Categories Earnings Call Transcripts, Finance

Afterpay Ltd (APT) Q4 2021 Earnings Call Transcript

APT Earnings Call - Final Transcript

Afterpay Ltd (ASX:APT) Q4 2021 earnings call dated Aug. 24, 2021.

Corporate Participants:

Anthony EisenCo-Chief Executive Officer and Managing Director

Nick MolnarCo-Chief Executive Officer and Managing Director

Rebecca LowdeChief Financial Officer

Analysts:

Phil ChippindaleOrd Minnett — Analyst

Chris BrendlerDA Davidson — Analyst

Andrei StadnikMorgan Stanley — Analyst

Tom BeadleUBS — Analyst

Wei SimMacquarie — Analyst

Roger SamuelJefferies — Analyst

Matthew WilsonE&P — Analyst

Presentation:

Operator

Thank you all for standing by, and welcome to Afterpay’s Full Year Results for FY ’21. [Operator Instructions] After the speaker’s presentation, there will be a question-and-answer session. [Operator Instructions]

I’d now like to hand the conference over to your first speaker, Mr. Anthony Eisen, Co-CEO. Thank you. Please go ahead.

Anthony EisenCo-Chief Executive Officer and Managing Director

Thanks very much. Welcome everybody to our FY ’21 Results Briefing. And thank you all for joining. I’m joined today with my Co-CEO, Nick Molnar and our CFO, Rebecca Lowde. We’ve got a lot to share with you today, including our FY ’21 performance, our strategy, and importantly, some new income opportunities for FY ’22. We’ll also briefly touch on the recently announced Square transaction. And of course, we don’t intend to go through line by line through all the material that was released to the ASX this morning, but I will move forward now through a few pages just to direct you in our Investor Presentation pack.

So if we turn to Slide three on that pack just to begin with, it’s been another strong year for Afterpay notwithstanding the global pandemic and the implications that we’re seeing in different ways in different regions. We recorded AUD22.4 billion in underlying sales or AUD21.1 billion with the impact of FX included. What was really pleasing is that, a few years ago, we set a three-year target of achieving above AUD20 billion in underlying sales. So to achieve that 12 months ahead of time is a great testament to our team, as well as our opportunity and the momentum that keeps building. We reached more than 16 million active customers during the year and we’ve since partnered with more than 100,000 merchants.

At the top line, importantly, we sustained merchant income margin at the same level as FY ’20 and we’ve maintained net margin at above 2%. In addition, gross losses, importantly, remained low for the period, reflecting the power of our proprietary risk and analytics mode. Rebecca will take you through the details shortly, but gross losses remain less than 1% in FY ’21.

Turning now to regional performance, and looking at Slide four, and starting with North America where underlying sales were up over 175% on the prior period, and we now have over 10.5 million active consumers. North America is now the majority contributor of underlying sales. And as we’ve seen physical retail opening up, we’ve also continued to sign significant new US merchant partners.

Our pipeline going into the holiday period is extremely strong in North America with over AUD15 billion of addressable GMV, and today, it’s very pleasing to announce, included in some of that pipeline, are amazing names like Dick’s Sporting Goods, Fashion Nova, The Container Store, Allbirds and PetSmart, just to name a few. Obviously, none of that reflected in our performance to date. In June, we also announced that we’ve gone live with new income streams in the US, which we expect to become more prominent as we enter FY ’22.

Turning to Slide five, and just briefly touching on Australia and New Zealand, which of course, is our most mature market, we’re still growing very strongly. In-store sales, notwithstanding pandemic impacts, increased to 48% — by 48% in the period and online sales by about 43%. One of the really key and most important features of our growth dynamic is the fact that we have loyal customers that increase their frequency as our maturity grows in a particular market. All markets are following suit and the blueprint in Australia and New Zealand is really noteworthy. Our earliest customer cohort frequency grew to 31 times per year, and as we’ll see and Nick will take you through in a little while, this trajectory is being followed in all regions.

We’re continuing our focus on new verticals in Australia and New Zealand. And our partnership with Australian Fashion Week was an amazing milestone for us as a company earlier this year. While regional lockdowns in Australia and New Zealand have affected in-store underlying sales more recently, what we’ve seen though is a re-acceleration of online spending, and testament to that was really our most recent Afterpay Day sale, which really just concluded a few days ago on Sunday evening.

But we saw a 25% increase in underlying sales and a 19% increase in customers, compared to what we saw in the last Afterpay Day sale, which was in March. So, a really significant step-up from March to what just recently transpired in the last few days, which is testament to the brand awareness and the continuing growth in Australia and New Zealand.

Turning to Slide six and just touching on ClearPay, it was another strong result for ClearPay, up 242% on the prior year and growing to more than 2 million active customers. We also launched ClearPay in Europe late in the period and a number of significant retailers are coming onboard in Spain, Italy and France. They include merchants like JD Sports, Shein, Pandora and a number of other global brands, which will come to live. We’ve also partnered with the British Fashion Council and the Altaroma Fashion Week to support regional fashion and design, again going along the same very strong trajectory of our roots in Australia, New Zealand and North America. As we head into FY ’22, we will be getting even more active in the region and you’ll see more marketing emphasis from us as the first half of FY ’22 transpires.

If we turn now to Slide seven, I really just want to take a few seconds to touch on the most important part of what’s fueling this growth and our evolution. We have — from day one, it’s all been about trying to live by a set of core values for Afterpay, which has emulated customer trust and a permission to not only exist, but evolve our service in line with what matters most to customers. Our vision of fairness and financial freedom for all and our mission to power an economy in which everyone wins is what has been guiding our growth. It’s not just about scale, it’s about the emphasis on budgeting things like gross loss performance and the evolution of a trust relationship as we launch exciting new products like Money by Afterpay, which we will touch on later in the presentation.

