市场调研公司Competiscan数据表明，LendUp Global Inc.和Fair Square Financial LLC更侧重风险较高的借款人，上半年总计发放了近3500万信用卡额度，而去年同期只有700万。
今年早些时候，CreditShop LLC推出了一款信用卡产品，这家公司去年被投资公司Värde Partners收购，专门向高风险借款人提供个人贷款。Elevate Credit Inc.也于七月份推出，专门提供高成本分期贷款。
但风险也随之而来：可能会出现贷款损失增加的情况，特别是针对风险更高的借款人，银行目前正在控制这方面的业务发展。Autonomous Research数据显示，与去年相比，今年上半年美国七家大型银行的次级信用卡余额增加了3%，与今年早些时候的13%涨幅相比有所下降。Capital One Financial Corp. 2018上半年的次级余额占其国内信用卡余额的32%，去年同期这一比例为36%。
新入场的贷款机构还获得了一些行业巨头的帮助。Citigroup Inc.前主席Vikram Pandit负责的投资公司Orogen Group，五月份宣布认购Fair Square一亿美元股份，该公司的业务主要是向信用评分较低的借款人发放信用卡。LendUp最近宣布Capital One的联合创始人Nigel Morris和前首席信贷官Frank Rotman加入公司董事会。
Fair Isaac Corp.数据显示，约有6000万美国成年人信用评分低于650，而这正是银行关注的基本借款人停止借款的门槛。还有5300万美国成年人根本就没有信用评分，因为他们借款记录很少或是没有记录。
希望进入信用卡业务领域的金融科技初创公司会面临一些挑战，而银行并不受这些挑战的困扰。所以初创公司通常必须与银行合作，由银行代表他们发卡，以遵守Visa Inc.和Mastercard Inc.银行卡网络的规则，而且他们也需要资金来源进行放款。以LendUp为例，它通过Transportation Alliance Bank发行自己的Arrow Card，并由芝加哥投资公司Victory Park Capital Advisors LLC提供一亿美元信贷额度。
Financial-technology startups are stepping into a void increasingly left by credit-card-issuing banks: lending to customers with poor credit histories.
LendUp Global Inc. and Fair Square Financial LLC, which focus more heavily on riskier borrowers, mailed out roughly 35 million credit-card offers during the first half of the year, according to market-research firm Competiscan, up from 7 million during the same period last year.
CreditShop LLC, a specialist in personal loans to risky borrowers that was acquired last year by investment firm Värde Partners, rolled out a credit card earlier this year. Elevate Credit Inc., ELVT -0.11% which specializes in high-cost installment loans, launched one in July.
Subprime lending can be lucrative. Most of these cards carry interest rates north of 20%, significantly higher than the average credit card interest rate of 14.1%, according to the Federal Reserve. Rewards programs, one of the biggest costs for large card issuers chasing creditworthy customers, are rare.
But risks abound: Facing rising loan losses, especially among the riskiest borrowers, banks are reining in their growth in this sector. Subprime credit-card balances at seven large U.S. banks rose 3% in the first half of the year from a year prior, down from a 13% increase in the year-earlier period, according to Autonomous Research. Capital One Financial Corp.'s subprime balances accounted for 32% of its domestic credit-card balances in the first half of 2018 compared with 36% in the same period a year earlier
The new lenders are getting help from some industry stalwarts. The Orogen Group, an investment firm headed by former Citigroup Inc. chief Vikram Pandit, said in May it was committing $100 million in equity to Fair Square, which distributes cards to borrowers with less-than-pristine credit scores. LendUp recently announced that Capital One co-founder Nigel Morris and former Capital One chief credit officer Frank Rotman were joining its board of directors.
The population of subprime borrowers "is nigh on half of America, and there's enormous opportunity for others to be able to offer a great product with great sophistication to compete in this space," Mr. Morris said in an interview.
Fintech startups still account for a relatively small slice of the subprime-card market. At the end of 2017, Fair Square had 124,000 open accounts, more than half of which went to customers which prime credit scores at the time they were opened, and just shy of $95 million in balances for its Ollo card holders, according to people familiar with the matter.
Capital One has around $32 billion in subprime credit-card balances on its books.
The new entrants say their use of machine learning and artificial intelligence for underwriting helps them manage the risk. They also mostly extend small credit lines, often ranging between $500 and $2,000, limiting the scale of potential losses.
Around 60 million U.S. adults have credit scores lower than 650, according to Fair Isaac Corp. , roughly the threshold where banks focused on prime borrowers stop lending. Some 53 million U.S. adults don't have credit scores at all because they have little or no borrowing history.
Fintech lenders have been targeting both groups, often using data not included in applicants' credit reports, such as how often they change addresses and whether they pay their utility bills on time, to determine whether to approve them.
Fintech startups looking to enter the credit-card business have a few challenges that banks don't. They typically must partner with banks to issue the cards on their behalf to comply with rules set by card networks Visa Inc. and Mastercard Inc., and they need a source of funding to lend against. LendUp, for example, uses Transportation Alliance Bank to issue its Arrow Card and has a $100 million line of credit from Victory Park Capital Advisors LLC, a Chicago-based investment firm.