Why business is picking up for high-end pawn shops

One of the interesting, and potentially market-changing, stories to come out of this current recession is the creation of high-end pawn operations, or what some people in the business prefer to call "collateral lenders."

"Never before have we seen so many affluent individuals coming into our shop with the high-ticket items," Jordan Tabach-Bank, CEO of Beverly Loan Company in Beverly Hills, told CBS News in 2008, as the recession deepened. "We have lawyers, accountants, doctors, investment bankers."

Unlike a regular pawn shop, these specialty firms take loans against luxury items like jewelry, works of art, classic cars and vintage wines.

And Tom McDermott, general manager-USA for Borro, says his company is more like a private bank than a pawn shop. "It's providing liquidity to sell items and give advances against those assets that would-be pawn shops wouldn't be able to have the capital for," he said.

Borro also started in the midst of the recession, in London in 2008, and was launched in the U.S. in 2012. You might think the company's business would slow down as the global economy recovers, but McDermott says business is booming.

"Since we've launched the company we've loaned about $115 million in loans," he notes. "Last year we did around about $50 million in lending, and this year we're on track to hit $100 million."

What has changed is the type of individuals attracted to firms like Borro. McDermott says half of his company's customers are asset-rich but cash-poor -- people who are, or were, well-to-do, have something of value and are facing short-term liquidity issues.

But the other half is made up of entrepreneurs and small business owners who need a sudden infusion of cash for their operations.

"Increasingly, we're seeing people come in and use the capital that we lend, or give them against a sale, to use in a business opportunity, not just solve a financial crisis," McDermott said.

This category of customer might, for example, need to take advantage of a cash discount while buying inventory, with the understanding they'll be able to move that inventory quickly, make a profit and pay back the loan.

There's also the continued reluctance of many mainstream banks, still smarting from the recession, to lend to businesses.

"Even though there is a recovery in place, the banks are not lending like they used to, particularly to small business owners," McDermott said. "The banks today just don't have the appetite or the desire to serve that business, and that's why you're seeing more alternative financial services open up to solve and serve that market."

Not everyone getting loans from these companies are ultra-wealthy. Borro will lend from $1,000 up to $2 million, depending on the collateral, although its average loan amount is $12,000.

"We have watches and jewelry that may be worth $1,200 [or] $1,500 that we lend $1,000 against," McDermott said. "And to the other extreme, we have art and automobiles that are easily in the six figures."

Monthly interest rates, depending on the asset and type of loan, can run from about 2.49 to 3.99 percent.

Some of the assets people use to secure these loans can be quite unconventional. Among some recent items, according to McDermott, were a collection of props used by the magician Harry Houdini; the motorcycle jacket Steve McQueen wore in the classic 1968 movie "Bullitt"; a 2004 Olympic gold medal; a variety of World Series and Super Bowl rings; Beatles memorabilia; and a collection of Fender guitars.

Borro even lent $48,000 against had a vintage bottle Chateau d'Yquem, one of the world's priciest wines.

  • Bruce Kennedy

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