You’ve just ordered the tapas and sat back in your chair to enjoy a San Miguel and good conversation with your guests when a hush descends on the table. The mood darkens as if a rain cloud has materialised overhead.
You glance around and a man wearing a black frock coat, sporting a top hat, and carrying a briefcase looms, silently, behind you. The cobrador del frac (the frock-coated debt collector) standing at your shoulder singles you out as someone who has not paid your debts.
This public humiliation is, the Guardian has reported, one industry that is booming among the ruins of Spain’s economy. The cobrador could equally be standing outside your business or home as business to business debt grows.
While the scenario above may sound like the Monty Python Spanish Inquisition sketch, it brings home the power of naming and shaming as one way to get people to pay up.
In Australia, there’s even a website, CreditorWatch, where small businesses can post the names of those who don’t pay their invoices, so that others can check who the late payers are before taking on a new customer.
Debt is one of the last taboos, something that people keep hidden even from their partners. The Daily Mail last autumn reported on a survey by the Cooperative Bank which found that Britons had up to £41 billion of debts hidden from their partners, with more than one in 10 women and one in seven men confessing to keeping debt secret.
‘Yet the longer people struggle on alone with unmanageable debt, the more unmanageable it is bound to become,’ pointed out the Mail’s columnist, Dominique Jackson, in the article.
Secrecy is nothing new, she noted. ‘The Japanese tradition of heso-kuri, secret savings by housewives or belly button money, dates back to feudal times and is still, in the 21st century, such an important sector of the Japanese economy that it is estimated in official surveys and reports.’
At SJ Collections, we see the naming and shaming that goes with recourse to the courts as a last resort. We’re often able to reach a mutually acceptable repayment schedule that, with goodwill on all sides, can produce a lasting settlement.
Never forget that many of the country’s leading entrepreneurs have experienced business failure, and bounced back stronger than ever. There’s no shame in that.