Last week, an article by Andy Peters in the American Banker hit a nerve. It profiled a California bank that had tried to make small dollar loans work as an alternative to payday lending, but had decided to give up the effort.
One PacificCoast Bank in Oakland, Calif., is regrouping as it looks to battle payday lenders in the San Francisco Bay area.
The $282 million-asset thrift recently pulled the plug on its One Pac Pal loan, which it tailored to offer low-income clients short-term credit at reasonable rates and terms. The program, which began 18 months earlier, lost too much money, says Kat Taylor, One PacificCoast's chief executive.
"We have not yet found an economically sustainable product that's sufficient to save enough people" from payday lenders, she says.
I hate to say "I told you so," but...Oh, who am I kidding. I TOLD YOU SO!From August 1, 2007:
In June, when the FDIC issued its final Affordable Small-Dollar Loan Guidelines and FDIC Chairman Sheila Bair was pressing commercial banks to compete with payday lenders for the "Mini Me" loan biz, even banks in states like North Carolina, which kicked out the bottom feeders, were rolling their eyeballs in disdain at the prospect of rushing in to fill the breach. Among other problems, the Guidelines "encourage" banks to cap the APR at 36 percent.
The North Carolina banks banks profiled in the linked article didn't believe that there was enough bang for the buck to justify dipping their toes in the shallow water. Even the lone credit union that offered a payday loan-like product wasn't making any money on it because it was barred by state law from charging more than an 18% APR and it was actually requiring the loan to be paid back in 90 days. If it had only rolled the loan over (and over and over) and neglected to comply with the usury laws, it might, like Madonna, have been able to "get into the groove" and make some real payday lender-like money.
Lyndsey Medsker, spokesperson for the Community Financial Services Association of America, which, according to another article, represents about 60 percent of the payday loan industry, said the 36% annual percentage rate cap was a non-starter for commercial banks.
"There's an effort to cap loans at 36 percent annual rate, which the FDIC guidelines suggest. How that works into two- week loans is $1.38 per $100," she says. "I know payday lenders can't make money on that, so banks couldn't possibly either."
Mr. Peters' latest article also quotes a consultant as correctly noting that at the same time these loans pose a high risk of nonpayment, they bear a high regulatory compliance risk and, because credit scores must be thrown out the window (or reliance on them reduced), a high underwriting risk. Peters also notes that the FDIC ended its small dollar loan pilot program in 2009 because banks couldn't make a return sufficient to cover the risk.
One PacificCoast bank's experience is in line with the consistent experience of other FDIC-insured banks who've tried to beat payday lenders at their own game over the past six years. Basic business principles don't change. However, they've never ceased to be ignored in the service of an ideological agenda, one which holds that payday loans are evil because they have high fees that "trap" poor people in a never-ending spiral of debt, people who are too stupid and/or unsophisticated and/or desperate to think for themselves, and who must be protected from their inherent deficiencies by those who know better. Guys like Recess Richie and the Payday Slayers.
It's obvious that trying to use traditional banks as payday lending alternatives is not going to work. Unless, of course, you let them earn the same return that payday lenders earn.Which kind of thwarts the "higher purpose," doesn't it?
That's right Liz, reality bites.