If I turn to Slide eight, I just want to make a point of saying how incredibly proud Nick and I are of our people, who have continued to do amazing things for Afterpay and really for each other. This has been a period that is continuing particularly revisiting a period of difficulty in Australia and New Zealand at the moment where the impacts of the pandemic have been very, very significant on mental health, as well as other health aspects, obviously. And just to see the support of our team, and what they’ve given each other through this period has been incredibly important and grounding for us all.

We have doubled our efforts on a couple of very important aspects in terms of our giving program with Global Sisters, Thread Together, Good On You, and other commitments, as well as trying to make sure that Board aspects around governance with our remuneration committee now led by Gary Briggs, and other aspects that we’ve added into governance charters at the Board, which we’ve detailed now in Annual Report have continued to evolve.

From a regulatory perspective, if we just move forward, one slide. Thank you. Throughout the year, we’ve seen a number of developments. But what has been very pleasing for us is our ability to proactively engage and have a dialog with all stakeholders around what fit for purpose regulation represents, but also the positive alternatives, the Buy Now Pay Later and technology innovation is having on the consumer on competition and bringing benefits that were missing in the past. We are proud that we’ve been a participant in establishing the landmark Buy Now Pay Later code of conduct here in Australia.

And more recently we’ve engaged with ASIC on the forthcoming design and distribution obligations, which are on track to be implemented pretty shortly. So we’re very pleased with the engagement that we’ve had on those fronts, as well as being actively engaged with both Her Majesty’s Treasury and EU with respect to reviewing — of the reviews that have been carried out in those regions.

I’d love now just to recap a little bit on the global forces, which is shaping our future and why we’re still at a very early stage of what is a once in a generational opportunity here. On Slide nine — Slide 11. I’m sorry, I just want to touch on the fact that Buy Now Pay Later is still really in the early stages. If we look at the global opportunity, what we’re seeing in every aspect is a shift from what is known as the credit economy to the debit economy and how that is really being stimulated by the next generation of millennials and Gen Z.

Afterpay’s customer base is now almost 17 million active customers, who are seeking out a better way to pay. But as I said, Buy Now Pay Later only represents about 2% of online payments globally. The opportunity is quite immense and we’re seeing that also in the way that the global brands, which have the connection points with customers, are still rapidly adopting and becoming aware of the opportunity in all parts of the globe.

Turning to Slide 12, millennials and Gen Z are really the powerhouse of this movement, not only in terms of their preference for debit over credit, but in terms of the way their core values and the way that they want to connect and the way that they want trust-based relationships reflected in everything that they do, including payments and spending, is at the core of this generational shift. Within a few years by 2030, millennials and Gen Z will represent nearly 50% of all retail spend globally, and of course, this is the core demographic from which we’ve based Afterpay’s connection.

If we turn over to Slide 13, you’ll see that during the pandemic period that this particular, which is now longstanding since the global financial crisis of 2009-2010 has gathered pace during the pandemic period. We’ve seen credit card decline being more exaggerated during this period, as well as the prominence of debit and the movement to BNPL. So we’re seeing a concentration of this movement in recent periods.

If we turn to Slide 14, it really is the connection with this next generation of consumers, which is empowering all the things that we are evolving in our ecosystem. It’s not just relating to millennials and Gen Z in terms of a marketing position or an advertising position, it’s at the core of what we do. It’s empowering millennials and Gen Z to use their own money without charging them interest or hidden fees. We do continue to cap late fees and if you miss a payment, we pause your account. We’ve maintained low average order values and low average outstanding balances. We reward responsible spending via both our Pulse system, which is fairly unique, which is about rewarding good behavior as opposed just to spending more money. All of these things align with our continuing commitment to our customers and evolving our trust relationship, which is giving us permission to have deeper and deeper connections as we evolve out two-sided ecosystem over time.

I’d now love to pass across to Nick that will take you through more aspects of our market positioning. Thanks, Nick.

Nick MolnarCo-Chief Executive Officer and Managing Director

Thank you very much, Anthony, and thanks so much everyone for joining us. In the past six years since our launch, we have established Afterpay as a leader in the Buy Now Pay Later industry, and our competitive edge is certainly the power of our network and I’m excited to begin with you all on this a little bit further today.

So if we move to Slide 16, Afterpay has continued to strengthen our platform during FY ’21 by focusing on these key aspects that you see on the slide, but it really underscored our success to-date. If we look historically, point number one has been, from a perspective of new merchants joining the platform, they have really accelerated our platform effect, and as we launch into new merchants, we work with these large enterprise retailers to grow our new customer acquisition curve in those new markets, and as we’re seeing ourselves go global, the ability to expand through that retail led approach has been a core focus for us.

Once you have the opportunity to work with these retailers, that generally starts from an online perspective and then we see launching omnichannel. So the growth of in-store then further sees consumers become more active across both online and in-person channels. And that naturally then leads to small to medium-sized businesses typically following those enterprise retailers and enabling customers to shop at more places that ultimately are higher margin.

Similarly, expanding into these new verticals does increase our share of wallet over time. So starting in the early days from a fashion and beauty perspective, but then having that focus on moving beyond those first core two verticals has certainly been a focus for us in Australia and you’ve seen that diversification occur. But then, similarly in the US, the UK are following suit. As we expand into those new verticals that drives higher frequency over time. And finally, that gives opportunity to add new income streams such as Money by Afterpay, Afterpay ads, further compounding this consumer frequency and ultimately the lifetime value that we can deliver at an even greater rate to our merchant partners.

So just moving to Page 17, really proud of this slide as it reflects the — our incredible partners now with a base of more than 100,000 active brands live both in-store and online. And Ant referenced the really strong pipeline that we see in front of us imminently as we move towards the holiday period.

