Consumer credit may seem like a fairly new invention – but it’s actually been around for more than 5,000 years!
In fact, many millennia before the credit score became ubiquitous, there is historical evidence that cultures around the world were borrowing for various reasons. From the writings in Hammurabi’s Code to the exchanges documented by the Ancient Romans, we know that credit was used for purposes such as getting enough silver to buy a property or for agricultural loans made to farmers.
Consumer Credit: 3,500 B.C. to Today
In today’s infographic from Equifax, we look at the long history of consumer credit – everything from the earliest writings of antiquity to the modern credit boom that started in the 20th century.
Consumer credit has evolved considerably from the early days.
Over the course of several millennia, there have been credit booms, game-changing innovations, and even periods such as the Dark Ages when the practice of charging interest (also known as “usury”) was considered immoral by some people.
A Timeline of Consumer Credit
Below is a timeline of the significant events that have helped lead to the modern consumer credit boom, in which Americans now have over $12.4 trillion borrowed through mortgages, credit cards, student loans, auto loans, and other types of credit.
The Ancients and Credit
3,500 BC – Sumer
Sumer was the first urban civilization – with about 89% of its population living in cities. It is thought that here consumer loans, used for agricultural purposes, were first used.
1,800 BC – Babylon
The Code of Hammurabi was written, formalizing the first known laws around credit. Hammurabi established the maximum interest rates that could be used legally: 33.3% per year on loans of grain, and 20% per year on loans of silver. To be valid, loans had to be witnessed by a public official and recorded as a contract.
50 BC – The Roman Republic
Around this time, Cicero noted that his neighbor bought 625 acres of land for 11.5 million sesterces.
Did this person literally carry 11.5 tons of coins through the streets of Rome? No, it was done through credit and paper. Cicero writes “nomina facit, negotium conficit” – or, “he uses credit to complete the purchase”.
Moral Concerns About Lending
800 – The Dark Ages in Europe
After the collapse of the Western Roman Empire, economic activity grinded to a halt. The Church even banned usury, the practice of charging interest on loans, for all laymen under Charlemagne’s rule (768-814 AD).
1500 – The Age of Discovery
As European explorers and merchants begin trade missions to faraway lands, the need for capital and credit increases.
1545 – England
After the Reformation, the first country to establish a legal rate of interest was England in 1545 during the reign of Henry VIII. The rate was set at 10%.
1787 – England
Philosopher Jeremy Bentham writes a treatise called “A Defense of Usury”, arguing that restrictions on interest rates harm the ability to raise capital for innovation. If risky, new ventures cannot be funded, then growth becomes limited.
The Birth of Modern Consumer Credit
1803 – England
Credit reporting itself originated in England in the early 19th century. The earliest available account is that of a group of English tailors that came together to swap information on customers who failed to settle their debts.
1826 – England
The Manchester Guardian Society is formed, and later begins issuing a monthly newsletter with information about people who fail to pay their debts.
1841 – New York
The Mercantile Agency is founded, and starts systemizing rumors about the character and assets held by debtors through a network of correspondents. Massive ledgers in New York City are made, though these reports were heavily subjective and biased.
1864 – New York
The Mercantile Agency is renamed the R. G. Dun and Company on the eve of the Civil War, and finalizes an alphanumeric system for tracking creditworthiness of companies that would remain in use until the twentieth century.
1899 – Atlanta
The Retail Credit Company was founded, and begins compiling an extensive list of creditworthy customers. Later on, the company would change its name to Equifax. Today, it is the oldest of the three major credit agencies today in the United States.
The Consumer Credit Boom
1908 – Detroit
Henry Ford’s Model T makes automobiles accessible to the “great multitude” of people, but they were still too expensive to buy with cash for most families.
1919 – Detroit
GM solves this problem by loaning consumers the money they need to buy a new car. General Motors Acceptance Corporation (GMAC) is founded and popularizes the idea of installment plan financing. Consumers can now get a new car with just a 35% downpayment at time of financing.
1930 – United States
By this time, efficient U.S. factories are pumping out cheaper consumer products and appliances. Following the lead of GM, now washing machines, furniture, refrigerators, phonographs, and radios can be bought on installment plans. It’s also worth noting that in this period, 2/3 of all autos are bought on installment plans.
The First in Big Data
1950 – United States
By 1950, typical middle-class Americans already had revolving credit accounts at different merchants. Maintaining several different cards and monthly payments was inconvenient, and created a new opportunity.
At the same time, Diners Club introduces their charge card, which helps open the floodgates for other consumer credit products.
