What I mean by asking that question is that it would seem we are no longer simply collectors, but in fact have become something much much more than that. A sort of hybrid counsellor, come customer service agent, come confidant, come sounding board, come assertive friend. The business of collections has evolved into a more conscious, moral and infinitely more skilful practice than it’s ever been. As culture changes, new regulation, accessible and free advice embed themselves into both firms with a credit, credit control and debt collection function and also into the psyche of the customer, the key competencies of the role have changed beyond recognition.
So, should we be looking to rebrand ourselves might be a fair question? It used to be that when you told a stranger you were a debt collector they’d go all swivel eyed and move away, which always made me smile. But now it’s not the same. Saying you’re a debt collector is akin to confessing to being a traffic warden or estate agent, such is the public awareness of what financial difficulty and hardship is along with the types of vulnerability people can be affected by. There is now much less embarrassment, anger or stigma, there is simply more knowledge, understanding and confidence of how to handle the situation, definitely with thanks to the growth of Debt Advice Services, and not just the free ones either but also by creditors willingness to accept they may have to wait for payment, that in the long run forbearance pays off.
Debt Counselling has striven to educate those unable to make ends meet whilst creditors have been simultaneously taking up the baton to meet them half way. The provision of free debt advice continues to grow due to demand and the numbers seeking advice have climbed steeply year on year. The Money Advice Service report that they and their partners are on track to provide debt advice to 370,000 people this year more than double the number helped last year. Primarily due to improved processes but also through MAS, National Debtline and the citizens advice bureau all working together to metaphorically sing from the same hymn sheet.
According to Lesley Robinson, Director of Debt advice: “We know that free debt advice really works, our own research shows that 80% of people start to feel in control of their financial situation after receiving advice, and 76% of people start to repay their debts within 6 months of receiving advice.”
So do we really want to ‘brand’ ourselves ‘debt collectors’, do we really want to be stereotyped into something that really ceased to be about 5 years ago. As a collector we now explore affordability, we look for markers to indicate vulnerability or mental health issues, we aim to provide a solution, we take time to build a rapport, to build trust, our goal is no longer gaining the highest sum in the shortest period but to agree repayments that are achievable and affordable without negatively impacting the customers current situation, thus achieving a positive result for the creditor and the customer, no longer the one sided arrangement of old but a negotiated informed agreement.
It’s been pointed out that actually the poorest people pay the most as they don’t have access to the best tariffs and price plans. We now realise the disparity between the haves and have nots is unfair and merely exacerbates an already bad situation and this in turn has changed our actions as well as our beliefs. So have we not actually evolved into something more positive, something more collaborative, and something more rounded and conscientious? Are we not Debt Resolution Officers…Debt Resolvers...Finance Advisors…Liability Co-ordinators…sorry run out of suggestions but you get my drift. I’m guessing quite a few of you have amended your agents’ jobs titles to be more reflective of the true job performed. What are you using?