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25 May 2023
In the summer of 1998, the world was a much different place. The International Space Station had not yet been built, BMW bought Rolls Royce, Birmingham hosted both the Eurovision Song Contest and the G8 Summit, the Ford Focus was launched (marking the end of the Escort), and Jaden Smith was born to proud parents Will and Jada. But he wasn’t the only notable birth that year...
On 24 July 1998, a our sister company called Arum was incorporated at Companies House, marking the birth of what has gone on to be an enduring professional services, advisory and thought leadership business at the heart of the global debt industry.
The industry itself has changed beyond recognition since those days, and I’m going to take a walk down memory lane in this blog to show just how far we’ve all come.
Advice and support
The Consumer Credit Counselling Service was five years old in 1998 and it was just getting noticed by some of the big players as a useful ally in the marketplace, although it would be another 14 years before it rebranded as StepChange in 2012.
During that time, we’ve seen the introduction of Debt Management Plans, Debt Relief Orders, we almost got a Statutory Debt Repayment Plan (watch this space!) and, for better or worse, the proliferation of Independent Voluntary Arrangements.
More than that, free debt advice has been built into the fabric of our industry and it is no longer an afterthought, or a nice-to-have; it is almost impossible to think about a debt customer journey that doesn’t have advice as an offering.
Even now, this landscape continues to evolve and change, as we’ve seen the growth of policy research and lobbying by advice agencies, alongside new entrants into the Money and Pensions Service commissioning process, all of which drives up standards and competition, and can only result in better customer outcomes across the board.
1998 happens to be the year that a little search engine called Google launched, and the year that Amazon branched out from being just an online bookshop; the relevance of this is big data. Tesco had launched its Clubcard a few years earlier, but this was, at the time, a narrow use case and relied on people visiting a physical store. The advent of large-scale data analytics relied on the internet to track millions of customer journeys and automate tailored communications.
The debt world picked up on this trend and was soon using customer journey information to track how successful given interventions were. From here, differentiated treatment paths became the order of the day.
Regulation and legislation
In 2006, the Financial Services Authority (as it was at the time) brought in the Treating Customers Fairly (TCF) guidelines. I was working in government debt management at the time and had been trying to get agents to think about getting people out of debt, not debt out of people. I have a sharp recollection of talking to an Audit Manager at a well-known Debt Collection Agency about TCF. Two things he told me have stuck with me ever since:
The principles-based approach meant that they had to experiment to get it right, which led to a high degree of ownership and engagement, which he doubted would have been there had they been told exactly what to do.
Affordable repayment plans, on the customer’s terms rather than ours, had a lower break rate. This led to lower costs, a more efficient process and higher collections overall.
That feels like it shouldn’t need explaining these days – but that fact is yet another indicator of how far we’ve come. You must remember that arbitrary repayment plan timescales were still commonplace in other parts of the industry and amongst the front line, there was a strong feeling that a repayment plan was a necessary evil on the path to unlocking court action.
More recently, we have seen the introduction of Breathing Space legislation, which stemmed from the government’s desire to help those who were “just about managing” with the cost of living back in 2017. Alongside that, we have the Consumer Duty going live at the end of July 2023, which aims to revolutionise culture within the industry towards providing good customer outcomes at every step of the process.
Expertise and professionalism
Underpinning all this has been professional skills and the deep expertise of people working in our sector. This has been endorsed at the highest level too, with the Chartered Institute for Credit Management receiving its coveted Royal Charter in 2015 and today it covers everything from understanding crown preference to leadership to enforcement.
25 years ago, I couldn’t have known that I was about to embark on a lifetime journey in the world of debt. The changes in culture, understanding, technology, regulation, legislation and professionalism have completely transformed the industry, from what has been described as the ‘Wild West’ to a modern, compassionate, people-centered vocation.
At Just, we are committed to being part of this transformation. As the UK’s first provider of integrated services for the enforcement sector, we have introduced crucial changes to the industry that will have major social impact benefits to both clients and customers for many years. We are proud to be on this journey with you and we can’t wait to see what the next 25 years holds!
If you’d like to speak to me about anything I’ve raised in this blog, I’d love to hear from you and please feel free to contact me directly.
Steve CoppardGroup Director of Debt Policy & StrategyJust & Arum
About the author
Steve has been in the debt industry since 2001. He spent most of his career working in government, where he started on the phones collecting VAT debt and ended up being responsible for prompting improvements to the management of over £40bn of public sector debt. He joined Just and Arum in May 2022 where he continues to shape the biggest conversations in the debt market, having been recognised as an Influencer on the Credit 500 list for a number of years. Credit Management Magazine recently called him one of the industry’s genuine thought leaders.