Forward-Looking Information and Risk Factors

Forward-Looking Information and Risk Factors

Cautionary Notice Regarding Forward-Looking Statements

We make forward-looking statements here and in other materials we file with the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) or otherwise make public. In our Report on Form 10-K filed with the SEC on March 30, 2020, both Item 1, “Business,” and Item 7, “Management’s Discussion and Analysis of Financial Condition and Results of Operations,” contain forward-looking statements. In addition, our senior management might make forward-looking statements to analysts, investors, the media and others. Statements with respect to expected revenue; income; receivables; income ratios; net interest margins; long-term shareholder returns; acquisitions of financial assets and other growth opportunities; divestitures and discontinuations of businesses; loss exposure and loss provisions; delinquency and charge-off rates; changes in collection programs and practices; changes in the credit quality and fair value of our credit card loans, interest and fees receivable and the fair value of their underlying structured financing facilities; the impact of actions by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (“FDIC”), Federal Reserve Board, Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”), Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (“CFPB”) and other regulators on both us, banks that issue credit cards and other credit products on our behalf, and merchants that participate in our point-of-sale finance operations; account growth; the performance of investments that we have made; operating expenses; the impact of bankruptcy law changes; marketing plans and expenses; the performance of our Auto Finance segment; the impact of our credit card receivables on our financial performance; the sufficiency of available capital; future interest costs; sources of funding operations and acquisitions; growth and profitability of our point-of-sale finance operations; our ability to raise funds or renew financing facilities; share repurchases or issuances; debt retirement; the results associated with our equity-method investee; our servicing income levels; gains and losses from investments in securities; experimentation with new products and other statements of our plans, beliefs or expectations are forward-looking statements. These and other statements using words such as “anticipate,” “believe,” “estimate,” “expect,” “intend,” “plan,” “project,” “target,” “can,” “could,” “may,” “should,” “will,” “would” and similar expressions also are forward-looking statements. Each forward-looking statement speaks only as of the date of the particular statement. The forward-looking statements we make are not guarantees of future performance, and we have based these statements on our assumptions and analyses in light of our experience and perception of historical trends, current conditions, expected future developments and other factors we believe are appropriate in the circumstances. Forward-looking statements by their nature involve substantial risks and uncertainties that could significantly affect expected results, and actual future results could differ materially from those described in such statements. Management cautions against putting undue reliance on forward-looking statements or projecting any future results based on such statements or present or historical earnings levels.

Although it is not possible to identify all factors, we continue to face many risks and uncertainties. Among the factors that could cause actual future results to differ materially from our expectations are the risks and uncertainties described under “Risk Factors” set forth in Part I, Item 1A, in our Report on Form 10-K filed with the SEC on March 30, 2020 and the risk factors and other cautionary statements in other documents we file with the SEC, including the following:

  • the availability of adequate financing to support growth;
  • the extent to which federal, state, local and foreign governmental regulation of our various business lines and the products we service for others limits or prohibits the operation of our businesses;
  • current and future litigation and regulatory proceedings against us;
  • the effect of adverse economic conditions on our revenues, loss rates and cash flows;
  • competition from various sources providing similar financial products, or other alternative sources of credit, to consumers;
  • the adequacy of our allowances for uncollectible loans, interest and fees receivable and estimates of loan losses used within our risk management and analyses;
  • the possible impairment of assets;
  • the duration and magnitude of the impact the novel coronavirus, or COVID-19 ("COVID-19"), could have on credit usage and payments;
  • our ability to manage costs in line with the expansion or contraction of our various business lines;
  • our relationship with (i) the merchants that participate in point-of-sale finance operations and (ii) the banks that issue credit cards and provide certain other credit products utilizing our technology platform and related services; and
  • theft and employee errors.

Most of these factors are beyond our ability to predict or control. Any of these factors, or a combination of these factors, could materially affect our future financial condition or results of operations and the ultimate accuracy of our forward-looking statements. There also are other factors that we may not describe (because we currently do not perceive them to be material) that could cause actual results to differ materially from our expectations.

We expressly disclaim any obligation to update or revise any forward-looking statements, whether as a result of new information, future events or otherwise, except as required by law.

 

RISK FACTORS

An investment in our common stock or other securities involves a number of risks. You should carefully consider each of the risks described below before deciding to invest in our common stock or other securities. If any of the following risks develops into actual events, our business, financial condition or results of operations could be negatively affected, the market price of our common stock or other securities could decline and you may lose all or part of your investment.

Investors should be particularly cautious regarding investments in our common stock or other securities at the present time in light of uncertainties as to the profitability of our business model going forward and our inability to achieve consistent earnings from our operations in recent years.

Our Cash Flows and Net Income Are Dependent Upon Payments from Our Investments in Receivables

The collectibility of our investments in receivables is a function of many factors including the criteria used to select who is issued credit, the pricing of the credit products, the lengths of the relationships, general economic conditions, the rate at which consumers repay their accounts or become delinquent, and the rate at which consumers borrow funds. Deterioration in these factors would adversely impact our business. In addition, to the extent we have over-estimated collectibility, in all likelihood we have over-estimated our financial performance. Some of these concerns are discussed more fully below.

Our portfolio of receivables is not diversified and primarily originates from consumers whose creditworthiness is considered sub-prime. Historically, we have invested in receivables in one of two ways—we have either (i) invested in receivables originated by lenders who utilize our services or (ii) invested in or purchased pools of receivables from other issuers. In either case, substantially all of our receivables are from financially underserved borrowers—borrowers represented by credit risks that regulators classify as “sub-prime.” Our reliance on sub-prime receivables has negatively impacted and may in the future negatively impact, our performance. Our past losses may have been mitigated had our portfolios consisted of higher-grade receivables in addition to our sub-prime receivables.

Economic slowdowns increase our credit losses. During periods of economic slowdown or recession, we experience an increase in rates of delinquencies and frequency and severity of credit losses. Our actual rates of delinquencies and frequency and severity of credit losses may be comparatively higher during periods of economic slowdown or recession than those experienced by more traditional providers of consumer credit because of our focus on the financially underserved consumer market, which may be disproportionately impacted.

