October 20, 2020

Auto lenders play it safe in Q2

Two of the largest U.S. auto lenders are embracing caution as the automotive finance industry grapples with uncertainty regarding the duration and severity of the novel coronavirus outbreak. Lenders are weighing heightened risk from consumers impacted by the pandemic against increased competition over fewer deals because of tight new-vehicle inventories and financially challenged shoppers.

Auto originations waned for Wells Fargo and Chase Auto in the first weeks of the second quarter, though reopening efforts in certain markets lured consumers back into dealerships.

Chase Auto in April experienced its lowest levels of loan and lease originations since the financial crisis, CFO Jennifer Piepszak told investors last week on a call to discuss second-quarter financial results, but the profound rebound in May and June from pent-up demand set records for the lender. Nearly half of the $7.7 billion in second-quarter auto loans and leases originated by the lender were generated in June, when auto originations tallied $3.7 billion — a monthly record for the bank.

A recent surge in COVID-19 cases, the respiratory illness caused by the virus, could dampen demand for auto loans moving forward. Inventory constraints, particularly with pickups, could also hinder sales in the third and fourth quarters.

Managing risk with current customers is also a challenge for both lenders.

Chase has provided assistance for nearly 1.7 million customer accounts, representing $79 billion in balances across the bank’s in-house and serviced portfolios.

The lender set aside an additional $1.5 billion in allowances for credit losses in the second quarter for a total of $8.9 billion. Automotive accounts have the highest rate of payment deferral — 7.4 percent — among the credit products Chase offers. Of those accounts in deferral status, 34 percent have already made payments.

Chase, which had $82.9 billion in outstanding auto loans and leases in the second quarter, reported 7.4 percent of auto accounts as of Feb. 29 were under a payment deferral, the highest rate of financial hardship among the credit products it offers. Of those, 34 percent had at least one account that was 30 days past due before being granted a payment deferral.

Wells Fargo

Wells Fargo set aside an additional $8.4 billion to cover loan losses in the second quarter and plans another restructuring to mitigate risk.

Auto originations dropped 13 percent to $5.6 billion from the first quarter to the second quarter. With fewer loans coming in, Wells Fargo focused on approving customers in higher credit tiers, CFO John Shrewsberry told investors.

“In the auto business, we’ve taken actions to mitigate future loss exposure, and our spreads on new originations improved to their highest levels since 2016,” Shrewsberry said. “That said, as states began to reopen later in the quarter, we saw increased loan demand, including higher credit card spending and higher auto loan originations.”

Wells Fargo Auto dialed back on originations in 2016 following several scandals. After a major overhaul focused on improving dealership and consumer experience, Wells Fargo re-entered the space more aggressively in 2019.

Alongside lenders nationwide, Wells Fargo is looking to help customers weather the economic impact of the coronavirus crisis, according to an emailed statement from Ryan Foxx, Wells Fargo’s head of retail auto sales, but also has an obligation to review certain business practices in light of the uncertainty produced during this time period.

“We, like many other lenders, have made the decision to tighten credit to help us manage risk for our customers as well as our business. Also, we let the majority of our independent dealer customers know that we will no longer accept applications from them to manage risk with those dealerships that don’t have the support of a manufacturer behind them,” Foxx said. “The independent dealers we will continue doing business with are those with deep, long-standing relationships with Wells Fargo.”

CEO Charlie Scharf told investors and analysts on July 14 that Wells Fargo hired three risk leaders in the second quarter: a new chief operational risk officer; a new chief risk officer for consumer lending, which includes auto lending; and a chief control executive.

“We believe it’s prudent to be extremely cautious until we see a clear path to broad economic improvement,” Scharf said.

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story misstated the value of Wells Fargo’s second-quarter auto loan originations and overall loan loss provisions.