Katherine McConnell

Brighte’s growth trajectory shows no sign of slowing as the green financier’s ranks swell to 180 after dropping to 80 at the start of the pandemic. Plans are now to grow to 300-350 in the next 12 months.

“We have about 50 open roles advertised,” Brighte founder and chief executive officer Katherine McConnell said.

The company’s buy-now-pay-later financing option for solar and other green home improvements has proven popular, with company’s customers surging from 80 to 110,000 in just four years.

In the last month the company hit $1 billion worth of applications. While not all approved, Ms McConnell said this number is important because it signals the interest from customers and illustrates the scalability of the platform.

After fanning the flames of Australia’s rapid rooftop solar adoption, the company is now taking on the country’s sluggish battery uptake.

Late last year the company raised an additional $100 million in a capital raise led by Grok Ventures, the investment company of Mike and Annie Cannon-Brookes, to set itself up as a “gen-tailer” that will help customers tap into the money-making potential of batteries.

Ms McConnell told The Fifth Estate that she founded the business after she got her first battery in 2015. At that time she was an early adopter of batteries and she recalls an arduous, paperwork-heavy process that took three days to get the battery installed. The upfront cost was also steep at $14,500 for a small 6KW battery.

She imagined that if the upfront cost barrier was removed and the purchase price aligned with the payback period, as per the buy-now-pay-later payment plans her company offered, other households would follow suit and install a battery within the next few years.

But that never eventuated: although there are now 3 million homes with rooftop solar, only around 110,000 have batteries.

While finance proved to be the main barrier holding back solar installations, the reasons behind slow household battery adoption are more complicated.

“Although batteries can generate revenue streams, these are not packaged into the price in the same way they are for solar.”

Solar customers benefit from small-scale technology certificates and feed-in-tariffs from energy retailers. Batteries also generate financial value, such as arbitrage where batteries charge when prices are low and discharge to generate energy when prices are high, but these revenue streams are more difficult to communicate to customers.

Unlocking this value boiled down to packaging up these streams neatly for customers and offering it through a gen-tailing model where customers own the energy assets and pay the company back over time. The company will be their customer’s energy retailer with the intention of helping them realise revenue from their solar and batteries.

The company now has some different pilots and is testing them with the plan to go public next year.

“We are really excited about making a dent in accelerating uptake in batteries.”

Ms McConnell says electrification will be next.

“It’s looking at all the different appliances in the home and making them more efficient and potentially controlling them for affordability outcomes for the household and the wider community.”

Afterpay, but for solar

At the moment the company makes its revenue through two credit and finance products.

The flagship product is a buy-now-pay-later, zero interest payment plan.

The company is able to charge the customer because the vendors (the companies that install the solar systems etcetera) pay a fee that covers the cost of finance for the consumer.

The vendor is incentivised to join the scheme because Brighte takes on the risk and helps its vendors convert sales, source leads and get paid quicker. The amount the vendor pays depends on the term: a higher term means a higher fee. There are also volume discounts for top vendors. 

The customer does also pay some fees. There’s a weekly account keeping fee and missed payment fees, but these are capped at no more than 10 times a year (no more than $50 a year).

The company also offers credit loans that have different interest depending on whether the loan is for a green upgrade or other purpose. Green loans have slightly lower interest rates than the generic personal loans.

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