Because a significant portion of our reported income is based on management’s estimates of the future performance of receivables, differences between actual and expected performance of the receivables may cause fluctuations in net income. Significant portions of our reported income (or losses) are based on management’s estimates of cash flows we expect to receive on receivables, particularly for such assets that we report based on fair value. The expected cash flows are based on management’s estimates of interest rates, default rates, payment rates, cardholder purchases, servicing costs, and discount rates. These estimates are based on a variety of factors, many of which are not within our control. Substantial differences between actual and expected performance of the receivables will occur and cause fluctuations in our net income. For instance, higher than expected rates of delinquencies and losses could cause our net income to be lower than expected. Similarly, levels of loss and delinquency can result in our being required to repay lenders earlier than expected, thereby reducing funds available to us for future growth.

Due to our relative lack of historical experience with Internet consumers, we may not be able to evaluate their creditworthiness. We have less historical experience with respect to the credit risk and performance of receivables owed by consumers acquired over the Internet and other digital channels. As a result, we may not be able to evaluate successfully the creditworthiness of these potential consumers. Therefore, we may encounter difficulties managing the expected delinquencies and losses.

 

We Are Substantially Dependent Upon Borrowed Funds to Fund Receivables We Purchase

We finance receivables that we acquire in large part through financing facilities. All of our financing facilities are of finite duration (and ultimately will need to be extended or replaced) and contain financial covenants and other conditions that must be fulfilled in order for funding to be available. Moreover, some of our facilities currently are in amortization stages (and are not allowing for the funding of any new loans) based on their original terms. The cost and availability of equity and borrowed funds is dependent upon our financial performance, the performance of our industry overall and general economic and market conditions, and at times equity and borrowed funds have been both expensive and difficult to obtain.

If additional financing facilities are not available in the future on terms we consider acceptable—an issue that was made even more acute in the U.S. given regulatory changes that reduced asset-level returns on credit card lending—we will not be able to purchase additional receivables and those receivables may contract in size.

Capital markets may experience periods of disruption and instability, which could limit our ability to grow our receivables. From time-to-time, capital markets may experience periods of disruption and instability. For example, from 2008 to 2009, the global capital markets were unstable as evidenced by the lack of liquidity in the debt capital markets, significant write-offs in the financial services sector, the re-pricing of credit risk in the broadly syndicated credit market and the failure of major financial institutions. Despite actions of the U.S. federal government and various foreign governments, these events contributed to worsening general economic conditions that materially and adversely impacted the broader financial and credit markets and reduced the availability of debt and equity capital for the market as a whole and financial services firms in particular. If similar adverse and volatile market conditions repeat in the future, we and other companies in the financial services sector may have to access, if available, alternative markets for debt and equity capital in order to grow our receivables.

Moreover, the re-appearance of market conditions similar to those experienced from 2008 through 2009 for any substantial length of time or worsened market conditions could make it difficult for us to borrow money or to extend the maturity of or refinance any indebtedness we may have under similar terms and any failure to do so could have a material adverse effect on our business. Unfavorable economic and political conditions, including future recessions, political instability, geopolitical turmoil and foreign hostilities, and disease, pandemics and other serious health events, also could increase our funding costs, limit our access to the capital markets or result in a decision by lenders not to extend credit to us.

Recently, the outbreak of the novel coronavirus, or COVID-19, in many countries continues to adversely impact global commercial activity and has contributed to significant volatility in financial markets. The global impact of the outbreak has been rapidly evolving, and as cases of the virus have continued to be identified in additional countries, many countries have reacted by instituting quarantines and restrictions on travel. Such actions are creating disruption in global supply chains, and adversely impacting a number of industries, such as transportation, hospitality and entertainment. The outbreak could have a continued adverse impact on economic and market conditions and trigger a period of global economic slowdown. The rapid development and fluidity of this situation precludes any prediction as to the ultimate adverse impact of the coronavirus. Nevertheless, the coronavirus presents material uncertainty and risk with respect to our performance and financial results.

We may in the future have difficulty accessing debt and equity capital on attractive terms, or at all, and a severe disruption and instability in the global financial markets or deteriorations in credit and financing conditions may cause us to reduce the volume of receivables we purchase or otherwise have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition, results of operations and cash flows.

 

Our Financial Performance Is, in Part, a Function of the Aggregate Amount of Receivables That Are Outstanding

The aggregate amount of outstanding receivables is a function of many factors including purchase rates, payment rates, interest rates, seasonality, general economic conditions, competition from credit card issuers and other sources of consumer financing, access to funding, and the timing and extent of our receivable purchases.

The recent growth of our investments in point-of-sale finance and direct-to-consumer receivables may not be indicative of our ability to grow such receivables in the future. Our investments in point-of-sale finance and direct-to-consumer receivables grew to $908.4 million for the year ended December 31, 2019 from $453.3 million for the year ended December 31, 2018. The amount of such receivables has fluctuated significantly over the course of our operating history. Furthermore, even if such receivables continue to increase, the rate of such growth could decline. If we cannot manage the growth in receivables effectively, it could have a material adverse effect on our business, prospects, results of operations, financial condition or cash flows.

Reliance upon relationships with a few large retailers in the point-of-sale finance operations may adversely affect our revenues and operating results from these operations. Our five largest retail partners accounted for over 50% of our outstanding point-of-sale receivables as of December 31, 2019. Although we are adding new retail partners on a regular basis, it is likely that we will continue to derive a significant portion of this operations’ receivables base and corresponding revenue from a relatively small number of partners in the future. If a significant partner reduces or terminates its relationship with us, these operations’ revenue could decline significantly and our operating results and financial condition could be harmed.

 

We Operate in a Heavily Regulated Industry

Changes in bankruptcy, privacy or other consumer protection laws, or to the prevailing interpretation thereof, may expose us to litigation, adversely affect our ability to collect receivables, or otherwise adversely affect our operations. Similarly, regulatory changes could adversely affect the ability or willingness of lenders who utilize our technology platform and related services to market credit products and services to consumers. While the Presidential Administration supports reducing regulatory burdens, the prospects for significant modifications are uncertain. Also, the accounting rules that apply to our business are exceedingly complex, difficult to apply and in a state of flux. As a result, how we value our receivables and otherwise account for our business is subject to change depending upon the changes in, and, interpretation of, those rules. Some of these issues are discussed more fully below.

