Far from the Gidget-esque California of bathing suits and Santa Monica beaches – specifically a two-and-a-half-hour drive north with one hour spent driving on a two-lane road surrounded by crops – is the small city of Porterville.
There, truckers honk in a friendly way at unknown passersby, locals chance upon the town judge at the Mexican cafe, and a farm-heavy landscape demands people to drive to work. Porterville is the type of place rural Americans know well and city dwellers might find confusing.
On a recent drizzly day off of Porterville’s North Main Street, Robert (Bob) Hughes worked in a Finance and Thrift office surrounded by books on big data, an iMac, photographs of horses and family, artwork created by his daughter (more of which is showcased in the parking lot) and a glass wall for collaborative doodling. More curious items on display in the chief executive’s office include an electric dollar sign, a mug that reads, “I find your math disturbing” and Australian throwing sticks.
Here, Hughes makes decisions about how the $128 million-assets bank will serve people in his region who may have accounts at department stores, pawn shops or cash checking, necessities like indirect auto loans. At the same time, decisions he makes need to make shareholders money.
When Hughes joined the community bank in 2007, used car inventory was low, unemployment rates were high and Beyonce’s “Irreplaceable” was the top song on Billboard. F&T operated 22 branches — each location procuring and originating loans with presumably different styles.
Realizing that some branches had four times the loss rates of others, Hughes sought out a computer-run model that could quicken underwriting decisions for subprime loans that require higher capital of the bank. “If you originate a $500 loan, you can’t spend $500 making it,” Hughes points out. F&T offers deposit accounts and loans for expenses like furniture, funerals and birthday parties, but indirect auto loans account for most of its sales.