28 Aug I’m sick of it: My crusade to reframe pawnbroking
I met somebody at a party the other night, you know, one of those friend of a friend of a friends. We spoke for a while, and he seemed a nice chap until we started talking about our jobs. His demeanour changed when he found out I was a pawnbroker and he asked, “how do you sleep at night being a part of the pawnbroking industry?”
My jaw dropped, but only for a moment, as sadly, it wasn’t the first time I’d had a comment like this levelled at me. So I steeled myself and didn’t take the bait
“I sleep very well, thank you,” and smiled. That took him aback. “Out of curiosity, why did you make that comment?” I asked him.
“Oh, no offence intended. It’s just, pawnbrokers, are a bit scummy, aren’t they? Don’t they prey on the poor and needy, you know, people who are already struggling financially?”
My new party friend was right — if we lived in a world of old style trashy American TV stereotypes.
“Pawnbroking is, after all, just another form of lending…”
“I see. Can I ask, who do you think I deal with on a daily basis? Their demographics?” He thought for a moment.
“Probably the unemployed, low-income earners, people on the benefit. That sort,” he reasoned.
“Interestingly enough, I do have clients like that, I said, which surprised him. “But I think you’ve been misled by stereotypes. The truth is, I also have clients that are working mum and dads, business owners, entrepreneurs, property developers, my clients come from all walks of life ” you know, that sort.” His jaw dropped this time.
As I said, this wasn’t the first time I had come across this perception, and the sad truth is that pawnbroking is a loaded word. Loaded with exactly the kind of picture my friend of a friend of a friend was conjuring. Thankfully that style of pawnbroking is dwindling with the stereotype fading, and the real value of a pawnbroker like me is beginning to be understood.
A loan by any other name
Pawnbroking is, after all, just another form of lending, and in fact, there have been calls for legitimate pawnbroking systems to become a bigger part of the loan sector. “It is time to replace the lender of last resort by the pawnbroker for all seasons,” wrote former Bank of England Governor Mervyn King in his 2016 book. “A pawnbroker is someone who is prepared to lend to almost anyone who pledges collateral sufficient to cover the value of a loan…” One dimensional lending doesn’t make for a stable financial landscape and banks must adopt a more pawnbroker-like model.
There needs to be a faster, more mobile way to get capital that doesn’t involve too much risk or paperwork. Businesses that need to secure a business deal, make that payroll before the Christmas holidays, help their family through a crisis, and even just pay bills. Clients could be real estate agents waiting for that deal to close, entrepreneurs expecting capital, lawyers who need a little extra cash and don’t want their credit rating affected. Ultimately, pawnbroker loans perform a valuable role in both the personal and professional world in a variety of circumstances.
Back to our party friend. He thought about what I said for a moment.
“But, you take their stuff knowing they’re not coming back for it, don’t you?”
“Not really, it’s just collateral for a loan. When people are putting down Jewellery, designer handbags, Rolex watches, Cars and the like, they tend to come back for them. It’s not a stringless tennis racket or the family bicycle people are bringing in — people are using higher-value items. Jeez, we’ve even had enquiries about boats and planes.” He was speechless. Most are.
But, I couldn’t blame the guy. Pawnbrokers do have a stigma, and I’m tired of it. Pawnbroking has changed a lot over the years, and it’s time for people to know that it’s a legitimate business run from private offices with absolute integrity, rather than a tatty shop filled with stolen goods. The assets we take for security are checked to ensure they’re legitimate, and we have a close working relationship with the police to ensure we never receive questionable items. More importantly, we help people get ahead in their personal and professional life without the painful process of a bank loan, and that’s something of which I am proud.
It was a good, honest conversation and my party friend went away impressed. He’d begun to see my business and the pawnbroking industry in a different light. Maybe next time he needs to bridge his finance, I’ll hear from him.
So, that’s my crusade—Pawnbroking will no longer be a loaded word, even if it means changing perceptions one party at a time.
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Take care out there.
Kevin, The Pawnbroker