Reviews and enforcement actions by regulatory authorities under banking and consumer protection laws and regulations may result in changes to our business practices, may make collection of receivables more difficult or may expose us to the risk of fines, restitution and litigation. Our operations and the operations of the issuing banks through which the credit products we service are originated are subject to the jurisdiction of federal, state and local government authorities, including the CFPB, the SEC, the FDIC, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, the FTC, U.K. banking and licensing authorities, state regulators having jurisdiction over financial institutions and debt origination and collection and state attorneys general. Our business practices and the practices of issuing banks, including the terms of products, servicing and collection practices, are subject to both periodic and special reviews by these regulatory and enforcement authorities. These reviews can range from investigations of specific consumer complaints or concerns to broader inquiries. If as part of these reviews the regulatory authorities conclude that we or issuing banks are not complying with applicable law, they could request or impose a wide range of remedies including requiring changes in advertising and collection practices, changes in the terms of products (such as decreases in interest rates or fees), the imposition of fines or penalties, or the paying of restitution or the taking of other remedial action with respect to affected consumers. They also could require us or issuing banks to stop offering some credit products or obtain licenses to do so, either nationally or in selected states. To the extent that these remedies are imposed on the issuing banks that originate credit products using our platform, under certain circumstances we are responsible for the remedies as a result of our indemnification obligations with those banks. We or our issuing banks also may elect to change practices that we believe are compliant with law in order to respond to regulatory concerns. Furthermore, negative publicity relating to any specific inquiry or investigation could hurt our ability to conduct business with various industry participants or to generate new receivables and could negatively affect our stock price, which would adversely affect our ability to raise additional capital and would raise our costs of doing business.

If any deficiencies or violations of law or regulations are identified by us or asserted by any regulator, or if the CFPB, the FDIC, the FTC or any other regulator requires us or issuing banks to change any practices, the correction of such deficiencies or violations, or the making of such changes, could have a material adverse effect on our financial condition, results of operations or business. In addition, whether or not these practices are modified when a regulatory or enforcement authority requests or requires, there is a risk that we or other industry participants may be named as defendants in litigation involving alleged violations of federal and state laws and regulations, including consumer protection laws. Any failure to comply with legal requirements by us or the banks that originate credit products utilizing our platform in connection with the issuance of those products, or by us or our agents as the servicer of our accounts, could significantly impair our ability to collect the full amount of the account balances. The institution of any litigation of this nature, or any judgment against us or any other industry participant in any litigation of this nature, could adversely affect our business and financial condition in a variety of ways.

The regulatory landscape in which we operate is continually changing due to new rules, regulations and interpretations, as well as various legal actions that have been brought against others that have sought to re-characterize certain loans made by federally insured banks as loans made by third parties. If litigation on similar theories were brought against us when we work with a federally insured bank that makes loans and were such an action successful, we could be subject to state usury limits and/or state licensing requirements, loans in such states could be deemed void and unenforceable, and we could be subject to substantial penalties in connection with such loans.

The case law involving whether an originating lender, on the one hand, or third-parties, on the other hand, are the “true lenders” of a loan is still developing and courts have come to different conclusions and applied different analyses. The determination of whether a third-party service provider is the “true lender” is significant because third-parties risk having the loans they service becoming subject to a consumer’s state usury limits. A number of federal courts that have opined on the “true lender” issue have looked to who is the lender identified on the borrower’s loan documents. A number of state courts and at least one federal district court have considered a number of other factors when analyzing whether the originating lender or a third party is the “true lender,” including looking at the economics of the transaction to determine, among other things, who has the predominant economic interest in the loan being made. If we were re-characterized as a “true lender” with respect to the receivables originated by the bank that utilizes our technology platform and other services, such receivables could be deemed to be void and unenforceable in some states, the right to collect finance charges could be affected, and we could be subject to fines and penalties from state and federal regulatory agencies as well as claims by borrowers, including class actions by private plaintiffs. Even if we were not required to change our business practices to comply with applicable state laws and regulations or cease doing business in some states, we could be required to register or obtain lending licenses or other regulatory approvals that could impose a substantial cost on us. If the bank that originates loans utilizing our technology platform were subject to such a lawsuit, it may elect to terminate its relationship with us voluntarily or at the direction of its regulators, and if it lost the lawsuit, it could be forced to modify or terminate such relationship.

In addition to true lender challenges, a question regarding the applicability of state usury rates may arise when a loan is sold from a bank to a non-bank entity. In Madden v. Midland Funding, LLC, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit held that the federal preemption of state usury laws did not extend to the purchaser of a loan issued by a national bank. In its brief urging the U.S. Supreme Court to deny certiorari, the U.S. Solicitor General, joined by the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (“OCC”), noted that the Second Circuit (Connecticut, New York and Vermont) analysis was incorrect. On remand, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York concluded on February 27, 2017 that New York’s state usury law, not Delaware’s state usury law, was applicable and that the plaintiff’s claims under the FDCPA and state unfair and deceptive acts and practices could proceed. To that end, the court granted Madden’s motion for class certification. At this time, it is unknown whether Madden will be applied outside of the defaulted debt context in which it arose; however, recently two class actions, Cohen v. Capital One Funding, LLC, et al. and Petersen v. Chase Card Funding, LLC, et al., have relied on Madden to challenge the interest rate charged once debt was sold to securitization trusts. The facts in Madden are not directly applicable to our business, as we do not engage in practices similar to those at issue in Madden. However, to the extent that the holding in Madden was broadened to cover circumstances applicable to our business, or if other litigation on related theories were brought against us and were successful, or we were otherwise found to be the “true lender,” we could become subject to state usury limits and state licensing laws, in addition to the state consumer protection laws to which we are already subject, in a greater number of states, loans in such states could be deemed void and unenforceable, and we could be subject to substantial penalties in connection with such loans.

In response to the uncertainty Madden created as to the validity of interest rates of bank-originated loans sold in the secondary market, in November 2019, the OCC and the FDIC took action to reaffirm the “valid when made” doctrine by issuing a notice of proposed rulemaking to clarify that when a bank sells, assigns, or otherwise transfers a loan, the interest permissible prior to the transfer would continue to be permissible following the transfer. The 60-day comment periods ended January 21, 2020 and February 4, 2020, respectively, and it is anticipated that the agencies will issue final rules soon.

