A sturdy chain and slender cross, both made of gold, are placed on the desk in a small plastic bag. Its owner is pondering whether to pawn or sell her grandmother’s necklace and mother’s pendant to raise £400 in cash to pay off debts and fund her daughter’s birthday celebrations. She has never used a pawnbroker before, but her finances are under increasing pressure.
“Every month I have got nothing to live on,” says the client, who declined to be identified, as she fights back tears. “I’ve been sitting around the house planning things I can sell. I’m out of the house for nine or 10 hours a day five days a week and I’m still skint five days after I get paid.”
The customer is one of many to cross the threshold on a typical day at Pickwick in Ashford, Kent, part of a chain of eight pawnbrokers – an industry that is experiencing a boom as customers struggle for cash to pay rising bills.
The company’s profits dived during the pandemic when it lost at least a third of its loan book, as clients with little opportunity to spend paid off their debts. Now business is bouncing back – up 20% since January to almost 60% above pre-Covid levels. “I have not really seen this pace of growth before. I think we are in new territory,” says Nathan Finch, Pickwick’s managing director.
“I think people are arming up in respect of their finances. Pawnbroking customers are particularly savvy and are often smoothing their cashflow and making sure they have [what they need for] a bill coming up.”
Finch expects a further uplift this year