1955 – United States
Early credit reporters use millions of index cards, sorted in a massive filing system, to keep track of consumers around the country. To get the latest information, agencies would scour local newspapers for notices of arrests, promotions, marriages, and deaths, attaching this information to individual credit files.
1958 – United States
BankAmericard (now Visa) is “dropped” in Fresno, California. American Express and Mastercard soon follow, offering Americans general credit for a wide range of purchases.
1960 – United States
At a time when the technology was limited to filing cabinets, the postage meter, and the telephone, American credit bureaus issued 60 million credit reports in a single year.
1964– United States
The Association of Credit Bureaus in the U.S. conducts the first studies into the application of computer technologies to credit reporting. Accuracy of data is also improved around this time by standardizing credit application forms.
1970 – United States
The first Fair Credit Reporting Act is passed in the United States. It establishes a standard legal framework for credit reporting agencies.
1980s – United States
The three biggest credit bureaus attain universal coverage across the country.
1989 – United States
The FICO score is introduced, and quickly becomes a standard system to measure credit scores based on objective factors and data.
2006 – United States
VantageScore is created through a joint-venture between the top three credit scoring agencies. This new consumer credit-scoring model is used by 10% of the market, and 6 of the 10 largest banks use VantageScore.
The Information Age has enabled a new era in consumer credit and assessing risk – and today, credit reports are used to inform decisions about housing, employment, insurance, and the cost of utilities.
Learn more about how data, the internet, and modern computing is changing credit in Part 2 of this series.
How Total Spend by U.S. Advertisers Has Changed, Over 20 Years
This graphic visualizes the fluctuations in advertising spend in the U.S., along with its brutal decline of 13% as a result of COVID-19.
Total Spend by U.S. Advertisers, Over 20 Years
With an advertising economy worth $239 billion in 2019, it’s safe to say that the U.S. is home to some of the biggest advertising spenders on the planet.
However, the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in the major upheaval of advertising spend, and it is unlikely to recover for some time.
The graphic above uses data from Ad Age’s Leading National Advertisers 2020 which measures U.S. advertising spend each year, and ranks 100 national advertisers by their total spend in 2019.
Let’s take a look at the brands with the biggest budgets.
2019’s Biggest Advertising Spenders
Much of the top 10 biggest advertising spenders are in the telecommunications industry, but it is retail giant Amazon that tops the list with an advertising spend of almost $7 billion.
In fact, Amazon spent an eye-watering $21,000 per minute on advertising and promotion in 2019, making them undeniably the largest advertising spender in America.
Explore the 100 biggest advertisers in 2019 below:
|Rank||Company||Total U.S. Ad Spend 2019||Industry|
|#4||Procter & Gamble||$4.3B||Consumer Goods|
|#9||American Express||$3.0B||Financial Services|
|#11||JPMorgan Chase||$2.8B||Financial Services|
|#16||Nestlé||$2.3B||Food & Beverages|
|#18||Expedia Group||$2.2B||Travel & Hospitality|
|#19||Capital One Financial||$2.2B||Financial Services|
|#20||Fiat Chrysler Automobiles||$2.0B||Automotive|
|#24||PepsiCo||$1.7B||Food & Beverages|
|#25||Bank of America||$1.7B||Financial Services|
|#28||McDonald’s||$1.6B||Food & Beverages|
|#29||Booking Holdings||$1.6B||Travel & Hospitality|
|#31||Johnson & Johnson||$1.5B||Pharmaceuticals|
|#32||Anheuser-Busch InBev||$1.5B||Food & Beverages|
|#34||Merck & Co.||$1.5B||Logistics|
|#44||Wells Fargo||$1.1B||Financial Services|
|#45||Yum Brands||$1.1B||Food & Beverages|
|#51||Diageo||$918M||Food & Beverages|
|#53||Discover Financial Services||$883M||Financial Services|
|#54||Mars||$880M||Food & Beverages|
|#58||Molson Coors||$822M||Food & Beverages|
|#61||Coca-Cola||$816M||Food & Beverages|
|#64||Kraft Heinz||$782M||Food & Beverages|
|#70||Constellation Brands||$749M||Food & Beverages|
|#80||Marriott International||$667M||Travel & Hospitality|
|#89||Reckitt Benckiser||$593M||Consumer Goods|
|#90||Keurig Dr Pepper||$593M||Food & Beverages|
|#91||Restaurant Brands International||$589M||Food & Beverages|
|#92||Inspire Brands||$589M||Food & Beverages|
The report offers several ways of looking at this data—for example, when looking at highest spend by medium, Procter & Gamble comes out on top for traditional media spend like broadcast and cable TV.
On the digital front, Expedia Group is the biggest spender on desktop search, while Amazon tops the list for internet display ads.