In September 2019, the FDIC and the OCC jointly submitted an amicus brief to the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado in support of a debt buyer, urging the District Court to uphold the bank’s rights to enforce that debt to the debt buyer, including the bank’s right to charge interest as authorized under the laws of its home state. The brief includes related discussions of (i) the rights of federally regulated banks to “export” their home states’ interest rates by charging those rates to borrowers nationwide, first with respect to national banks under section 85 of the National Bank Act and then with respect to state banks under section 27 of the Federal Deposit Insurance Act and (ii) federal preemption of state usury laws. The portion of the brief that discusses rate exportation strongly reaffirms the OCC and the FDIC’s complete accord that section 27 and section 85 should be mirror images of each other. At the conclusion of their brief, the agencies ask the District Court to affirm the bankruptcy court’s decision in the case on the basis that affirmation would “preserve the banks’ longstanding ability to engage in loan sales, would reaffirm the traditional protections that such loan sales have received under the law, would ensure the proper functioning of the credit markets, and would promote safety and soundness in the banking sector by supporting loan sales and securitizations, which are used to manage capital and liquidity positions.”

We support a single bank that markets general purpose credit cards and certain other credit products directly to consumers. We acquire interests in and service the receivables originated by that bank. The bank could determine not to continue the relationship for various business reasons, or its regulators could limit its ability to issue credit cards utilizing our technology platform or to originate some or all of the other products that we service or require the bank to modify those products significantly and could do either with little or no notice. Any significant interruption or change of our bank relationship would result in our being unable to acquire new receivables or develop certain other credit products. Unless we were able to timely replace our bank relationship, such an interruption would prevent us from acquiring newly originated credit card receivables and growing our investments in point-of-sale and direct-to-consumer receivables. In turn, it would materially adversely impact our business.

The FDIC has issued examination guidance affecting the bank that utilizes our technology platform to market general purpose credit cards and certain other credit products and these or subsequent new rules and regulations could have a significant impact on such credit products. The bank that utilizes our technology platform and other services to market general purpose credit cards and certain other credit products is supervised and examined by both the state that charters it and the FDIC. If the FDIC or a state supervisory body considers any aspect of the products originated utilizing our technology platform to be inconsistent with its guidance, the bank may be required to alter or terminate some or all of these products.

On July 29, 2016, the board of directors of the FDIC released examination guidance relating to third-party lending as part of a package of materials designed to “improve the transparency and clarity of the FDIC’s supervisory policies and practices” and consumer compliance measures that FDIC-supervised institutions should follow when lending through a business relationship with a third party. The proposed guidance, if finalized, would apply to all FDIC-supervised institutions that engage in third-party lending programs, including the bank that utilizes our technology platform and other services to market general purpose credit cards and certain other credit products.

The proposed guidance elaborates on previously issued agency guidance on managing third-party risks and specifically addresses third-party lending arrangements where an FDIC-supervised institution relies on a third party to perform a significant aspect of the lending process. The types of relationships that would be covered by the guidance include (but are not limited to) relationships for originating loans on behalf of, through or jointly with third parties, or using platforms developed by third parties. If adopted as proposed, the guidance would result in increased supervisory attention of institutions that engage in significant lending activities through third parties, including at least one examination every 12 months, as well as supervisory expectations for a third-party lending risk management program and third-party lending policies that contain certain minimum requirements, such as self-imposed limits as a percentage of total capital for each third-party lending relationship and for the overall loan program, relative to origination volumes, credit exposures (including pipeline risk), growth, loan types, and acceptable credit quality. Comments on the guidance were due October 27, 2016. While the guidance has never formally been adopted, it is our understanding that the FDIC has relied upon it in its examination of third-party lending arrangements.

Changes to consumer protection laws or changes in their interpretation may impede collection efforts or otherwise adversely impact our business practices. Federal and state consumer protection laws regulate the creation and enforcement of consumer credit card receivables and other loans. Many of these laws (and the related regulations) are focused on sub-prime lenders and are intended to prohibit or curtail industry-standard practices as well as non-standard practices. For instance, Congress enacted legislation that regulates loans to military personnel through imposing interest rate and other limitations and requiring new disclosures, all as regulated by the Department of Defense. Similarly, in 2009 Congress enacted legislation that required changes to a variety of marketing, billing and collection practices, and the Federal Reserve adopted significant changes to a number of practices through its issuance of regulations. While our practices are in compliance with these changes, some of the changes (e.g., limitations on the ability to assess up-front fees) have significantly affected the viability of certain credit products within the U.S. Changes in the consumer protection laws could result in the following:

  • receivables not originated in compliance with law (or revised interpretations) could become unenforceable and uncollectible under their terms against the obligors;
  • we may be required to credit or refund previously collected amounts;
  • certain fees and finance charges could be limited, prohibited or restricted, which would reduce the profitability of certain investments in receivables;
  • certain collection methods could be prohibited, forcing us to revise our practices or adopt more costly or less effective practices;
  • limitations on our ability to recover on charged-off receivables regardless of any act or omission on our part;
  • some credit products and services could be banned in certain states or at the federal level;
  • federal or state bankruptcy or debtor relief laws could offer additional protections to consumers seeking bankruptcy protection, providing a court greater leeway to reduce or discharge amounts owed to us; and
  • a reduction in our ability or willingness to invest in receivables arising under loans to certain consumers, such as military personnel.

Material regulatory developments may adversely impact our business and results from operations.

 

Our Automobile Lending Activities Involve Risks in Addition to Others Described Herein

Automobile lending exposes us not only to most of the risks described above but also to additional risks, including the regulatory scheme that governs installment loans and those attendant to relying upon automobiles and their repossession and liquidation value as collateral. In addition, our Auto Finance segment operation acquires loans on a wholesale basis from used car dealers, for which we rely upon the legal compliance and credit determinations by those dealers.

Funding for automobile lending may become difficult to obtain and expensive. In the event we are unable to renew or replace any Auto Finance segment facilities that bear refunding or refinancing risks when they become due, our Auto Finance segment could experience significant constraints and diminution in reported asset values as lenders retain significant cash flows within underlying structured financings or otherwise under security arrangements for repayment of their loans. If we cannot renew or replace future facilities or otherwise are unduly constrained from a liquidity perspective, we may choose to sell part or all of our auto loan portfolios, possibly at less than favorable prices.

