Lending startup Figure launches U.S. ads that aim to make blockchain mainstream

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Lending startup Figure Technologies is hoping an animated character named Blockchain will give it a competitive edge against big banks that dominate the businesses it wants to disrupt.

A puppet explains how blockchain technology works in an advertisement by fintech startup Figure Technologies in a still image from a video provided February 7, 2020.  Figure Technologies /Handout via REUTERS

In a video ad campaign set to launch on Tuesday, Blockchain the character explains blockchain the technology. Figure’s lending is based on blockchain, a bookkeeping system run by a network of computers, and if people understand it they may be more inclined to use Figure’s services, executives told Reuters.

“Now is the perfect time to educate consumers,” said Brad Simmons, Figure’s chief marketing officer. The company did not disclose how much it is spending on the ads, which will be broadcast online and on television.

Figure’s mascot, four gray blocks with metal links on his sides, takes the persona of a young know-it-all technology salesman who tells anyone who will listen how great blockchain is. He interacts with a bearded guy eating instant noodles so he can pay off student debt and a couple applying for a home loan at a bank branch.

“This place is old,” Blockchain tells the bank customers, as a white-haired employee in a suit fumbles with large stacks of paper.

Former Social Finance Inc Chief Executive Mike Cagney launched Figure in 2018. Cagney left SoFi after employees said the work environment was hostile to women and enabled senior executives to harass female employees.

In a statement at the time, Cagney said he left because he did not want to distract the company from its core focus.

SoFi grew quickly following the Great Recession by refinancing at cheaper rates student loans for strapped-but-promising graduates.

Cagney’s new venture has largely focused on home-equity loans and promises to make processes quicker, cheaper and more secure than traditional lenders can by using blockchain.

In the ads, the Blockchain character acknowledges most people do not understand the technology.

“You’ve either heard of me and you don’t know what I do, or you’ve never heard of me and you don’t know what I do,” Blockchain says.

Reporting by Anna Irrera; Writing by Lauren Tara LaCapra; Editing by Cynthia Osterman