The Rise and Fall of Advertising Spend
Interestingly, changes in advertising spend tend to fall closely in step with broader economic growth. In fact, for every 1% increase in U.S. GDP, there is a 4.4% rise of advertising that occurs in tandem.
The same phenomenon can be seen among the biggest advertising spenders in the country. Since 2000, spend has seen both promising growth, and drastic declines. Unsurprisingly, the Great Recession resulted in the largest drop in spend ever recorded, and now it looks as though history may be repeating itself.
Total advertising spend in the U.S. is estimated this year to see a brutal decline of almost 13% and is unlikely to return to previous levels for a number of years.
The COVID-19 Gut Punch
To say that the global COVID-19 pandemic has impacted consumer behavior would be an understatement, and perhaps the most notable change is how they now consume content.
With more people staying safe indoors, there is less need for traditional media formats such as out-of-home advertising. As a result, online media is taking its place, as an increase in spend for this format shows.
But despite marketers trying to optimize their media strategy or stripping back their budget entirely, many governments across the world are ramping up their spend on advertising to promote public health messages—or in the case of the U.S., to canvass.
The Saving Grace?
Even though advertising spend is expected to nosedive by almost 13% in 2020, this figure excludes political advertising. When taking that into account, the decline becomes a slightly more manageable 7.6%
Moreover, according to industry research firm Kantar, advertising spend for the 2020 U.S. election is estimated to reach $7 billion—the same as Amazon’s 2019 spend—making it the most expensive election of all time.
Can political advertising be the key to the advertising industry bouncing back again?
Visualized: A Breakdown of Amazon’s Revenue Model
Here’s a look at the different parts of Amazon’s revenue model, and how much money each business segment makes.
Visualized: A Breakdown of Amazon’s Revenue Model
Amazon has evolved into more than just an online store. While ecommerce makes up a significant portion of the company’s overall sales, its diverse revenue model generates billions through various business segments.
This visualization provides an overview of the different parts that make up Amazon, showing each business unit’s net sales from June 2019 to 2020.
A Diverse Revenue Model
With a market cap of $1.7 trillion, Amazon is currently the most valuable retailer in the world. The company is expected to account for 4.6% of total U.S. retail sales by the end of 2020—but the tech giant is more than just a one-trick pony.
A key factor in the company’s success is its diversification into other areas. Here’s a breakdown of Amazon’s revenue mix:
|Business Segment||Net Sales (June 2019 - 2020)|
|Online stores||$163 B|
|Third-party selling services||$63 B|
|Amazon Web Services||$40 B|
|Subscription services||$22 B|
|Physical stores||$17 B|
|Total Revenue||$322 billion|
While Amazon is truly more than an online store, it’s worth noting that online sales account for a significant amount of the company’s overall revenue mix. Over the period of June 2019 to 2020, product sales from Amazon’s website generated $163 billion, which is more than the company’s other business units combined.
A significant day for online sales is Prime Day, which has grown into a major shopping event comparable to Black Friday and Cyber Monday. In 2020, Prime Day is projected to generate almost $10 billion in global revenue.
While ecommerce makes up a large portion of Amazon’s overall sales, there are many other segments that each generate billions in revenue to create immense value for the tech giant. For instance, enabling third-party sellers on the platform is the company’s second-largest unit in terms of net sales, racking up $63 billion over the course of a year.
This segment has shown tremendous growth over the last two decades. In 2018, it accounted for 58% of gross merchandise sales on Amazon, compared to just 3% in 2000. While third-party sellers technically outsold Amazon itself, the company still makes money through commission and shipping fees.
Amazon is Not Alone: Diversification is Common
Amazon isn’t the only major tech company to benefit from diverse revenue streams.
Other tech giants generate revenue through a range of products, services, and applications—for instance, while a healthy portion of Apple’s revenue comes from iPhone sales, the company captures 17% of revenue from a mix of services, ranging from Apple Pay to Apple Music. Microsoft is another example of this, considering it owns a wide range of hardware, cloud services, and platforms.
While there are several reasons to build a diverse business portfolio, a key benefit that comes from diversification is having a buffer against market crashes. This has proven to be particularly important in 2020, given the economic devastation caused by the global pandemic.
The Sum of its Parts
Despite varying levels of sales, each business unit brings unique value to Amazon.
For instance, while Amazon Web Services (AWS) falls behind online sales and third-party sellers in net sales, it’s one of the most profitable segments of the company. In the fourth quarter of 2019, more than half of Amazon’s operating income came from AWS.
In short, when looking at the many segments of Amazon, one thing is clear—the company is truly the sum of its parts.
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