Making a difference, one call at a time

Anders Olsson is Team Manager at Intrum Sweden’s call centre in Gothenburg. He explains how his team helps those struggling with debt to turn their lives around.

Anders Olsson doesn’t sound like most people’s idea of a debt collector. For one thing, after five-and-a-half years in his job as Team Manager for Intrum’s call centre in Gothenburg, he still sounds surprised that he’s even working in the industry.

“If someone had told me that I'd end up working in debt collection, I think I would have laughed,” says the 36-year-old Swede. “But it's the most complicated yet rewarding job I've ever had, and the way we actually do our job is quite different from how I pictured it and how other people picture it.”

Debt advisors, not debt collectors

Olsson and his team are not your typical cold-hearted debt collectors–for a start, they are called debt advisors.

He likens the role to being an expert you turn to when you have something wrong. If you can go to the dentist for treatment on a troublesome tooth, you can turn to Intrum to address your debt, every day they talk to 50 000 people in Europe who have problems paying their debts.

That approach is in keeping with the social responsibility that’s at the heart of Intrum, but it also reflects Olsson’s sales background.

“The usual approach of calling someone and asking them a yes or no question about whether they will pay back what they owe doesn’t work. Some people we speak to have been living with their debts for 30 or 40 years.

“Often they haven’t told their families or friends because financial problems are still a taboo, even shameful subject, or perhaps they have had another debt collection agency already deal with them unkindly; so, why should they open up to a stranger at the other end of the phone?

“Every call we make or take should be a mission to change people's minds about who we are and how we are working. We are working to win people's trust, and to get them to pay back something every month.”

It’s nothing like reality TV

The idea of people living with debt for years is a scary and even mystifying one for many of us. However, Olsson explains that the circumstances of most people in debt are not like those reality TV programs which feature people with wild spending habits who seemingly prioritise Gucci shoes or a Harley Davidson motorbike over basics like food or bills.

“Of the people we speak to, 99.9% of them are nothing like the picture that show presents. The people we are taking care of are people with a lot of debt, but often they have had bad luck, lost a job, had a break-up, a breakdown or a family tragedy. They have made bad financial choices that they have ended up living with.”

Olsson always tells his team to stop looking at numbers of people in debt and start thinking about the end-customer to whom they are speaking.

“Some people are unconcerned about their debts, while others can’t face talking about it. So we try to find out about people’s dreams–maybe their debt is stopping them from moving to a bigger flat or getting married; whatever it is, we can help them achieve their goal.

“I'm so proud of the way we work, how we see people and how we take care of our end-customers. In a lot of ways, we are teachers, psychologists, motivators and sales people, as well as debt advisors.”

That approach is getting results. Olsson speaks of people who are amazed and happy at the way they have been treated by Intrum’s call centre, which in turn makes them determined to pay back their debt.

Helping companies, too

Of course, there are others in the equation. What about the companies that are owed the money?

“I’ve been on the other side of things working for a sales company. I’ve seen how even small unpaid debts can mean the difference between a company keeping on staff, being able to continue, or being able to hire more people.

“If we can get someone to pay even a fairly small amount every month, it can make all the difference to those companies.”

If you’re struggling with debt, pick up the phone!

If Olsson had only one piece of advice for those with debt problems, it would be this: “Pick up the phone! I know it’ll be scary and maybe you’ll feel a bit ashamed, but we can help you.

“The longer you wait, the worse it will get. The faster you reach out with your hand, the faster we can help you.”