When you write a blog, it’s inevitable you’re going to meet people you disagree with. That’s good, even desirable, insofar as it encourages healthy debate.
Some people, however, go a step further and make accusations of bias and impropriety. It’s one thing when these allegations are made by nameless faces behind a keyboard. It is another entirely when they’re made by the CEO of a company. This is why I’ve decided to address the false allegations made by Ethan Dobson, ipaymy’s CEO.
Here’s the context: On 8 August, a reader spotted that Citibank had modified the terms and conditions of its credit cards rewards program. I published an article on 9 August discussing these changes. You can read the original article below:
Several changes were made to the rewards program’s T&Cs, but the key point of interest was the exclusion of certain spending categories from earning points.
Somewhere towards the bottom of the article, there are two sentences where I discuss the implications of these new exclusion categories.
MCC 6513 is also excluded, which means iPayMy payments will no longer earn any points with Citibank cards. I have confirmed with Cardup that they are unaffected by the changes, however.
On the morning of 10 August, Ethan Dobson, the CEO of ipaymy, left the following comment on the article.
ipaymy payments will not be impacted by this change. As usual, the author of the post did not contact us for clarification on this matter. It should be known that Aaron has a personal relationship with the founder of CardUp is (sic) is unable to write unbiased content on this subject.
Going forward, we would be happy to provide any relevant information prior to publication.
CEO of ipaymy
These are serious allegations. Ethan is saying two things:
(1) I have a personal relationship with the founder of CardUp
(2) That personal relationship precludes me from writing unbiased content on this subject
Let’s deal with the first allegation. Here are the relevant facts:
- I have met Nicki Ramsey, the founder of CardUp, once and only once at a Seedly panel discussion back in December 2017. Some of you may have attended the event or watched it on Facebook Live- there were five panelists in total and we had a great debate about miles versus cashback
- That was the first and only time I met Nicki, and indeed I’ve not spoken with her since. My communications with CardUp are done through a different representative
Therefore, Ethan’s allegation that there is a “personal relationship” is completely inaccurate. I’m not exactly sure where he got this idea, or what degree of a “personal relationship” he is implying, but based on what he says it’s a relationship close enough to cause me to be biased on the topic at hand.
The funny thing is, apart from the Seedly debate, I’ve never actually met anyone from CardUp in person. On the other hand, I’ve met folks from ipaymy in person a few times before. During the webinar I worked with Chrystie and Sue, who were amazing (they made sure to signal to me when I started talking too fast, so I think they were pretty tired by the end of the evening!). If you’re looking for a personal relationship, you’d certainly have a stronger case to make there.
So let’s deal with that second part- the alleged bias.
Again, here are the relevant facts:
- The Milelion has worked with ipaymy before and received financial compensation. On 5 and 8 December 2016, we ran two webinars covering the basics of travel hacking. The entirety of the compensation received was donated to World Vision Singapore, the site’s supported charity at the time
- The Milelion has not received any out of pocket compensation from CardUp, apart from member-refer-member credits
In light of that, I’m actually pretty surprised at the allegation of bias. I mean, I could understand someone saying we’re biased in favor of ipaymy due to the historical financial relationship that exists. I’ve actually gone through pains to remind people of this in the past so I don’t get accused of being unfair in their favor. For example, in my post on the DBS Woman’s World Card excluding CardUp and ipaymy from 10X points, I made mention of this:
Therefore it’s quite ironic that the allegation now is that I’m biased against ipaymy.
I’m sure people’s definition of bias will differ, so I’m going to let our track record speak for itself and let everyone come to their own conclusion. Here’s a list of every article I’ve written about ipaymy. Go through them, and you won’t find anything negative or disparaging. At the same time, here’s a list of every article I’ve written about CardUp.
It may be difficult for Ethan to accept, but when I sit down to write an article, there isn’t a pre-existing bias that informs what I write. The only question I have is: will readers find it relevant? There is no bias, because at the end of the day, I’m not loyal to either CardUp or ipaymy. What drives my decision about which one to use? Whichever one charges lower fees and offers more miles. My loyalty lies with miles.
It seems almost silly to have to point this out, but when UOB blocked CardUp from earning 10X points on the Preferred Platinum Visa, I covered that. When CardUp made it harder to redeem referral credits, I covered that too. Why? Not to “even the score” (because who’s keeping count?), but because it’s relevant to our readers.
Ethan says that:
As usual, the author of the post did not contact us for clarification on this matter
That’s correct, I did not contact ipaymy in this instance. But his “as usual” comment strikes me as a bit strange, given that I’ve actually had some back and forth with the ipaymy team in the past regarding rewards categories. For example, I’ve been in contact with Sue and Chrystie to get updates on which cards earn 10X rewards with ipaymy. I’ve always been glad to update posts with this info when I get it, because it’s useful to our readers.
And finally let’s deal with the issue that Ethan finds contentious- what happens to ipaymy after 4 October when Citibank makes these changes. Here’s what Ethan has told me through email:
We process payments over several MCCs depending on a number of factors including card bin range. We have the ability to programmatically move payments to a specific MCC as needed via various backend MID setups. While we do put many transactions through 6513 today, that is a choice, not a requirement. To prepare for the Citi changes, we will flip all Citi bins to a different MCC to make sure our customers are not impacted.
Ethan doesn’t dispute that ipaymy uses MCC 6513 (among others) today, which will soon be blocked from earning rewards.
His point is that going forward, ipaymy will change its MCC so customers can still earn rewards. That’s great! As someone in the miles and points hobby, I’m glad to know there will still be ways to get the miles I want.
If Ethan had simply reached out to me with this clarification, the post would be updated quickly (indeed, it already has been to reflect the new information) and the matter would be settled. Unfortunately, he has chosen to go beyond that and make untrue allegations about me, and that’s something I’m not going to let go unanswered.
I emailed Ethan on Friday night asking him to retract his comments and issue a public apology. He has yet to do so. I hope he will, but in the meantime I’m taking this step to address the allegations directly. For those of you who had any doubts about the allegations Ethan raised, I hope this addresses your questions. I’m proud of what we write on The Milelion, and will defend our objectivity and impartiality when the need arises.