Our automobile lending business is dependent upon referrals from dealers.. Currently we provide substantially all of our automobile loans only to or through used car dealers. Providers of automobile financing have traditionally competed based on the interest rate charged, the quality of credit accepted and the flexibility of loan terms offered. In order to be successful, we not only need to be competitive in these areas, but also need to establish and maintain good relations with dealers and provide them with a level of service greater than what they can obtain from our competitors.

The financial performance of our automobile loan portfolio is in part dependent upon the liquidation of repossessed automobiles. In the event of certain defaults, we may repossess automobiles and sell repossessed automobiles at wholesale auction markets located throughout the U.S. Auction proceeds from these types of sales and other recoveries rarely are sufficient to cover the outstanding balances of the contracts; where we experience these shortfalls, we will experience credit losses. Decreased auction proceeds resulting from depressed prices at which used automobiles may be sold would result in higher credit losses for us.

Repossession of automobiles entails the risk of litigation and other claims. Although we have contracted with reputable repossession firms to repossess automobiles on defaulted loans, it is not uncommon for consumers to assert that we were not entitled to repossess an automobile or that the repossession was not conducted in accordance with applicable law. These claims increase the cost of our collection efforts and, if correct, can result in awards against us.

 

We Routinely Explore Various Opportunities to Grow Our Business, to Make Investments and to Purchase and Sell Assets

We routinely consider acquisitions of, or investments in, portfolios and other assets as well as the sale of portfolios and portions of our business. There are a number of risks attendant to any acquisition, including the possibility that we will overvalue the assets to be purchased and that we will not be able to produce the expected level of profitability from the acquired business or assets. Similarly, there are a number of risks attendant to sales, including the possibility that we will undervalue the assets to be sold. As a result, the impact of any acquisition or sale on our future performance may not be as favorable as expected and actually may be adverse.

Portfolio purchases may cause fluctuations in our reported Credit and Other Investments segment’s managed receivables data, which may reduce the usefulness of this data in evaluating our business. Our reported Credit and Other Investments segment managed receivables data may fluctuate substantially from quarter to quarter as a result of recent and future credit card portfolio acquisitions.

Receivables included in purchased portfolios are likely to have been originated using credit criteria different from the criteria of issuing bank partners that have originated accounts utilizing our technology platform. Receivables included in any particular purchased portfolio may have significantly different delinquency rates and charge-off rates than the receivables previously originated and purchased by us. These receivables also may earn different interest rates and fees as compared to other similar receivables in our receivables portfolio. These variables could cause our reported managed receivables data to fluctuate substantially in future periods making the evaluation of our business more difficult.

Any acquisition or investment that we make will involve risks different from and in addition to the risks to which our business is currently exposed. These include the risks that we will not be able to integrate and operate successfully new businesses, that we will have to incur substantial indebtedness and increase our leverage in order to pay for the acquisitions, that we will be exposed to, and have to comply with, different regulatory regimes and that we will not be able to apply our traditional analytical framework (which is what we expect to be able to do) in a successful and value-enhancing manner.

 

Other Risks of Our Business

We are a holding company with no operations of our own. As a result, our cash flow and ability to service our debt is dependent upon distributions from our subsidiaries. The distribution of subsidiary earnings, or advances or other distributions of funds by subsidiaries to us, all of which are subject to statutory and could be subject to contractual restrictions, are contingent upon the subsidiaries’ cash flows and earnings and are subject to various business and debt covenant considerations.

We are party to litigation. We are party to certain legal proceedings which include litigation customary for a business of our nature. In each case we believe that we have meritorious defenses or that the positions we are asserting otherwise are correct. However, adverse outcomes are possible in these matters, and we could decide to settle one or more of our litigation matters in order to avoid the ongoing cost of litigation or to obtain certainty of outcome. Adverse outcomes or settlements of these matters could require us to pay damages, make restitution, change our business practices or take other actions at a level, or in a manner, that would adversely impact our business.

We may be unable to use some or all of our net operating loss (“NOL”) carryforwards. At December 31, 2019, we had U.S. federal NOL carryforwards of $85.6 million the deferred tax assets on which were not offset by valuation allowances, and we had no material U.S. state and local or foreign NOLs the deferred tax assets on which were not offset by valuation allowances. Our NOLs have resulted from prior period losses and are available to offset future taxable income. If not used, $18.1 million of the NOLs will expire in 2029, and $17.8 million of the NOLs will expire in 2030. Under Section 382 of the Internal Revenue Code, our ability to use NOLs in any taxable year may be limited if we experience an “ownership change.” A Section 382 “ownership change” generally occurs if one or more shareholders or groups of shareholders, who own at least 5% of our stock, increase their ownership by more than 50 percentage points over their lowest ownership percentage within a rolling three-year period. We have not completed a Section 382 analysis through December 31, 2019. If we have previously had, or have in the future, one or more Section 382 “ownership changes,” or if we do not generate sufficient taxable income, we may not be able to use a material portion of the NOLs. If we are limited in our ability to use the NOLs in future years in which we have taxable income, we will pay more taxes than if we were able to fully use our NOLs. This could materially and adversely affect our results of operations.

Because we outsource account-processing functions that are integral to our business, any disruption or termination of that outsourcing relationship could harm our business. We generally outsource account and payment processing. If these outsourcing relationships were not renewed or were terminated or the services provided to us were otherwise disrupted, we would have to obtain these services from an alternative provider. There is a risk that we would not be able to enter into a similar outsourcing arrangement with an alternate provider on terms that we consider favorable or in a timely manner without disruption of our business.

Failure to keep up with the rapid technological changes in financial services and e-commerce could harm our business. The financial services industry is undergoing rapid technological changes, with frequent introductions of new technology-driven products and services. The effective use of technology increases efficiency and enables financial and lending institutions to better serve customers and reduce costs. Our future success will depend, in part, upon our ability to address the needs of consumers by using technology to support products and services that will satisfy consumer demands for convenience, as well as to create additional efficiencies in our operations. We may not be able to effectively implement new technology-driven products and services as quickly as some of our competitors. Failure to successfully keep pace with technological change affecting the financial services industry could harm our ability to compete with our competitors. Any such failure to adapt to changes could have a material adverse effect on our business, prospects, results of operations, financial condition or cash flows.

