Chris Leslie, Welcome to the Credit Services Association
We were delighted to hear that former Nottingham East MP Chris Leslie has joined the Credit Services Association as its chief executive.
I expect successfully navigating the shark-infested waters of Westminster for many years will stand him in good stead for cracking down on loan sharks or shining a light on the dodgy practices of late-paying millionaire business owners.
Here are some of the things we’d like to see him tackle and bring to wider attention:
Make us look better
The public image of debt collection could do with some burnishing. The fact is companies like ours help other businesses to get paid which then enables them to pay their own bills and, generally, stay afloat. We have helped small firms and sole traders who were on the brink of bankruptcy after a customer failed to pay, despite repeated invoices. And some of these customers were big names with tidy reserves in the bank, not struggling individuals.
Make the 30-Day Rule pay
Many traders have a line at the foot of their bills: payment due within 30 days. If it were not only incorporated into government good practice guidance for business but publicised effectively, this could help bring about the necessary culture change to ensure customers took it seriously.
It’s too easy for directors who have abandoned a business with big debts to set up again with a fresh name, unhindered by their previous financial failures. These serial rogue directors are taking the mickey and a tightening up of the rules governing who is fit for business is overdue.
It’s the Law
The legal framework for taking business debtors to court has become increasingly unwieldy and unfairly weighted on the side of the debtor at the expense of businesses who are themselves struggling with cash flow. We want less red tape and more speed. Basically, the system needs the jurisprudential equivalent of an enema.
Allied to the above, our sector needs to put more focus on avoiding court altogether and enabling parties to settle the claims without recourse to the law and the concomitant hefty fees of my learned friends. Having said that, however, I quite fancy myself as Rumpole of the Bailey in a wig and gown; after all, we both like fine wines and steak dinners. I’ll have to have a word with ‘she who must be obeyed’ (Robyn).
As in many other areas of business life, there are still too few women in the world of credit control and debt collection. When Robyn and I attend events, she is one of a handful in the room. Some women may be deterred from joining the industry by its traditionally macho image but, even if that’s so, ‘softer’ skills, such as mediation, are much in demand now, while specialist legal and finance skills are ever more necessary. If women are being put off, we should do something about it.
The COVID excuses…
The pandemic has hit businesses hard, as we all know, and our sympathy goes to those who have had the carpet pulled from under them financially by this disaster. There are also those who have been less harmed by the stalling of the economy and who are using COVID-19 as an excuse not to pay bills owing from nine months ago. The CSA could usefully highlight this problem.
The CSA launched its own #heretohelp campaign last year, aiming to give people in debt the confidence to talk to CSA members about financial problems, rather than wait for the worst to happen or follow questionable internet advice. This campaign could usefully be highlighted again now at a time when more people than ever are likely to need help.