On Slide 18, just wanted to provide a snapshot of our consumer loyalty and frequency that continues to compound during the course of FY ’21. Globally, our top 10% of consumers are transacting 34 times per year, a 21% increase on FY ’20. And the longer consumers are on the platform, the more frequently they ultimately transact. So importantly the chart on the right that shows North America and ClearPay, they’re following a very similar trajectory to what we have seen in Australia and New Zealand, our most established markets and that gives us the confidence of where this ecosystem will progress as time moves on.

On Slide 19, what we saw during FY ’21 as we invested heavily in building our app capability with further runway ahead, monthly we saw app usage increased globally by more than 131% and more than half of our referrals coming from consumers browsing via the app homepage. So, a third of searching — a third of our searching volume for a specific brand and this is why we continue to invest in our search and personalization aspects of our app, and as we build that one to one experience for — between our retailers and our consumers over time with our app leads being such a core component of our value proposition.

Slide 20, just provides a little bit more context to that point that I just made. As we have established Afterpay as a highly effective consumer marketing conversion channel, we have increasingly seeing consumers start their shopping journey from the Afterpay app or Shop Directory. 30% of our active consumers initiated one or more transactions from the Shop Directory during the course of FY ’21 and leads from the Afterpay platform more than doubled year-on-year. We’re seeing this both in new and recurring consumer leads that have been driven to our merchant partners. And importantly, when you consider the power of the platform for monetizing these leads with affiliate and add new revenue streams, which, as Ant mentioned, we’ve started in the United States. It gives really attractive curve for our retailers to invest behind our platform as they seek to acquire that highly valuable next generation consumer.

Slide 21, if we move to Slide 21 for a moment, we continued with our dual focus, both online and in-store during the period launching with a number of partners in-store, including merchants like Dick’s Sporting Goods in the United States and JB Hi-Fi in Australia. During the period of FY ’21, we averaged 23% of Australia-New Zealand underlying sales coming from the in-store channel. And while still early in its development in the US, we’re seeing continued acceleration tracking well above Australia at a similar point since launching our in-store channel in the relevant market.

Across these three regions, 34% of Afterpay omnichannel consumers made their first purchase online before heading in-store and this really shows the importance of driving both channels, and also how customer acquisition and frequency are accelerated as in-store and online acceptance broadens.

If we move to Slide 22, whether a merchant integrate in-store, online or omnichannel, we’re able to deliver significant incremental value to the retailer, and that’s ultimately what’s important to them as they focus on the business case. Higher online and offline conversion rates are core to that value proposition and naturally larger basket sizes, new and repeat consumers and ultimately increased engagement leads to a higher lifetime value of consumers for that retail partner. And we are investing into new tools for our merchants to enhance the value even further. We have now 4,000 merchants currently live with express checkout across our global ecosystem, and really great to see the lift that, that translates to from growing GMV, both for our retailers and ultimately on the Afterpay platform.

Just to summarize on Page 23, we have maintained the same funding model throughout the course of our business’ life. It’s a funding model that is low average order value, lower risk, shorter duration, it’s widely distributed and has a high return on capital employed from a receivables profile perspective. So we’re able to turn our entire receivables book approximately 15 times per annum, and this really does differentiate us in market as you look at the value propositions, for both the retailers and consumers, and I’m proud of the model and how we designed it and how we keep leaning in, in the same respect.

If we look ahead into FY ’22, we’re focused on unlocking the next phase of our growth, and Page 25 just elaborates on this global expansion point as we continue to focus on our global partnerships and cross-border trade during FY ’21. Cross-border is now available across all regions and sales were up 120% on the prior corresponding period, and it’s a really important driver of our revenue growth and margin growth. Canada, which has more than doubled its run rate since the first half. So cross-border account for 10% of all purchases made, really highlighting, particularly that US-Canada channel and cross-border opportunity.

We were also pleased to announce the global partnerships during the period. Overall active merchants that went live via partnerships during FY ’21 increased by 37% and further diversified the consumer and merchant base. And across all regions, we were continuing to expand into new verticals with travel, hospitality, camping and automotive added during the period.

On Slide 26, as I called out earlier, online and offline continues to be a focus for us as it is driven by merchant led and consumer led growth. The chart on the left shows why omnichannel is really important for FY ’22 as we know that omnichannel consumer will spend more frequently across both online and in-store without cannibalizing either. The merchant benefits from an omnichannel integration, which can be seen highlighted in the middle, in the middle charts. As consumers spend more driving additional incremental sales across both channels is clearly apparent and you see that merchant lifetime value grow over time. So we’re seeing increased number of merchant partners going live, both online and in person, and particularly following the launch of Afterpay in-store, our card product across Australia, New Zealand and the US, we’re seeing that acceleration given the very limited integration that’s required for a retailer to go live. And we anticipate to launch the UK in-store card in Q2 FY ’22.

If we move to Page 27, we are incredibly excited of the launch for Money by Afterpay. We built Money as a standalone app in less than 12-months in collaboration with Westpac. And financial wellness and responsible spending have been top of mind from day one. Beyond the launch, as we evolve the offering, we certainly envisage that it will be a single view of a financial position driven by data and AI and will enable consumers to realize their financial goals and to be able to do that with this next generation consumer is a real privilege.

And just on Page 25 — 28, sorry, that highlights this in a little bit more detail. This slide shows the connective tissue that will exist between Afterpay’s core Buy Now Pay Later app and the Money by Afterpay proposition. It will be the combination that gives a consumer even greater transparency across 100% of their financial position and will help them manage their savings, as well as responsible spending. The ability to inform them, our consumers, give them choice and enable better saving decisions by keeping consumers within the Afterpay ecosystem, we expect to see further growth in consumer LTV and engagement as Money by Afterpay continues to roll out.

