The debt collection industry is embracing change in a way that may be surprising to outsiders.
You might imagine that old hands are being dragged, kicking and screaming, towards regulation by the new Financial Conduct Authority from next year.
And it’s fair to say, as consultant Rob Levick of UKDCA argued recently in CCR Magazine, that the arrival of the FCA ‘is forcing a re-examination of what is, and is not, acceptable practice for the collection industry’.
Delivering customer satisfaction for our clients also demands that we act with awareness of the reputational risk they face when contracting for debt recovery or selling on debt.
In the September issue of CCR, Robert Taylor, the head of internal collections at Lowell Group, points out that treating customers as ‘customers’ instead of ‘debtors’ is relatively new for the industry. With 11 million customer accounts, Lovell is, he says, data-rich.
But it is conducting customers satisfaction surveys to gauge how many ‘would prefer for any future accounts to be sold to Lowell over and above any of our industry peers’.
With surveys of customers who deal with Lovell by phone or email, and invitations to focus groups for some, the company is asking questions about its ability to tailor solutions to individuals, how their circumstances are considered, and about the quality of communications.
Taylor says this will hold the key ‘to how we demonstrate our customer outcomes are fair to clients and regulators in the future’.
At Lewis Group, which boasts on its website of a rate of upheld complaints of less 0.0002% in 1.5 million live accounts, learning the new language of compliance comes on top of throwing out its business model two years ago.
From collection of purchased debt, Lewis switched to contingent debt collection and now takes a commission for success in handling default accounts referred by credit providers.
Head of compliance Joanne Pearson, writing on Lewis’s website, says the new regulatory regime is not one to fear. For her it involves ‘thinking like a creditor’, understanding the compliance issues they face. ‘Understanding “why” change is needed will make the ‘”how” easier; it also serves to underpin the culture of treating customers fairly,’ she argues.
On the website, the company sets out how fairness ‘is fundamental to our ways of thinking and working’.
A rival collector, Wescot, which deals with 5 million account holders each year, says on its website that compliance is ‘at the heart of everything we do’.
The company is, it states, ‘An ethical debt collection agency, governed by stringent regulations which we are proud to abide by, and which, in some cases, we have helped to shape.’
Levick wonders if we have reached a time ‘when finally debt sale and debt collection become genuine powers for good’ but fears he might be getting misty eyed. Perhaps, but the evidence above suggests that treating customers fairly, after impacting on banks and other credit providers, is now being understood by the debt recovery industry.
At SJ Collections, the personal touch ensures that we comply with a strict code of conduct and that our actions protect your reputation when we take on collection of outstanding debt.