Cash-strapped customers are resisting borrowing money
Small loan provider Provident Financial has reported a fall in profits after customers became more careful about borrowing money.
Provident, which saw customer numbers rise 5% to 2.3 million in 2009, said the cautious trend was set to continue.
The change in borrowers' behaviour meant Provident reported a 2.4% fall in profits to £125.7m ($187m) last year.
The firm specialises in loans averaging less than £500, which are paid back in weekly instalments.
A typical loan of £100 attracts a fee of £75, with repayments over 50 weeks at £3.50 a week.
Provident Financial has been criticised in the past for charging high interest rates. The charity Barnardo's says the quicker the loan is repaid the higher the rates.
But Provident says that, because it charges a flat fee, everyone knows what they will pay and its system is fair.
With many people struggling through last year's economic downturn, observers had expected the company to have had far higher earnings.
Provident said the weather had not helped the picture. It said: "Existing customers exhibited increasingly cautious behaviour during 2009 which tempered demand for credit and was exacerbated by the adverse weather conditions during the peak trading weeks in December."
The company said it would maintain a cautious approach to lending until unemployment stabilises.