If we move to Page 29, consistent with our focus on frequency and combined with our belief in financial fairness, we launched Pulse Loyalty, which is a program that rewards responsible spending with Afterpay. You know many loyalty programs reward spending and we wanted to focus on how do we reward people to payback on time and spend responsibly. In June, we released the revamp of the program, which now includes features like no payment upfront, gift cards from top brands available for purchase and also exclusive offers and promotions from merchants, which our launch included Steve Madden, NARS, Tatcha, Vince and Rebecca Taylor. So really able to highlight Pulse Loyalty as a customer acquisition channel for our merchants and ultimately generates greater customer engagement. Likewise, there are strong parallels between Pulse and Money by Afterpay, which can be used to reward responsible spending and also responsible saving over time.

If we move to Afterpay iQ on Page 30, we’re pleased to announce the launch of this platform that puts customer-centric analytics in the hands of our retail brands. And this will help merchants optimize investments and marketing spend to ultimately drive growth, which is core to our retailers’ focus. So it will include AI-powered insights, visualization and real-time data in one highly accessible self-service user interface. A single source of truth to evaluate marketing performance has been a real focus for us and highlighting that omnichannel shopping volume and ultimately the payments conversion that we’re seeing, will give our retailers the ability to monitor their sales, their average order value and ultimately their order trends over time.

And just given our really strong focus on the next generation consumer, it was important for us to be able to provide them a deeper understanding of key customer personas and demographics. And as I mentioned, millennial and Gen Z consumers represent 50% of all retail spend in less than 10-years. And so to give our retailers, the next best action as a result of the data and insights that we can provide them and recommend to them how they can optimize their business performance based on this data has been a real focus for us.

On Page 31, during FY ’22, we continue to build out new income streams and beginning in the US is our largest regional opportunity. We rolled out our one-time use virtual card that launched in June and is currently enabled for 25% of US app users across 40% of USA commerce brands that are part of the program and that accelerates our acceptance curve in a really meaningful way. The virtual card transactions are monetized via a combination of affiliate fees and interchange, and we have plans to expand the number of affiliate merchants available during the pre-holiday ramp up. And secondly, from an Afterpay Ads perspective, this means merchants can target promotions of offers, products and collections of Afterpay’s highly engaged audience with affiliate being key to these initiatives, and we’re seeing really great early results.

If I can turn to the Square transaction for a moment, as announced on August 2nd, we’ve entered into a Scheme Implementation Deed for Square, Inc. to acquire all of the issued shares in Afterpay. The offer values the company at $29 billion or AUD39 billion based on the closing price of July 30, 2021.

Page 33, just highlights the intricacy and the tremendous opportunity between both companies. The combination of these businesses is certainly expected to accelerate growth, particularly in the US and more broadly across the globe, offers access to the in-store, in-person merchant base of Square and really provides us with a broader platform of new and valuable capabilities and services to our merchants and consumers. So in terms of the opportunity and the compatibility of our two businesses, we really focus on this demographic alignment growing into 70 million incremental annual active cash-out consumers, the channel compatibility, expanding Afterpay outreach across both online, but also importantly the in-person channel.

From a merchant perspective, Square’s SMB base is incredibly complementary to Afterpay’s enterprise retail partnerships. And from a geographic perspective, Australia is Square’s biggest international region outside the US, whereas for Afterpay, the US is our largest regional opportunity outside of Australia. So all of this is underpinned in a fully aligned purpose, and together, we will continue redefining financial wellness, economic empowerment and responsible spending for consumers.

So on Page 34, as we previously announced, the terms of the transaction means that Afterpay shareholders will receive 0.375 shares of Square Class A common stock for which Afterpay ordinary shares they hold on the record date. Both Ant and I are looking forward to working with the Square team within the cash and seller businesses and we expect the transaction to close first quarter of calendar year 2022.

So just to round off, before I pass over to Rebecca, on Page 35, we have a tremendous opportunity ahead of us to unlock value across our respective ecosystems and we’re incredibly excited about the prospect of what this transaction holds.

So with that, I would love to pass over to Beck.

Rebecca LowdeChief Financial Officer

Thanks, Nick. And thank you to all of those joining us today. If you’d like to turn to Slide 37, where we have a group snapshot from a financial perspective. And as both Ant and Nick have acknowledged, this has been another strong year of performance for Afterpay notwithstanding the impact of the pandemic, which continues to see retail globally at various stages of activity and return.

We drove a 90% increase in underlying sales. We managed gross losses. We held our merchant margin firm despite an increasingly competitive landscape. And we’re also pleased to show that our net margin continues to be above 2% despite the contribution from newer regions and the mix shift of those regions. These results reflect the power of the Afterpay platform, the dynamics of our business model and the strength of our balance sheet and funding arrangements.

If we start with Group total income, which was up 78% or 89% on a constant currency basis against prior corresponding period. Total income includes Afterpay income, Pay Now revenue and other income. The increase in income is a reflection of increased customer orders across all regions with underlying sales up 90% or 102% in constant currency.

EBITDA, excluding significant items, was AUD38.7 million, reflecting increased investment in both marketing and our people. The most significant driver of the loss after tax for the period was the increase in valuation of the minority interest in the ClearPay UK business. The increase in valuation reflects further enhanced performance of that business during the period, including improvements to future cash flows and increases in the broader market valuation for similar businesses. So somewhat interesting accounting outcome that you get a loss to the Group is due to a high-performance at our UK business. Separately, the increase in share-based payment expense is due to the increase in Afterpay share price overall and growth in our employee numbers throughout the year.

If you move to the next slide, you’ll see that one of the really important metrics to note is that we’re able to maintain the merchant margin in line with our prior year-end at 3.9%. The merchant income margin was stable across all regions, which is a pleasing result for the organization. And this was also achieved as underlying sales increased and reflecting the growing contribution from new regions and the growing base of Afterpay contracted merchants.