If we are unable to protect our information systems against service interruption, our operations could be disrupted and our reputation may be damaged. We rely heavily on networks and information systems and other technology, that are largely hosted by third-parties to support our business processes and activities, including processes integral to the origination and collection of loans and other financial products, and information systems to process financial information and results of operations for internal reporting purposes and to comply with regulatory financial reporting and legal and tax requirements. Because information systems are critical to many of our operating activities, our business may be impacted by hosted system shutdowns, service disruptions or security breaches. These incidents may be caused by failures during routine operations such as system upgrades or user errors, as well as network or hardware failures, malicious or disruptive software, computer hackers, rogue employees or contractors, cyber-attacks by criminal groups, geopolitical events, natural disasters, failures or impairments of telecommunications networks, or other catastrophic events. If our information systems suffer severe damage, disruption or shutdown and our business continuity plans do not effectively resolve the issues in a timely manner, we could experience delays in reporting our financial results, and we may lose revenue and profits as a result of our inability to collect payments in a timely manner. We also could be required to spend significant financial and other resources to repair or replace networks and information systems.

Unauthorized or unintentional disclosure of sensitive or confidential customer data could expose us to protracted and costly litigation, and civil and criminal penalties. To conduct our business, we are required to manage, use, and store large amounts of personally identifiable information, consisting primarily of confidential personal and financial data regarding consumers across all operations areas. We also depend on our IT networks and systems, and those of third parties, to process, store, and transmit this information. As a result, we are subject to numerous U.S. federal and state laws designed to protect this information. Security breaches involving our files and infrastructure could lead to unauthorized disclosure of confidential information.

We take a number of measures to ensure the security of our hardware and software systems and customer information. Advances in computer capabilities, new discoveries in the field of cryptography or other developments may result in the technology used by us to protect data being breached or compromised. In the past, banks and other financial service providers have been the subject of sophisticated and highly targeted attacks on their information technology. An increasing number of websites have reported breaches of their security.

If any person, including our employees or those of third-party vendors, negligently disregards or intentionally breaches our established controls with respect to such data or otherwise mismanages or misappropriates that data, we could be subject to costly litigation, monetary damages, fines, and/or criminal prosecution. Any unauthorized disclosure of personally identifiable information could subject us to liability under data privacy laws. Further, under credit card rules and our contracts with our card processors, if there is a breach of credit card information that we store, we could be liable to the credit card issuing banks for their cost of issuing new cards and related expenses. In addition, if we fail to follow credit card industry security standards, even if there is no compromise of customer information, we could incur significant fines. Security breaches also could harm our reputation, which could potentially cause decreased revenues, the loss of existing merchant credit partners, or difficulty in adding new merchant credit partners.

Internet and data security breaches also could impede our bank partners from originating loans over the Internet, cause us to lose consumers or otherwise damage our reputation or business. Consumers generally are concerned with security and privacy, particularly on the Internet. As part of our growth strategy, we have enabled lenders to originate loans over the Internet. The secure transmission of confidential information over the Internet is essential to maintaining customer confidence in such products and services offered online.

Advances in computer capabilities, new discoveries or other developments could result in a compromise or breach of the technology used by us to protect our client or consumer application and transaction data transmitted over the Internet. In addition to the potential for litigation and civil penalties described above, security breaches could damage our reputation and cause consumers to become unwilling to do business with our clients or us, particularly over the Internet. Any publicized security problems could inhibit the growth of the Internet as a means of conducting commercial transactions. Our ability to service our clients’ needs over the Internet would be severely impeded if consumers become unwilling to transmit confidential information online.

Also, a party that is able to circumvent our security measures could misappropriate proprietary information, cause interruption in our operations, damage our computers or those of our users, or otherwise damage our reputation and business.

Regulation in the areas of privacy and data security could increase our costs. We are subject to various regulations related to privacy and data security/breach, and we could be negatively impacted by these regulations. For example, we are subject to the Safeguards guidelines under the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act. The Safeguards guidelines require that each financial institution develop, implement and maintain a written, comprehensive information security program containing safeguards that are appropriate to the financial institution’s size and complexity, the nature and scope of the financial institution’s activities and the sensitivity of any customer information at issue. Broad-ranging data security laws that affect our business also have been adopted by various states. Compliance with these laws regarding the protection of consumer and employee data could result in higher compliance and technology costs for us, as well as potentially significant fines and penalties for non-compliance. Further, there are various other statutes and regulations relevant to the direct email marketing, debt collection and text-messaging industries including the Telephone Consumer Protection Act. The interpretation of many of these statutes and regulations is evolving in the courts and administrative agencies and an inability to comply with them may have an adverse impact on our business.

In addition to the foregoing enhanced data security requirements, various federal banking regulatory agencies, and all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, have enacted data security regulations and laws requiring varying levels of consumer notification in the event of a security breach.

Also, federal legislators and regulators are increasingly pursuing new guidelines, laws and regulations that, if adopted, could further restrict how we collect, use, share and secure consumer information, which could impact some of our current or planned business initiatives.

Unplanned system interruptions or system failures could harm our business and reputation. Any interruption in the availability of our transactional processing services due to hardware and operating system failures will reduce our revenues and profits. Any unscheduled interruption in our services results in an immediate, and possibly substantial, loss of revenues. Frequent or persistent interruptions in our services could cause current or potential consumers to believe that our systems are unreliable, leading them to switch to our competitors or to avoid our websites or services, and could permanently harm our reputation.

Although our systems have been designed around industry-standard architectures to reduce downtime in the event of outages or catastrophic occurrences, they remain vulnerable to damage or interruption from earthquakes, floods, fires, power loss, telecommunication failures, computer viruses, computer denial-of-service attacks, and similar events or disruptions. Some of our systems are not fully redundant, and our disaster recovery planning may not be sufficient for all eventualities. Our systems also are subject to break-ins, sabotage, and intentional acts of vandalism. Despite any precautions we may take, the occurrence of a natural disaster, a decision by any of our third-party hosting providers to close a facility we use without adequate notice for financial or other reasons, or other unanticipated problems at our hosting facilities could cause system interruptions, delays, and loss of critical data, and result in lengthy interruptions in our services. Our business interruption insurance may not be sufficient to compensate us for losses that may result from interruptions in our service as a result of system failures.

