In this weeks Leading the Way blog, Helen Addis, Bristow & Sutor Social Responsibility and Customer Welfare Manager, details her recent day spent accompanying a member of the EA team, explaining what she has learned from this first-hand experience.
Since I joined Bristow & Sutor, a key part of my role has been challenging misconceptions about what an Enforcement Agent is and educating people on the potential dangers of those misconceptions. I am responsible for ensuring social value is present and effective in everything the business delivers and connecting with customer groups as well as debt advice sector representatives, with the aim of fostering collaboration, increasing understanding and building an effective chain of support for anyone that may need help.
In order to ensure my advice and shared knowledge is accurate and insightful, I regularly speak to members of staff throughout the business and spend days observing how the individuals that make up our teams put our company values and training into practice. To this end, I recently joined Darren, a directly employed Bristow & Sutor Enforcement Agent, out on the road and shadowed him whilst he completed a full day of visits.
My own perceptions
One of the reasons I was initially drawn to Bristow & Sutor was the attitude of the people the business employs and the ethical standards of being cool, calm and collected. Whilst I was pleased the company recognised this approach as something to strive for and that they incentivise correct vulnerability protocols being followed, my day spent with Darren showed me just how much this reflects the people within the business. Throughout the day, Darren showcased patience and empathy to each person he spoke to whilst balancing his sympathetic nature with an ability to state the facts and maintain a firm stance on the right pathway forward. This must be very hard to do when faced with rejection and emotive behaviour, but Darren remained open-minded and personable in every situation he faced.
It was always the prospect of confrontation that made me think a job as an EA would not be something I could do, but interestingly I found that it was other aspects to the role that presented the greatest challenges requiring unique skills. Each case that a Bristow & Sutor EA picks up has to be treated individually as the cases themselves are not simply numbers; each statistic is a real person with their own circumstances and who deserve to be treated as such. Consistently composing yourself and resetting immediately, even after difficult conversations, to ensure the next person visited is treated with the right level of care and fairness is not something that everybody can do. I was also surprised to learn that the majority of conversations had in a given day are not always with the debtors themselves, but often with people around them. Nobody is going to help you in attempts to conduct tracing and establish whereabouts unless you have impressive rapport building qualities and Darren showed this in abundance, articulating why communicating with him was in the debtor's best interest and how positive outcomes for everyone involved was the only objective.
Firm and fair
I knew relationship building was a key component to the job of an EA, but I did not quite realise what an immediate impact these skills had on the outcomes of routine daily visits. Ensuring fair treatment whilst maintaining enforcement as a successful deterrent technique is fundamental to the wider goals of my own job, but EAs deal with this balancing act face to face every day. They are required to calculate what approach is most effective but also suitable for the welfare and needs of each individual. Being firm and fair are traits that must always exist within the same person and the same job. Keeping both present in all activities but knowing which to emphasise is absolutely key.
For example, in the morning of our visits we met a man who paid his debt in full, but only after a firm approach was taken to the outstanding issue and a clamp was fixed to his vehicle. In the afternoon of that same day, Darren referred a woman to our specialist welfare teams as she was clearly in need of assistance and required compassion, not an ultimatum, to help her resolve her circumstances in the long term.
Advice for advisors
My findings, especially from that last visit to a vulnerable debtor, have helped me understand even more the important role Bristow & Sutor EAs play in the collection process and how impactful they can be on the future wellbeing of those they engage with. The debtor in that scenario explained she had received impartial debt advice but had been told to ignore correspondence from EAs as a way of making the issue go away. Ignoring a problem debt is the worst thing someone can do and could potentially result in the debt increasing and already difficult financial situations spiralling out of control. Advice providers must understand the role EAs play and the positive outcomes of engaging with them compared to ignoring them. That is why we regularly provide free training and presentation sessions to debt advice personnel, outlining exactly how we operate and what our services hope to achieve.
My day with Darren will help me shape the conversations I have in future related to this message, including this month at an East-Midlands Roundtable meeting. This event, organised by Bristow & Sutor, will see invited Parking and Collections managers from the region join us and panellists from the welfare teams of Nottingham City Council, North Northamptonshire Council and City of Lincoln Council; as we discuss the importance of clarity and working collaboratively to make support more universal. It is an unfortunate reality that the postcode of where someone lives can have a significant impact on the structure, style and level of support they receive at present throughout the UK. Our ambition is to promote networking on these topics for the best interest of individuals and we will be looking to replicate similar discussions across other regions soon as well.
I am very grateful to Darren and all of the EAs at Bristow & Sutor for their continued support and efforts. Our strong reputation in the enforcement industry is well-deserved and we will continue to train, inform and advise partners we engage with on what it means to be truly cool, calm and collected.