Slide 39, talks about our net transaction loss results, which continue to be maintained year-on-year. Pleasingly, we added 6 million more consumers during the period and yet we were still able to keep gross losses stable. Net transaction loss was well managed during the period, ticking up slightly as a result of a reduction in late fees, which continues to decline as a component of total income. As we’ve always said, late fees are not viewed as a revenue driver at Afterpay rather they’re an important part of managing consumer behavior. The management of risk, coupled with our focus on frequency from our longest tenured consumers will see us continue to manage this loss rate over time.

As Nick mentioned earlier, if you turn to Slide 40, FY ’21 was a year where we prepared to and indeed launched new initiatives that will add revenue streams for Afterpay. The Afterpay Ads, affiliate fees and the Money by Afterpay product. In recognition of new revenue streams, we will move forward with Afterpay net margin. This net margin will reflect Afterpay income and other margin less our net transaction loss and our other variable costs.

During the year, we benefited from global partnerships with Visa, Mastercard and Stripe to offset the impact of the mix shift towards North America, where transaction costs are typically higher. We will continue to seek efficiencies and variable cost across all regions during FY ’22. Notwithstanding the reduction from FY ’20, we successfully maintained net margin above 2% for FY ’21, with merchant margin sustained and the variable cost base continuing to be well managed across the board.

If you turn to Slide 41, you’ll see that as a high-growth company, it’s extremely important that we have a strong balance sheet from which to leverage. And as Nick highlighted earlier, our business model reflects a very fast cash cycle. The bridge shown on this slide highlights the movement in our net cash and shows the overall that our cash has actually increased since the end of the last period. This reflects the capital raising in July 2020 and the successful issue of the AUD1.5 billion convertible note completed in March 2021.

If you turn to Slide 42, and have a look at the balance sheet, you’ll see that having those extra capital raising activities enabled us to pay the pay down warehouse facilities during that period. We were able to increase the ownership of our US business and realign the US ESOP to a globally consistent benchmark. One of the most important aspects of our balance sheet is its ability to support our ongoing growth in underlying sales, which is reflected in the increase of our receivables. From a funding perspective, we have additional capacity to support a further AUD40 billion in underlying sales over and above our current annualized run rate of AUD24 billion.

On Slide 43, you’ll see a breakdown of our debt portfolio. It will show more diversity of our funding, both from a source and a maturity perspective. We established new and extended existing receivables funding facilities during the period with a weighted average life of the debt of 3.3 years.

And then finally, if you turn to Slide 44, as both Nick and Ant mentioned, we remain very focused on the global opportunity that sits at our fingertips. Our focus remains very firmly on growth in both our existing and new regions. To secure that growth and to continue scaling our platform globally, we will continue investing in our people, our consumers, our merchant relationships, our products and technology globally. Growth in employment expenses in dollar terms reflects the growing number of our team members required to support our business globally, particularly across sales, marketing, technology and products.

Operating expenses represented 1.4% of underlying sales, a marginal 0.1 percentage point increase on the prior year. The increase in marketing expenses above FY ’20 reflects increased investment in driving brand awareness [Technical Issues] and investment into growing in-store partnerships and digital merchandising. In particular, our marketing spend in Q4 FY ’21 was focused on the launch of the Pay Better campaign and supporting the traditional Australian Fashion Week. We expect to see further effects of these investments as we enter half one FY ’22.

Importantly, we continue to launch new merchant brands, grow our customer base, particularly in the US, and we’ll be making further investment in marketing. Our operating expenses, excluded one-off items and foreign currency losses. Excluding the impact of these items, our other operating expenses would have increased AUD5.4 million. As we look ahead and consider the new revenue products and technology opportunities available to us and for us to create, we will continue to invest back in this business.

I’ll now hand back to Ant to help us open the call to questions. Thank you.

Anthony EisenCo-Chief Executive Officer and Managing Director

Thanks very much. We would be pleased to take any questions, operator, to the extent there are any.

Questions and Answers:

Operator

Thank you. We will now begin the question-and-answer session. [Operator Instructions] Our first question comes from Phil Chippindale at Ord Minnett. Please go ahead.

Phil ChippindaleOrd Minnett — Analyst

Good morning, Anthony, Nick and Rebecca. Thanks for your time. My first question is just around this virtual card offering in the US. You said it’s offered to 25% of all US customers. I know it’s early days. Can you talk about the uptake? In other words, what proportion of those consumers have actually utilized it so far? And perhaps you could talk us through maybe the ratio of usage outside of your integrated partners to the non-integrated? Thanks.

Anthony EisenCo-Chief Executive Officer and Managing Director

Thanks, Phil. Nick, do you want to pick this one up?

Nick MolnarCo-Chief Executive Officer and Managing Director

Yes. Perfect, thanks. Thanks, Phil. So look, I can’t give the specifics in percentage of users, but what I would say is that the conversion rates that we have seen in terms of usage and also conversion from a lead out to a transaction occurring, definitely, exceeded our expectation. The single-use card was all out of network. So when we’re looking at scaling this product, it’s very much to retailers that aren’t currently on the platform. And naturally, we get a lot of search demand for these brands. Organically, people coming to our app searching for retailers that aren’t live. The ability to capture that captive audience, as well as consumers that are naturally coming to browse via homepage, I would say that the GMV that we’re able to deliver even just with 25% of our customer base having access to it, definitely exceeded our business case and our expectations.

Naturally, the goal will be filled to scale that well beyond 25%, but we wanted to ramp appropriately just to test the product through and make sure we optimize efficiently. So I now feel like we’re in a reasonable place over the course of the next few weeks and certainly pre-holiday to continue expanding that proposition to more consumers.

