Michael Lewis Explores How Tally Thrived During the Pandemic By Helping More People Pay Down Debt
Lewis checks in with CEO Jason Brown a year after “The Invisible Coach” episode feat. Tally aired on the “Against the Rules” podcast.
September 30, 2021
Gearing up for the third season of his popular podcast, “Against the Rules,” celebrated author Michael Lewis checked in with some of his favorite guests from past seasons in a special “Where Are They Now'' bonus episode.
During Season 2, Lewis explored the theme of coaches. In Episode 1, “The Invisible Coach,” he dived deep into the world of personal finance and asked why nobody was coaching the millions of Americans who could benefit from a consumer advocate in their corner.
As Lewis shared, “If finance is a competitive sport, the credit card companies are undefeated.”
Amid his search for an answer, Lewis met Jason Brown, co-founder and CEO of Tally. The two discussed the pitfalls of the credit card industry and how Jason started his company to help coach everyday people on their finances.
Applying lessons learned from the Great Recession
When Lewis and Jason last met, Tally had launched the first and only automated debt manager to help people pay off their credit cards, managing nearly a billion dollars of consumer debt. Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit.
Fortunately, Jason and his team had operated companies through the last Great Recession. They took lessons learned from that period to Tally, building the new company in a way it could not only withstand unexpected shocks, but thrive.
In fact, Jason and the Tally team were able to double down on their mission. He shared: “We’ve been able to help even more people pay off their credit card debt and in some cases been able to cut people’s interest rates in half, saving them thousands of dollars in interest, and enabling them to pay off their credit card twice as fast.”
The pandemic became an opportunity for Tally to lean into its work and help more people pay down their credit card debt.
Prioritizing financial health
In these uncertain times, Lewis wondered how Tally’s business was doing and whether people were still focused on getting ahead of their debt. It turns out, as people prioritize getting their finances in order in the face of so much unknown, Tally has seen its members flourish, shared Jason. Many people saw an opportunity to make a significant dent in their credit card debt and took it. Tally members made some of the highest repayments on record, often using their stimulus checks to pay down their debts.
“COVID was this moment where everybody hit pause, and thought ‘I got to do something about my debt’,” said Jason. The vast majority of those in credit card debt are in such a state of anxiety that they don’t want to look at their bills or accounts. The pandemic served as a kind of wake up call, inspiring them to take control of their finances. “From our standpoint, anything that inspires people to move from coping to actually managing this problem and coming to Tally to help pay off their debt faster and get on top of their financial lives is great to see.”
Jason added that the pandemic inspired and accelerated Tally’s move to expand its offerings to people nationwide regardless of their credit score. Historically, Tally members needed a 660+ FICO score in order to use the app. Now anyone can use Tally’s automated debt manager to track and pay their credit cards in one place. Tally members also have access to customized payoff plans and smart recommendations for how much they should pay toward each of their cards every month.
The life-changing benefits of a good coach
Lewis and Jason also discussed Katie, a public school teacher and mother in her late 30s who was first introduced in the first season of “Against the Rules.” Her financial journey illustrated the devastating effects that debt can have on your overall well-being.
When Lewis first met Katie, she was unjustly burdened with student loan debt that should’ve been forgiven through a federal program for public servants. The stress of dealing with this debt caused Katie to grind her teeth at night, and she started losing her teeth. So even after she paid off her student loans, her dental bills landed her in credit card debt.
It wasn’t until Lewis introduced Katie to Tally that things started to turn around. With a financial coach in their corner, Katie and her family were able to pay far less in credit card interest every month, saving thousands of dollars in the process.
A year later, Lewis checked in on her progress and she’s thriving. “I’m super proud of her. She’s doing great. She’s like a textbook student. She’s taken advantage of all the benefits that Tally provides, like you’re supposed to, and she’s continuing to make awesome progress,” said Jason.
What makes someone an ‘expert’?
Season 3 of the podcast will focus on the world of experts, and Lewis wanted to know what qualifies someone as such. Jason shared his skepticism when it came to experts, especially today where there is so much money and social status tied to being perceived and branded as one.
“There’s this huge incentive for people to signal they’re an expert and it’s increasingly difficult to distinguish who’s the real expert and who’s the fraud,” said Jason.
Jason continued to share that in the past, expertise was often grounded in academia and third-party validation where there was some level of rigor and research. Now with social media and online platforms, there are countless ways to gain credibility with no substance. So what he wanted to know first and foremost was: How did they gain their authoritative knowledge? What are their incentives? Do they approach their subject with humility?
The third season of “Against the Rules” drops later this year. Until then, check out the original episode featuring Tally on Season 2, Episode 1, “The Invisible Coach” on the Against the Rules podcast here.