Photo: Flickr via storeyland
When we spoke with Kevin Cronan last spring, he was an ex-currency strategist working part-time at Starbucks, desperately trying to get back into the finance sector.Three years after he was laid off during the height of the recession, Cronan found himself staring down a $3,000 tax bill he had no means of paying.
He may have lost his liquid assets, but what about the relics of his past life as a high-roller that still remained?
“I remembered reading [about these online pawnshops] in the Wall Street Journal,” he told BI. “It stuck with me. Even though I had money in my retirement savings, I didn’t want to deplete it. I just thought, maybe I can leverage the stuff that’s hanging in my closet that I don’t use anymore.”
He found his way to Pawntique, one in a new wave of online pawnshops giving well-to-do consumers a way to tap into an industry that’s long been associated with the poor.
Cronan put up a multi-thousand-dollar Corum watch as collateral. Going the online route was quick and efficient, but the real perk was anonymity, he said:
“I didn’t want anyone to see me.”
He’s not alone either. When we reached out to Pawntique’s managing partner, Thomas Persing, he said they specifically target wealthy consumers who are looking for emergency funds, and small business owners who might have trouble securing a loan through traditional avenues.
“We’re looking at clients [who] aren’t just selling VCRs and camcorders and things like that,” Persing said. “We realised that 95 per cent of that type of client had never set foot in a pawn shop, and probably had no idea of what the traditional reputation of a pawn shop was. Those were the kind of things that really drew us to the anonymity [of an online pawn shop].”
“We designed the website to meet the demands of the increasing number of consumers who are unable to obtain bank loans, but don’t feel comfortable going into a pawnshop because of its sometimes-negative connotation,” Robbie Whitten, CEO of Money Mizer, said in a statement. “The pawn business is shifting to cater to non-traditional and often credit-worthy customers who are seeking new options to secure a loan.”
Online pawn shops are so mainstream, Pawngo has partnered up with hit A&E reality series “Pawn Stars” to launch a co-branded website called Pawnstars.com.
According to Marketwatch, they’re making big waves in the pawn industry as a whole, with pawnshop revenue topping $15.5 billion in 2012 and up 7.2 per cent over 2011.
Still, there are the usual cons of turning to pawnshop loans as an emergency fund –– most importantly, the sky-high interest rates that can wind up costing more than clients actually gain if they’re unable to pay back their loans. Then there’s the risk that borrowers can lose whatever item they put up for collateral.
The National Pawnbrokers Association estimates that 80 per cent of all pawn loans are repaid, but Pawntique says it’s achieved a 90 per cent payback rate so far. Like most, the site starts loans at three-month payback plans, but will extend to six months if need be.
“We want our clients to get their items back,” Persing says. “A lot of the items they’ve collected or acquired may be really important to them. They don’t want to lose them and we don’t want them to lose them.”