Phil ChippindaleOrd Minnett — Analyst

Thanks, Nick. Just pivoting to the advertising product, again, another recent development. Can you talk us through what the revenue model is for that product offering? And does it include things like a priority ranking in the Afterpay Store Directory, for example?

Nick MolnarCo-Chief Executive Officer and Managing Director

Yes. So the primary — I mean, look, the initial primary revenue model will be an affiliate led platform. So the ability to offer retailers more exposure, incremental exposure via our application is definitely the focus for us. In due course, we’ll launch new assets on the app that retailers can access via this ad platform where these incremental opportunities can be displayed to relevant consumers. There will certainly be the ability to broaden that ad platform over time to more reflect traditional ad platforms to monetize their proposition. But to be able to get live very quickly with an affiliate income stream is a great path forward. And the linkage with Afterpay iQ where you can deliver an insight to someone and then ultimately, we can trigger a campaign subsequently off the back of that into our ecosystem, there’s a lot of great interconnectivity between these new products as they come to market to drive engagement.

Phil ChippindaleOrd Minnett — Analyst

Okay, thanks. A final question from me, just on Afterpay Money, can you just clarify what the feedback has been from Westpac post the announcement of the Square transaction? And can you just confirm the time frame in regards of the broader launch of that product?

Anthony EisenCo-Chief Executive Officer and Managing Director

Yes. Perhaps I could take that Nick. Thanks, Phil. Look, I mean, it’s full steam ahead. The teams have been working very well together. What we’re quite excited about is to illustrate what this power of partnership actually is about. So the — it’s full steam ahead from our perspective. Everything is on track in terms of the way that we’ve been building the app and its features. We’re excited to present something that will look very different and unique and will go right to the core of what the Afterpay DNA is about.

As it relates to Westpac’s contribution and strategy, we see there being really strong alignment there. Our ability to connect with customers in a new way and have that translate to different form of assets, which will transpire on Westpac’s balance sheet and their connection back to customers through joint product innovation in the future, we think we’ll definitely symbolize the power of banking-as-a-service, not just in Australia, but it will also indicate things to other parts of the world. So we have a strong team alignment, and I think both sides of the fence are very excited to prove out this model.

Operator

Thank you. Our next question comes from Chris Brendler at DA Davidson. Please go ahead.

Chris BrendlerDA Davidson — Analyst

Hi, thanks, and good morning. Thanks for taking my questions. I’d like to just ask a question on the credit provisioning this quarter. It was a little bit — or I guess this half is a little bit higher sort of run rate at the end, the loss rate was relatively low, but the provisions ticked up a little bit. I understood now that there’s anything to call out there? Is it just sort of normalization post-pandemic, or is it the growth in the US, which is a less mature market? And maybe also the virtual card, is that in any way, shape or form potentially a higher loss product? Thank you.

Anthony EisenCo-Chief Executive Officer and Managing Director

Yes. The loss profile was pretty much in line with the previous year and the seasonality that we see, and there was no particular changes in any of the methodology that we applied whatsoever. But Rebecca, you might comment more on that in the second part of the question, if you don’t mind?

Rebecca LowdeChief Financial Officer

Yes, sure. So as Ant said, it’s more probably seasonality. So we do see that happen at the end of the second half. We’ve also got the mix shift between the newer regions and the more mature regions, which, as you know, does have an impact. So there’s nothing specific to call out rather than sort of really those points and we continue to see it unfold the way we would expect it to for the last couple of months. So it’s — there’s nothing really specific other than that.

Anthony EisenCo-Chief Executive Officer and Managing Director

Do you want repeating your question on the second part?

Chris BrendlerDA Davidson — Analyst

The virtual card?

Anthony EisenCo-Chief Executive Officer and Managing Director

Yes. Sorry, do you mind repeating your question on the virtual card?

Nick MolnarCo-Chief Executive Officer and Managing Director

Yes. Well, I’m happy to take that one. I don’t think — I don’t like — the virtual card represents such a small component of our GMV. So there’s no real meaningful impact that’s having on our loss profile. It would be — it’s probably too early for us to say just given we rolled out more recently and that has to go through cycles. But we — given we’re dealing with this primarily with the existing consumers, we wouldn’t anticipate there’s a material difference in profile as compared to what happens on virtual card than the broader portfolio. I would say on the income side of the equation, there is opportunity given the interchange and affiliate income in combination in many instances is more attractive than our normal take rate income margin that there is opportunity there from a margin perspective for sure, and from a loss rate, given it’s primarily existing consumers, I wouldn’t anticipate much change.

Chris BrendlerDA Davidson — Analyst

Okay. My follow-up question is actually same topic of virtual card and some of the — I guess, the success — all the success in-store in the US now, AUD400 million run rate in July, I believe. Can you point to any areas of success? How much — is this like sort of ahead of plan, behind schedule? It looks like it’s probably ahead. And where do we go from here? I feel like the US adoption rate for some of the large merchants is taking a little longer than I would have thought, and probably it’s more of an IT issue that they have to wrestle with, so maybe the virtual card can help close that gap. And I just wanted to hear your thoughts there.

Nick MolnarCo-Chief Executive Officer and Managing Director

Yes, I’m happy to take that, if it’s okay, Beck and Ant. So look, I think what I would say is that in the — towards the end of the second half, you did very much see, particularly in the US, a strategic shift from online to offline as basically retail started to reopen more strongly. The integration isn’t really the time consuming component given the virtual card, as you mentioned. It’s how do we successfully roll out the visual merchandising, the staff training, etc. We’re really strongly engaged with our big enterprise retailers to go live pre-holiday and feel very confident in that pipeline rolling through between now and kind of largely end of October, because once you get into November, it’s difficult to operationally roll that through. But these are conversations that have been in train for many, many months and still great.

