One of the biggest financial service disruptions in recent memory has been the inspiring transformation of the payday lending industry.
A new breed of technology companies has begun to displace traditional and expensive lenders by using data and technology to build scalable, profitable businesses that deliver meaningful change for borrowers. As a financial technology investor that believes social impact can be an economic multiplier, I am particularly excited about this same model migrating to other industries. I believe that the subprime auto market is that next great opportunity for entrepreneurs.
As a whole, auto lending is a massive and highly fragmented market composed of banks, “captive” lenders, finance companies and Buy Here Pay Here (BHPH) lenders in which many consumers are unable to identify the best financing options available to them. For all but the best customers, the result is often a less-than exceptional buying experience made worse by high interest rates, unnecessary fees, and poor loan terms.
On top of this, a not-so-subtle market shift is underway towards servicing the growing subprime auto market. Lenders are drawn to this market because many buyers that sat out the recession are now shopping for cars in substantial numbers, and subprime loans offer attractive margins. Historically, this population is even more vulnerable because of a lack of compelling loan choices and misaligned financial products. However, much like the payday loan industry of five years ago, the prevalence of mobile phones and big data has the potential to dramatically reshape this trend and the larger auto industry by putting control back in the hands of the borrower.
Just as payday lending evolved to better meet the needs of the underbanked, so will auto lending change to meet the needs of subprime customers. Today’s subprime customers can pay as much as 10 times more to get a car loan, with BHPH lenders charging rates as high as 30% with no un st as payday lending evolved to better meet the needs of the underbanked, so will auto lending change to meet the needs of subprime customers. Today’s subprime customers can pay as much as 10 times more to get a car loan, with BHPH lenders charging rates as high as 30% with no underwriting. But the combination of new technologies and increasing government regulatory attention means that buyers can expect dramatically lower costs and much more efficient ways of buying a car in the very near future. At the same time, this change presents an enormous opportunity for current auto lenders and entrepreneurial thinkers as buyers search for the best deal in a newly transparent marketplace.
Over the next five years, I expect to see five new trends help completely transform this market in a way that significantly improves the borrower experience and delivers them a better deal.
First, new alternative risk scoring technologies and mobile underwriting tools will cut the cost of the highest subprime loan rates by 50%. The payday loan industry provides the clearest precedent here with companies like L2C and Zest Finance using Big Data and alternative scoring methods to significantly drop the price of borrowing. Some people (rightly so) may take issue with the structure of these loans, but no one can argue the impact on interest rate. I expect to see a similar impact when you consider the current, inflated auto lending rates and the high number of BHPH loan originations. Technologies such as big data, neural networks, and machine learning will put the tools in the hands of consumers to seriously undercut this legacy network.
Second, Internet sales and new retail channels will transform auto finance distribution, and Wal-Mart will be the nation’s biggest auto financier by 2018…with Costco and Sears close on its heels. We have only to look at cell phones, electronics, gas, or hundreds of other products to find examples of how this will upend the market dynamics in favor of consumers. Cellphones in particular have moved from a manufacturer-controlled network to a far-flung distributed sales channel that includes prepaid cellphones at corner stores. With Wal-Mart already successfully dipping its toe in the bank branch model, and as the largest check casher in US, auto finance is a natural extension. The end result will be more and lower cost loan choices for car buyers.
Third, improved loan servicing will reduce repossessions by 80%. One of the most disturbing elements of the payday industry isn’t always the front-end loan pricing, but rather the resulting debt treadmill that occurs with multiple renewals and fees. Similarly, in the auto industry, late payments and repossessions can become the larger and unexpected financial impact. New technologies that allow car owners to avoid repossessions through POS payments are already making a difference and additional education will help borrowers understand the long-term implications of non-payment. Eventually, cars will become like utilities that can be shut off for late payments. The net-net will be cheaper upfront borrowing costs because of reduced back-end risk for loan holders.
Fourth, collaborative consumption will influence loan terms for 10% of loans. The rise of transportation alternatives like ZipCar and Uber have some worried about the future of auto purchases. I believe that new, alternative lenders will see the silver lining here and leverage those opportunities to turn your car into a source of income by structuring lower cost loans tied to collaborative consumption trends. The greater ridership for your vehicle, the more reasonable your loan terms. It might sound counterintuitive to some, but it will encourage people to purchase vehicles as an economic opportunity.
Finally, the ubiquity of smartphones will inform a majority of auto purchasing behaviors and will change the point of interaction between customers, dealers, and lenders. By this, I mean that you will have better access to insider pricing information and will no longer be constrained by your physical location when securing an auto loan. Instead of having to divorce your purchase from your loan, or tie the two together by securing on-site financing – borrowers can close over their smartphone in a dealership, or even use their phone to find the best financing deals nearest them. Instead of information asymmetries where more than 10% of BHPH customers are prime and super-prime, we will find a better-aligned marketplace.
Overall, I think we are heading towards a golden age of subprime auto lending that will trickle up into the larger auto loan industry and bring us all compelling choices and benefits. While there will certainly be resistance by some of the entrenched players, we have already seen a willingness by more traditional finance institutions and newer alternative lenders to push the envelope. The result will be a changing and evolving industry – much like payday – that is better suited to the financial conditions of the consumer.