Personal-finance startup Pillar announced a “gifting platform” on Tuesday for friends and family members to give holiday gifts in the form of crowdfunded student loan payments. The somewhat dystopian effort mirrors gimmicks done by companies like Natural Light, Domino’s, and Kraft, which launched altruistic efforts this year that darkly capitalized on societal plights and governmental failures. “It’s unfortunate a product like Boost even needs to exist, but that’s exactly why we built it — to bring the student loan conversation to the forefront and make it possible for people to pay off their debt faster this holiday season,” Pillar founder and CEO Michael Bloch told Business Insider.Sign up for Business Insider’s retail newsletter, The Drive-Thru.Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.Nothing quite says happy holidays like a loved one making a payment on your astronomical student loan balance.Pillar — a personal-finance startup and app that manages student loans and provides strategies for paying it off efficiently — announced a new feature called Boost on Tuesday described as “the first gifting platform” for student loan payments. Boost is designed as a crowdfunding platform, much like Kickstarter or Patreon, except that rather than fund pet projects and fledgling documentaries, it collects funds to pay off student loans. “With Boost by Pillar, a person’s friends and family can make payments towards their loved one’s student loans,” a Pillar press release stated. “This novel feature helps address the outstanding debt that is weighing down millions of families this holiday season.”Though Pillar — which officially launched in May with the help of $5.5 million in seed funding — is currently free to download and use, it will begin offering premium features next year. Still, its Boost feature has dystopian shades that mirror efforts like Natural Light’s pledge to donate $10 million to student loan payments, Domino’s move to fill potholes around the country, and Kraft’s feeding federal workers during the government shutdown in January.
Natural Light announced it would help pay off student debt in January.
While some praised these companies for the seemingly good deeds, others pointed out the unsettling nature of public relations gimmicks that are essentially capitalizing on systemic societal issues around low minimum wages, crumbling infrastructure, and headlocked government. In the case of Pillar, Boost comes across as a somewhat tone-deaf approach to alleviate the national student debt total, which has now swelled to an estimated $1.6 trillion. As someone who personally has thousands of dollars in student debt, it’s almost laughable to consider a distant aunt sending me $50 to a student loan fund that is currently accruing interest as we speak. “Student loan servicers make money by keeping people in debt longer,” Pillar founder and CEO Michael Bloch wrote in an email to Business Insider. “It’s unfortunate a product like Boost even needs to exist, but that’s exactly why we built it — to bring the student loan conversation to the forefront and make it possible for people to pay off their debt faster this holiday season.”Ultimately, corporate America has never been shy to profit using the veneer of altruism — this is, after all, the root of concepts like “greenwashing” and “pinkwashing.” In a more recent example, Twitter users spurned KFC in September after the company gifted a car to an employee, a single mother who had been walking an hour each way to and from work every day.The news was met with a chorus of comments like “paying her a living wage is even better” and “this is not a feel good story.”—StillSteerage (@StillSteerage) September 27, 2019I can’t say I disagree. Companies, do better!
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