If you look at the more recent rollouts, you’ve seen lululemon do a fantastic job. If you enter the container store at the moment, there’s engagements on the shopping trolley, in the windows, on end of arm. So we’ve been really conscious to roll this out in the right way with our key partners, because you get one chance to engage the store rep and to really get it right. So while certainly, there was a focus online for most of the half, I would say, particularly from May and June, there was a shift in strategic priority for the retailer, and I feel really good about where the pipeline sits.

Operator

Thank you. Our next question comes from Andrei Stadnik from MS. Please go ahead.

Andrei StadnikMorgan Stanley — Analyst

Good morning. Can I ask two questions please? In terms of Afterpay Money, the slide suggests that this will extend to mortgages. Like what is your thinking around that? And how to monetize the mortgage referral revenue stream?

Anthony EisenCo-Chief Executive Officer and Managing Director

Thanks, Andrei. It’s Anthony here. Look, in the — one of the things that’s really important to recognize is that there’s no intention for Afterpay to manufacture traditional type of product today. What we do think, though, we can be a conduit for is different products and services that suit our customer. We think we have a unique insight into that and we can help decipher and discern from lots of different offers that exist in the marketplace. By deeply knowing our customer, we think that we can introduce things into the future.

So it will not be a case of Afterpay manufacturing traditional financial product, but how we can help our customers connect is some of the illustrators that we wanted to make in this slide and where we think that there’s opportunity. It doesn’t just relate to that aspect. You will see features that emerge from Money by Afterpay that talks to millennial and Gen Z investment. It will talk to millennial and Gen Z ways of paying and sharing and connecting. So across the board, we think we can be a conduit for this type of activity.

Andrei StadnikMorgan Stanley — Analyst

Thank you. Thank you, Anthony. And my second question, I wanted to ask around the gross merchant margin, which was stable year-on-year at about 390 basis points, so you’re managing the competition concerns very well. But by region — again, by region, it seems Australia was a bit stronger year-on-year, in US, it was a bit softer. Can you give any more color on the regional dynamics on the merchant margin?

Anthony EisenCo-Chief Executive Officer and Managing Director

Yes. As Rebecca said before, they were actually quite similar. What you see at different points in time, particularly in less mature regions is this mix effect between enterprise and mid-tier and small to medium business does shift around. Part of that is seasonal, part of that just relates to growth dynamics in any particular period. But I can say convincingly, Andrei, that we’re not seeing a step-change in dynamic between Australia, the US or the UK as it relates to margins generally. It will be more timing differences and impacts when you’re undergoing fast growth rates. Obviously, when enterprise merchants come on board, particularly some of the large ones, which we’ve highlighted, that does impact on a blended basis. So it’s more of those dynamics than anything underlying.

Operator

Thank you. Our next question comes from Tom Beadle at UBS. Please go ahead.

Tom BeadleUBS — Analyst

Hi, guys. Thanks for the opportunity to ask questions. I just had three, please. Just firstly, just on the leads, I know you’re generating about 1 million per day. Just I’m wondering if you could talk to the conversion rate. I think last time, we could back off that you could, you’re converting at about 6% or 7%. So I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on that?

Second question on the Square deal. Just wondering if you’ve had any engagement with US regulators that you could share. I’d be interested to hear what their feedback has been.

And just a third question on your provisions and net transaction loss, just a follow-up there. I recall last year when you raised back in July, I think it was you reported a net transaction loss number that was at a similar level to what you did this year before you subsequently revised that down. So to what extent do you think this year’s number is a more normal number, given consumers received quite lot stimulus checks in Australia and the US in July last year, and that could have been a reason why your recoveries were much higher than what you might have thought when you raise capital between then and when you finalize your accounts? Thanks.

Anthony EisenCo-Chief Executive Officer and Managing Director

Yes. Thanks. Nick, do you want to take the first point on conversions? It’s much higher than what was mentioned, yes.

Nick MolnarCo-Chief Executive Officer and Managing Director

Yes, yes. I mean, we’ve seen it be consistent with prior periods, and yes, it’s higher than the number that you referred to. I don’t think we’ve released the specifics before, but certainly, it’s been consistent over the recent periods.

Anthony EisenCo-Chief Executive Officer and Managing Director

Thanks, Nick. In terms of your question on Square and US regulators, we’ll comment more fully on the whole process when we issue our scheme booklet. So it would be inappropriate for us to talk about any of those particular aspects prior to that disclosure. But from our perspective, since we’ve announced the transaction, we have seen across the board, no red flags from our perceptions or our positioning in terms of when we announced.

In terms of the NTL provisions, obviously, you’ve referenced a period last year where there was quite a considerable amount of change in the market. As I said before, there’s no difference at all in our policies or procedures to the extent that this year might represent a more normalized pattern. We’ll see, but we feel confident in our provisioning methodology as stated at the moment. I don’t know — we answered this before. Rebecca, is there anything you want to add to that?

Rebecca LowdeChief Financial Officer

No. I do think it’s important to note that our gross loss as a percentage of underlying sales has actually remained quite consistent. So obviously, dollar values have gone up with growth. But other than that, I think it’s pretty much as you covered.

Tom BeadleUBS — Analyst

Okay. Great. Thanks.

Operator

Our next question comes from Wei Sim at Macquarie. Please go ahead.

Wei SimMacquarie — Analyst

Hi, guys. Thanks for taking my questions. The first one is just in regards to gross loss on a half-by-half basis. We did see that kind of tick up a bit. Just wondering if you’re able to give any color as to by different regions, what might have been driving that? Was it expansion into Europe, which saw that come through or are we seeing in any of our more established regions, Australia-New Zealand, an increase in that gross loss percentage number?

Anthony EisenCo-Chief Executive Officer and Managing Director

Yes. Rebecca, would you like to address that?

