Will the Latest Version of ‘Buy Now, Pay Later’ Fly in the High-End Art World?

From exercise equipment to major art purchases... will the Affirm business model fly in the gallery world?

Sean Green, Photo: Greyson Tarantino, 2019. courtesy of ARTERNAL.

Want to buy a Van Gogh but don’t have the dough? Thwarted collectors have a new place to turn: Tech company Affirm has announced that it is launching a program to help people buy fine art in installments.

That’s because Arternal, a customer relationship management (CRM) and inventory management platform that works with galleries and related art businesses, has announced a partnership with Affirm. Arternal CEO Sean Green described the partnership as a “win-win,” adding that it will provide “the flexible payment options that collectors often require, while delivering a market accelerator for art galleries to reach new art buyers and increase sales.”

Interest rates for purchases through Arternal are zero percent for three and six-month payment plans. Following longer payment periods, the rate charged will depend on an approval process inclusive of a soft credit check that Affirm handles. Galleries are paid immediately.

Green explained to Artnet News that the invoice needs to be between $50 and $30,000 for Affirm to be used (invoices outside that range can be paid through credit card or ACH in Arternal Pay via Stripe). It remains to be seen whether so-called “buy now, pay later” (BNPL) structures will fly in the art world.

This is not the first time an art finance company has moved into the art-lending space. As Artnet News reported in 2016, Art Money, a lending business launched by entrepreneur and CEO Paul Becker, made its U.S. debut at the annual EXPO Chicago fair. In February 2023, Christie’s venture capital arm Christie’s Ventures announced a stake in that firm (though Becker specifically tried to distance himself from the “buy now, pay later” label).

According to a recent report in the Wall Street Journal, BNPL options have lifted sales for some companies in the recent past. That report notes that BNPL options gained popularity during the pandemic for everything from sweaters to treadmills, but adds that there are growing signs that consumers who tap the no- or low-fee loans are struggling, which suggests there could be trouble ahead for businesses making use of the model.

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