Climate change and related regulatory responses may impact our business. Climate change as a result of emissions of greenhouse gases is a significant topic of discussion and may generate federal and other regulatory responses. It is impracticable to predict with any certainty the impact on our business of climate change or the regulatory responses to it, although we recognize that they could be significant. The most direct impact is likely to be an increase in energy costs, which would adversely impact consumers and their ability to incur and repay indebtedness. However, we are uncertain of the ultimate impact, either directionally or quantitatively, of climate change and related regulatory responses on our business.

We have elected the fair value option effective as of January 1, 2020, and we use estimates in determining the fair value of our loans. If our estimates prove incorrect, we may be required to write down the value of these assets, which could adversely affect our results of operations. Our ability to measure and report our financial position and results of operations is influenced by the need to estimate the impact or outcome of future events on the basis of information available at the time of the issuance of the financial statements. Further, most of these estimates are determined using Level 3 inputs for which changes could significantly impact our fair value measurements. A variety of factors including, but not limited to, estimated yields on consumer receivables, customer default rates, the timing of expected payments, estimated costs to service the portfolio, interest rates, and valuations of comparable portfolios may ultimately affect the fair values of our loans and finance receivables. If actual results differ from our judgments and assumptions, then it may have an adverse impact on the results of operations and cash flows. Management has processes in place to monitor these judgments and assumptions, but these processes may not ensure that our judgments and assumptions are correct.

Our allowance for uncollectible loans is determined based upon both objective and subjective factors and may not be adequate to absorb loan losses. We face the risk that customers will fail to repay their loans in full. Through our analysis of loan performance, delinquency data, charge-off data, economic trends and the potential effects of those economic trends on consumers, we establish an allowance for uncollectible loans, interest and fees receivable as an estimate of the probable losses inherent within those loans, interest and fees receivable that we do not report at fair value. We determine the necessary allowance for uncollectible loans, interest and fees receivable by analyzing some or all of the following unique to each type of receivable pool: historical loss rates; current delinquency and roll-rate trends; vintage analyses based on the number of months an account has been in existence; the effects of changes in the economy on our customers; changes in underwriting criteria; and estimated recoveries. These inputs are considered in conjunction with (and potentially reduced by) any unearned fees and discounts that may be applicable for an outstanding loan receivable. Actual losses are difficult to forecast, especially if such losses are due to factors beyond our historical experience or control. As a result, our allowance for uncollectible loans may not be adequate to absorb incurred losses or prevent a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition and results of operations. Losses are the largest cost as a percentage of revenues across all of our products. Fraud and customers not being able to repay their loans are both significant drivers of loss rates. If we experienced rising credit or fraud losses this would significantly reduce our earnings and profit margins and could have a material adverse effect on our business, prospects, results of operations, financial condition or cash flows.

 

Risks Relating to an Investment in Our Securities

The price of our common stock may fluctuate significantly, and this may make it difficult for you to resell your shares of our common stock when you want or at prices you find attractive. The price of our common stock on the NASDAQ Global Select Market constantly changes. We expect that the market price of our common stock will continue to fluctuate. The market price of our common stock may fluctuate in response to numerous factors, many of which are beyond our control. These factors include the following:

  • actual or anticipated fluctuations in our operating results;
  • changes in expectations as to our future financial performance, including financial estimates by securities analysts and investors;
  • the overall financing environment, which is critical to our value;
  • the operating and stock performance of our competitors;
  • announcements by us or our competitors of new products or services or significant contracts, acquisitions, strategic partnerships, joint ventures or capital commitments;
  • changes in interest rates;
  • the announcement of enforcement actions or investigations against us or our competitors or other negative publicity relating to us or our industry;
  • changes in generally accepted accounting principles in the U.S. ("GAAP"), laws, regulations or the interpretations thereof that affect our various business activities and segments;
  • general domestic or international economic, market and political conditions;
  • changes in ownership by executive officers, directors and parties related to them who control a majority of our common stock;
  • additions or departures of key personnel; and
  • future sales of our common stock and the transfer or cancellation of shares of common stock pursuant to a share lending agreement.

In addition, the stock markets from time to time experience extreme price and volume fluctuations that may be unrelated or disproportionate to the operating performance of companies. These broad fluctuations may adversely affect the trading price of our common stock, regardless of our actual operating performance.

Future sales of our common stock or equity-related securities in the public market, including sales of our common stock pursuant to share lending agreements or short sale transactions by holders of convertible senior notes, could adversely affect the trading price of our common stock and our ability to raise funds in new stock offerings. Sales of significant amounts of our common stock or equity-related securities in the public market, including sales pursuant to share lending agreements, or the perception that such sales will occur, could adversely affect prevailing trading prices of our common stock and could impair our ability to raise capital through future offerings of equity or equity-related securities. Future sales of shares of common stock or the availability of shares of common stock for future sale, including sales of our common stock in short sale transactions by holders of our convertible senior notes, may have a material adverse effect on the trading price of our common stock.

The shares of Series A Convertible Preferred Stock are senior obligations, rank prior to our common stock with respect to dividends, distributions and payments upon liquidation and have other terms, such as a redemption right, that could negatively impact the value of shares of our common stock. In December 2019, we issued 400,000 shares of Series A Convertible Preferred Stock. The rights of the holders of our Series A Convertible Preferred Stock with respect to dividends, distributions and payments upon liquidation rank senior to similar obligations to our holders of common stock. Holders of the Series A Convertible Preferred Stock are entitled to receive dividends on each share of such stock equal to 6% per annum on the liquidation preference of $100. The dividends on the Series A Convertible Preferred Stock are cumulative and non-compounding and must be paid before we pay any dividends on the common stock.

In the event of our liquidation, dissolution or the winding up of our affairs, the holders of our Series A Convertible Preferred Stock have the right to receive a liquidation preference entitling them to be paid out of our assets generally available for distribution to our equity holders and before any payment may be made to holders of our common stock in an amount equal to $100 per share of Series A Convertible Preferred Stock plus any accrued but unpaid dividends.

Further, on and after January 1, 2024, the holders of the Series A Convertible Preferred Stock will have the right to require us to purchase outstanding shares of Series A Convertible Preferred Stock for an amount equal to $100 per share plus any accrued but unpaid dividends. This redemption right could expose us to a liquidity risk if we do not have sufficient cash resources at hand or are not able to find financing on sufficiently attractive terms to comply with our obligations to repurchase the Series A Convertible Preferred Stock upon exercise of such redemption right.