Rebecca LowdeChief Financial Officer

Yes, sure. So from a growth loss perspective, look, it is different by region from a seasonality perspective. So if you think about where we are at the end of the tax year in Australia, you will see those gross losses go down somewhat just purely, because of the nature of the timing. The newer regions will have higher gross losses just because of the maturity of our consumers on the platform, and then that goes down over time. You’ve also got the US at an interesting stage of opening up and people doing other things with their shopping as well.

So there’s a whole bunch of different things that go into play, but there’s nothing that would indicate a significant difference region to region if you think about the life cycle of where each of those are at. So they’re still following the same trajectory that we would expect as and when it matures over time. And obviously, Europe just starting, will be a newer region, will have higher gross losses, and again, they will mature over time. So there’s nothing really different or unique this year, as compared to any other periods that we’ve reported on.

Wei SimMacquarie — Analyst

Okay. Got it. And then maybe another question just in regards to the merchant income trends that we’re seeing from the affiliate program right now, are you able to give any color as to how that’s tracking versus the previous expectation or the initial expectations that we had for that?

Anthony EisenCo-Chief Executive Officer and Managing Director

Yes. Nick, would you like to take that?

Nick MolnarCo-Chief Executive Officer and Managing Director

I’m sorry. I’ve got a bad line. I missed that one.

Anthony EisenCo-Chief Executive Officer and Managing Director

Okay. Do you mind just repeating for Nick? Thank you.

Wei SimMacquarie — Analyst

Yes. The income — the merchant income trends that we’re seeing from the affiliate program, up so far?

Nick MolnarCo-Chief Executive Officer and Managing Director

Yes. So what I would say is that there’s a different — so naturally, there’s a difference in affiliate income you can garner from a big enterprise retailer as compared to a smaller business. Given many of our affiliate income streams for the single-use card was for the bigger enterprise retailers, the actual affiliate income from that stream would be lower than the average we would see across our broader affiliate portfolio. But the single-use card is also complemented by interchange income that then blends it up.

Generally speaking, if you looked at across the board of average affiliate platform, you’d probably see that conservatively you should be able to achieve 6%, 7%, but there are many programs that have achieved more than 10%. So we will ease into the program, obviously, but see a lot of upside beyond where we are right now as we begin to properly resource and build programs for retailers to participate, and naturally affiliates derived from that would be greater.

Operator

Thank you. Our next question comes from Roger Samuel at Jefferies. Please go ahead.

Roger SamuelJefferies — Analyst

Hi. Good morning, guys. I’ve got a few questions. The first one is just on the cross-border transactions. Can we expect this to be a higher margin business? Or do you have to pay away some of the margin to foreign currency providers?

Anthony EisenCo-Chief Executive Officer and Managing Director

Yes, it’s higher margin. It’s Anthony here. A cross-border transaction is a higher margin, and we benefit from settling the FX on both sides of the equation. So that is additional margin over and above our normal net transaction margin, and that can vary, but it’s a material improvement.

Roger SamuelJefferies — Analyst

Okay. And second question is around your slide — on your presentation saying that you’re expanding in Shanghai. So what’s your ambition in Asia?

Anthony EisenCo-Chief Executive Officer and Managing Director

Yes. What we have is an incredibly talented group of people as part of our engineering and our risk team in China. We’ve developed that as we flagged now for a number of periods, and they’re contributing well in terms of a lot of the initiatives that we’ve spoken about today and our improvement in some of the risk tools and dynamics across the globe, which all regions are utilizing. We have a small position in terms of our core business development based out of Singapore presently. We’re looking at the most opportune ways to expand into that region following our strategy of tying ourselves with global merchants. It has been less of a priority in terms of expansion, which we’ve developed significantly in terms of the European Union, but we will concentrate on that region as we go forward in FY ’22 and FY ’23 and beyond.

Roger SamuelJefferies — Analyst

Okay, thank you.

Anthony EisenCo-Chief Executive Officer and Managing Director

We probably just have time for one more question, if that’s okay.

Operator

Certainly. Our final question will come from Matthew Wilson at E&P. Please go ahead.

Matthew WilsonE&P — Analyst

Good morning, team. Just further to Andrei’s question on Money by Afterpay. Can you sort of talk about your plans to take that sort of offering global? Does the Square platform give you that opportunity in the US? I understand Square has got a banking license in Utah. And what would you need to do to replicate Money by Afterpay in the UK and Europe? Thank you.

Anthony EisenCo-Chief Executive Officer and Managing Director

Yes. The core thesis around Money by Afterpay is very much aligned when you look at what Cash App is delivering to their customers, 70 million 12-month active customers in the US. So Money by Afterpay for Australia where Cash App and Square, in that regard, is not present at the moment, is really a canvas and an excellent entry point to deliver on some of the things that Square is prosecuting extremely effectively with very engaged customers in the US.

So we see there being a very good opportunity to bring synergy from what is done in North America to parts of what we’re developing in terms of Money by Afterpay in Australia and probably vice versa as well. When you look at some of the particular aspects that will become apparent with Money by Afterpay, this concentration on savings and budgetings will really come to the fore. And I think some of those dynamics might be just as exportable as we’ll try and look to import some of the features that Square has developed very well internationally.

Matthew WilsonE&P — Analyst

Thank you.

Anthony EisenCo-Chief Executive Officer and Managing Director

Thank you very much for your time today, ladies and gentlemen. We really appreciate the focus and the attention and the questions. Delighted to speak to a number of you in the coming days. But thank you again for your time, and we look forward to speaking soon. Have a great day.

Nick MolnarCo-Chief Executive Officer and Managing Director

Thank you.

Rebecca LowdeChief Financial Officer

Thank you.

Operator

[Operator Closing Remarks]

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