finance and technology for nearly two decades, championing many innovative products that have earned him global recognition. 

He started his career at Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton as a senior associate specializing in securities law. During his time at the law firm, Laplanche also worked on technology-related matters, igniting an interest in the field. 

Soon after leaving the law firm, he founded a startup called TripleHop Technologies. The company suffered a massive setback in 2001 when its office in the World Trade Center in New York City was destroyed during the 9/11 attacks. Despite this, Laplanche persevered, and in 2005, his company was acquired by Oracle Corporation. 

From 2005 to 2006, Laplanche stayed in California working for Oracle Technologies in product management. He was directly responsible for overseeing sales of the company’s search engine products and managing product integration. 

Before starting Upgrade, Laplanche co-founded and successfully ran Lending Club. His company revolutionized the financial world by directly connecting borrowers to investors. With banks being removed as intermediaries, Lending Club provided low interest rates to its customers and soon became America’s largest online marketplace that connected borrowers with investors. 

For his success at Lending Club, Laplanche was noted on Bloomberg Market’s 2015 Most Influential List — a roster of the top 50 individuals in finance, technology, and politics. In 2014, he was also awarded The Economist’s Innovation Award. 

After being in the financial and technology industry for nearly two decades, Laplanche realized there was a need to improve access to responsible credit products. The result is Upgrade Inc. The company provides credit cards, loans, and mobile banking services. In addition to giving easy access to credit, the company also helps its customers make better financial decisions to achieve their goals. 

Whether customers need credit to fix a roof or buy a bike, Upgrade has over 200 partner banks that provide it. The best part about Upgrade’s business model is that there are no hidden fees or the risk of getting trapped in an endless cycle of credit card debt. 

When asked about the change he’s working on, Laplanche told Principal Post, “Financial product innovation that benefits consumers, rather than the big banks and Wall Street as we’ve seen for so many years.” 

And he’s putting his ideas into tangible action. Take, for instance, the Upgrade Card, a card designed to be used for occasional big-ticket purchases. The reason it quickly became one of Upgrade’s most popular products is that Laplanche’s team designed each step of the process from the customer’s perspective, including marketing. As a result, Upgrade Card is America’s fastest-growing credit card and has helped put the company on the map. 

Laplanche believes that his company is making a positive change in the lives of its customers because it has provided them with the tools necessary to make sound financial decisions. By accessing both payment and credit facilities from their mobile devices, customers can instantly evaluate whether they can undertake a financial obligation. 

“As the CEO of Upgrade, I am very excited about the company’s ability to make positive changes in millions of lives. Our 2.5 million customers enjoy more affordable and responsible credit with Upgrade Card, which helps them move in the right direction and accomplish their financial goals,” Laplanche told Principal Post.

None of these accomplishments, however, would have been possible without Laplanche’s amazing team — and he’s well aware of that. 

“Of all the awards Upgrade has received, I am particularly proud of the employee recognition, including best company to work for and best company for women, minorities, and veterans,” he said. Laplanche has a history of being an employee favorite. In 2015, he won a Glassdoor Employees’ Choice Award after receiving a 97% approval rate from his employees. 

Together, Laplanche and his team are working to sustain the future of fintech by continuing to provide creative financial solutions to consumers. The fall of SVB and Credit Suisse has hurled the banking system into a period of great uncertainty. With lawmakers scrambling to contain the fallout, entrepreneurs such as Laplanche are essential because they can harness the capabilities of fintech to provide long-term solutions to global financial problems.

And for Renaud Laplanche, when it comes down to brass tacks, fintech is all about people.

“For me it’s all about having an impact,” he said. “The most satisfying moment is when our customers tell us what our products mean to them, and what a difference it made in their life. Fintech firms like Upgrade have a unique opportunity to change people’s lives for the better because credit and other banking products are so meaningful.

“Affordable credit can make all the difference in the world for a family and help them thrive, while irresponsible credit products like traditional credit cards can send them into a revolving debt spiral.”