Our obligations to the holders of Series A Convertible Preferred Stock also could limit our ability to obtain additional financing or increase our borrowing costs, which could have an adverse effect on our financial condition and the value of our common stock.

Our outstanding Series A Convertible Preferred Stock has anti-dilution protection that, if triggered, could cause substantial dilution to our then-existing holders of common stock, which could adversely affect our stock price. The document governing the terms of our outstanding Series A Convertible Preferred Stock contains anti-dilution provisions to benefit the holders of such stock. As a result, if we, in the future, issue common stock or other derivative securities, subject to specified exceptions, for a per share price less than the then existing conversion price of the Series A Convertible Preferred Stock, an adjustment to the then current conversion price would occur. This reduction in the conversion price could result in substantial dilution to our then-existing holders of common stock, which could adversely affect the price of our common stock.

We have no current plans to pay cash dividends on our common stock for the foreseeable future, and an increase in the market price of our common stock, if any, may be the sole source of gain on your investment. With the exception of dividends payable on our Series A Convertible Preferred Stock, we currently intend to retain any future earnings for use in the operation and expansion of our business and do not expect to pay any dividends on our common stock in the foreseeable future. The declaration and payment of all future dividends on our common stock, if any, will be at the sole discretion of our board of directors, which retains the right to change our dividend policy at any time. Any decision by our board of directors to declare and pay dividends in the future will depend on, among other things, our results of operations, financial condition, cash requirements, contractual restrictions, restrictions on dividends imposed by the document governing the terms of the Series A Convertible Preferred Stock and other factors that our board of directors may deem relevant. Consequently, appreciation in the market price of our common stock, if any, may be the sole source of gain on your investment for the foreseeable future.

Holders of the Series A Convertible Preferred Stock are entitled to receive dividends on each share of such stock equal to 6% per annum on the liquidation preference of $100. The dividends on the Series A Convertible Preferred Stock are cumulative and non-compounding and must be paid before we pay any dividends on the common stock.

We have the ability to issue additional preferred stock, warrants, convertible debt and other securities without shareholder approval. Our common stock may be subordinate to additional classes of preferred stock issued in the future in the payment of dividends and other distributions made with respect to common stock, including distributions upon liquidation or dissolution. Our articles of incorporation permit our Board of Directors to issue preferred stock without first obtaining shareholder approval, which we did in December 2019 when we issued the Series A Convertible Preferred Stock. If we issue additional classes of preferred stock, these additional securities may have dividend or liquidation preferences senior to the common stock. If we issue additional classes of convertible preferred stock, a subsequent conversion may dilute the current common shareholders’ interest. We have similar abilities to issue convertible debt, warrants and other equity securities.

Our executive officers, directors and parties related to them, in the aggregate, control a majority of our common stock and may have the ability to control matters requiring shareholder approval. Our executive officers, directors and parties related to them own a large enough share of our common stock to have an influence on, if not control of, the matters presented to shareholders. As a result, these shareholders may have the ability to control matters requiring shareholder approval, including the election and removal of directors, the approval of significant corporate transactions, such as any reclassification, reorganization, merger, consolidation or sale of all or substantially all of our assets and the control of our management and affairs. Accordingly, this concentration of ownership may have the effect of delaying, deferring or preventing a change of control of us, impede a merger, consolidation, takeover or other business combination involving us or discourage a potential acquirer from making a tender offer or otherwise attempting to obtain control of us, which in turn could have an adverse effect on the market price of our common stock.

The right to receive payments on our convertible senior notes is subordinate to the rights of our existing and future secured creditors. Our convertible senior notes are unsecured and are subordinate to existing and future secured obligations to the extent of the value of the assets securing such obligations. As a result, in the event of a bankruptcy, liquidation, dissolution, reorganization or similar proceeding of our company, our assets generally would be available to satisfy obligations of our secured debt before any payment may be made on the convertible senior notes. To the extent that such assets cannot satisfy in full our secured debt, the holders of such debt would have a claim for any shortfall that would rank equally in right of payment (or effectively senior if the debt were issued by a subsidiary) with the convertible senior notes. In such an event, we may not have sufficient assets remaining to pay amounts on any or all of the convertible senior notes.

As of December 31, 2019, Atlanticus Holdings Corporation had outstanding: $745.3 million of secured indebtedness, which would rank senior in right of payment to the convertible senior notes; $45.2 million of senior unsecured indebtedness in addition to the convertible senior notes that would rank equal in right of payment to the convertible senior notes; and no subordinated indebtedness. Included in senior secured indebtedness are certain guarantees we have executed in favor of our subsidiaries. For more information on our outstanding indebtedness, See Note 9, “Notes Payable and Variable Interest Entities,” to our consolidated financial statements included herein.

Our convertible senior notes are junior to the indebtedness of our subsidiaries. Our convertible senior notes are structurally subordinated to the existing and future claims of our subsidiaries’ creditors. Holders of the convertible senior notes are not creditors of our subsidiaries. Any claims of holders of the convertible senior notes to the assets of our subsidiaries derive from our own equity interests in those subsidiaries. Claims of our subsidiaries’ creditors will generally have priority as to the assets of our subsidiaries over our own equity interest claims and will therefore have priority over the holders of the convertible senior notes. Consequently, the convertible senior notes are effectively subordinate to all liabilities, whether or not secured, of any of our subsidiaries and any subsidiaries that we may in the future acquire or establish. Our subsidiaries’ creditors also may include general creditors and taxing authorities. As of December 31, 2019, our subsidiaries had total liabilities of approximately $792.3 million (including the $745.3 million of senior secured indebtedness mentioned above), excluding intercompany indebtedness. In addition, in the future, we may decide to increase the portion of our activities that we conduct through subsidiaries.

 

Note Regarding Risk Factors

The risk factors presented above are all of the ones that we currently consider material. However, they are not the only ones facing our company. Additional risks not presently known to us, or which we currently consider immaterial, also may adversely affect us. There may be risks that a particular investor views differently from us, and our analysis might be wrong. If any of the risks that we face actually occurs, our business, financial condition and operating results could be materially adversely affected and could differ materially from any possible results suggested by any forward-looking statements that we have made or might make. In such case, the trading price of our common stock or other securities could decline, and you could lose part or all of your investment. We expressly disclaim any obligation to update or revise any forward-looking statements, whether as a result of new information, future events or otherwise, except as required by law.