Stockpile is selling what it describes as a new twist on gift cards. Instead of offering a card or a voucher, the startup allows consumers to give an investment in a publicly traded company.
"When you think about loyalty redemption and loyalty points, they are largely commodity products," says Dan Schatt, chief commercial officer for the Palo Alto, Calif.-based Stockpile, which is currently testing and is scheduled to debut this summer. "Wouldn't it be great instead to redeem rewards or gift cards for stock?"
Users send gifts by navigating a menu of publicly listed companies on Stockpile's site. After picking a company, dollar amount, recipient and optional gift message, the user pays with a debit or credit card on Stockpile, which delivers the gift via email.
The recipient can then enroll with or log into Stockpile to accept the gift, obtaining ownership of the stock the following morning. Consumers can also buy stock for themselves. Stockpile's fees are a percentage of the monetary value of the investment and are generally in line with or lower than fees from e-brokerages, Schatt says. The fees are comparable to iTunes purchase, he adds.
"If you want to send $5 worth of stock, it's kind of like PayPal for stock," says Schatt, who was general manager of financial innovations at PayPal between 2007 and 2013 (he advised Stockpile before formally joining the company in April).
"You get notified that you have stock," he says. "You open a full brokerage account with us that is fact-checked and vetted for [anti money laundering laws], and from there you get real stock on your account."
Stockpile also built a user interface that provides the brand of the company, rather than the formal name used on a stock exchange. Schatt says that makes the site easier to use for broader range of consumers. The company is recruiting financial institutions, financial technology providers, loyalty vendors or retailers to offer its service.
"Banks can place this directly into their own channels, so their customers can send stock gift cards to a niece or nephew that was just born," Schatt says.
Substituting a stock for a gift card is unusual, and Stockpile may face some challenges, says Ben Jackson, a senior analyst at Mercator.
"It seems like the tax reporting alone would be enough to dissuade people from [using stocks as gift cards]," Jackson says. "It seems like a complicated way to give someone a gift unless you think that they really would like to own the particular stock."
Recipients can also regift the stock, switch it to another company, or choose a traditional gift card, Schatt says. Stockpile will pre-fill a PDF version of an IRS 1099 form for stockholders to include with their tax return if they sell the stock. "It's very easy and there's no hassles," Schatt says.
Payment companies are putting a variety of new spins on gift cards to increase redemption. Kofax recently added tracking technology to let users to check balances, virtual gift card provider Gyft is selling its cards on First Data's tablet point of sale product, prepaid card company InComm is tailoring its gift card technology to serve small businesses and Pock.io and Gyft both enable gift card purchases via digital currency.
"Merging gift cards and stock is something new, but it fits into a broader trend of making investing accessible to a broad audience," says Daniel Van Dyke, a research specialist at Javelin Strategy & Research. Repacking stocks as gift cards can attract an addressable market of 39% of all consumers and 49% of 25-34 year olds that have gift cards, he adds.