Insider Q&A: Brian Doubles, CEO of Synchrony Financial

NEW YORK — Synchrony might not be a household name, but it’s the largest issuer of retail-branded store credit cards in the country. Retailers from Amazon, Sam’s Club, Pep-Boys and hundreds of others use Synchrony as the issuer for their store cards.

Before the Great Recession, Synchrony was part of General Electric, known as GE Capital.

Brian Doubles, CEO of Synchrony Financial since April 2020, spoke to The Associated Press about changes he’s made since becoming CEO, the rise of “buy now, pay later” services and how well consumers are doing in the pandemic. The conversation has been edited for clarity and length.

Q: Can you give us a state of the consumer from your perspective, since you work with a lot of retailers? What are people spending their money on these days?

A: We feel pretty bullish about the consumer right now. They are in good shape and their balance sheets are strong, which is translating into a really good spend on our cards so far this year. In the pandemic, consumers spent less on travel, entertainment and dining, so they had money to pay down debt.

But the biggest impact on us isn’t the consumer’s financial health right now. The supply chain issue is really impacting our partners. We are hearing from partners who sell appliances or sports equipment that they could sell if they had the inventory. It’s turning into fewer purchases being put on cards because consumers are having difficulty buying some items.

Q: There’s been a lot of interest in ‘buy now, pay later’ programs through companies like Affirm or Afterpay, where consumers can finance a purchase and pay it off in fixed monthly payments. How does this impact your business, which often involves consumers making large purchases paying down that balance?

A: Our strategy is really to have this comprehensive suite of products to offer our retail partners and customers because, at the end of the day, both our partners and our customers want choice. Some may want to put a purchase on a 12-month payment plan while others may want to maintain a balance. But what our partners really like about our products is they allow them to have more of an ongoing relationship with the customer, so they can do things like marketing or do promotions and offers over the course of the year. It allows them to build a long-term relationship with the customer.

Q: You took over Synchrony Financial during the pandemic. What have your priorities been since taking that position?

A: Very early in my tenure, we reorganized the company into five sales platforms: Digital retailers, health and wellness, home and auto, lifestyle retailers and other retailers like Sam’s Club. What it allowed us to do is get to know our retailer partners deeper, with the goal of knowing what our partners wanted before they even knew they wanted it. The goal is to more integrate our products into our retail partners’ websites, points of sale, mobile apps, etc.