Robert K. Sutton sees high-risk auto finance as a vehicle to success. While many other players have exited the sub-prime market, especially in the current climate of economic uncertainty, he's bullish on serving the fastest-growing sub-sector in the consumer finance.

Sutton is the CEO of Centrix Financial, a risk management firm in Englewood, CO, currently doing business in 26 states. His goal? To become a top nationwide player in the near future.

Despite a background that includes neither auto finance nor any other type of automotive business, Sutton and WK Capital Advisors purchased Centrix in 1998, and developed its patent-pending Portfolio Management Product (PMP).

Through the PMP, middleman Centrix markets, underwrites, services, collects, and provides an insurance guarantee for each loan, thereby enabling credit unions to serve more individuals with less risk and no overhead costs.

It delivers a 9%-11% yield. The Centrix PMP is endorsed by Credit Union leagues in 13 states and serves over 150 credit unions nationwide. These loans can be generated from car dealerships or from existing member loans sent to Centrix for review.

In 2002, Centrix grew from 150 employees to 330. It's lending portfolio went from $170 to $420 million, and its individual loans from 7,438 to nearly 20,000. That's in an auto finance market that's more than $500 billion a year, the fastest growing sector in overall consumer finance.

Within this market, “special financing”, which represents close to one third of U.S. credit customers, is the fastest growing sub-sector, currently at a rate of 12% a year.

“We tried to find out where the failures were when we took on this business,” says Sutton. “We underwrite each loan one at a time and insure and monitor each daily.

“The highest priority we have is service and collection. We don't wait 30 days if someone has missed a payment. We call in three days to see if people are okay.

“We try to keep people in their car and treat them with respect, knowing that many things can affect them, such as divorce, death, loss. We insist on respect in our culture and in our corporation.”

Centrix also strives for team spirit with its employees and dealers. “Team Centrix” is now the brand for all communications directed to dealerships, finance managers.

“Team Centrix” began in November with the 2002 SCORE Baja 1000. Centrix backed three cars in this legendary race as a part of the Yokohama Geolander Ultimate Baja Challenge. The firm used the race as a springboard to a unique hybrid dealer incentive program and team-building exercise.

Team Centrix Baja Adventure kicked off in January. It gives dealerships and Centrix sales and loan production employees the chance to earn their way to the Baja for the three-day off-road Adventures, using equipment and routes modeled on the Baja 1000 event and the resources and talents of Baja OffRoad Adventures.

Why racing and the Baja 1000? “The Baja 1000 clearly demonstrates teamwork and the effectiveness of people, ideas and technology coming together to solve problems and create opportunity,” says Sutton, a winning Baja driver. “Racing is about speed and overcoming obstacles.”