The SoFi app lets you message people you have met at their events. Photograph: SoFi
Social Finance Inc (SoFi), one of the most high-profile private financial startups in the US, has led the charge in this regard. Since it launched in 2011 the company has attempted to differentiate itself by referring to its customers as “members” and inviting them to exclusive events like cocktail parties and cooking classes. In 2017, SoFi held 323 member events across the US (more than 60 cities), serving over 14,000 members. By the end of this year, the company says it will have organized more than 800 member events and hosted over 42,000 members in total. “We don’t think of ourselves as a finance company, we think of ourselves as money, career and relationships,” the then CEO, Mike Cagney, said at a technology conference last May. Cagney stepped down from the company late last year after allegations of sexual harassment.
Before the Cagney controversy, SoFi floated the idea of launching a dating app, after seeing romances spring up between members at their events. While this idea was eventually scrapped the SoFi app does allow members who meet at events to message each other.
Laurel Road’s partnership with MoviePass is more evidence of private lending companies trying to make student loan debt “fun” – even as student debt per capita has doubled in the past decade and there has been a rise in the number of cases brought against federal lenders illegally harassing their customers. The student loan crisis is now so dire that a new gameshow, Paid Off with Michael Torpey, is giving students the chance to compete on TV to have their debt paid off. The series which premieres in July on TruTV, is aimed at starting a conversation about the student debt crisis, not trivializing it, an executive from TruTV told the Guardian.
Still, there is something inherently dystopian in the fact that America has reached a place where the only hope some people have for getting out of debt is winning a gameshow.