See, Bruce alone averages close to 200,000 photographs per month. And Jack’s company has 49 other camera-equipped spotter cars across several states. Of course, every major player in the repo business now uses the same automated rapid-photo technology that Jack does (although Jack proudly reports that he was the first adopter). The point is, no matter where you live, chances are someone has photos of your car. If you default on your loan, they know where to find you. If you find this creepy, you’re not alone. I asked Bruce to enter my license plate into his system. He instantly pulled up listings for each of the five times he’s photographed my truck. We had never met, but Bruce already knew where I drive, where I work, and most importantly, where I sleep. Last year, I spent a few hours helping Bruce find the cars the banks had requested that day. Armed with dozens of photos of the deadbeat borrowers’ plates, Bruce found four “hits” in four hours. When he finds a car, he dispatches one of Jack’s tow trucks to repossess it. But our “live hit” was a little different. A live hit is when, by chance, Bruce happens to snap a photo of a wanted plate that he wasn’t specifically looking for that night. This is extremely unusual – a rare bonus. That’s why Bruce was so excited. This particular Texas plate had “gone cold.” Everyone had stopped looking for it. Emotions run high when folks realize they are losing their car. That’s why repo men like Jack and Bruce – and Bruce’s designated tow-truck driver – sometimes wear bulletproof vests and work mostly at night. That’s when
delinquent borrowers tend to be at home – and in bed. Jack and Bruce’s business plays a key role in a story my colleagues and I have been following for more than three years now – the looming bust in subprime auto lending. You’ve likely heard a lot recently about the subprime auto crash. It’s suddenly the fashionable thing to talk about on Wall Street and in the mainstream financial press. Banks are slowly starting to admit that they’ve overextended credit to certain auto consumers. Bond-rating agencies and Wall Street analysts are reporting on who has the ugliest loan book. And credit agencies are publishing horrifying stats on the types of people who routinely get 20% financing on cars they can’t afford. But these statistics are always backward- looking. They tell you what was happening in the auto market three months ago. If you want to find out what’s happening in auto finance right now, you’ve got to buckle up and ride along with guys like Bruce and Jack. The banks and lenders try to convince Wall Street “it’s all under control”... But we’ve established relationships with a handful of the repo industry’s biggest players. And Jack and Bruce tell a different story: The repo business is booming... which means things are even worse than we thought for irresponsible lenders – who will soon face their reckoning.
62 January 2018
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