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The role of sustainability in debt collection

For years, Intrum has made sustainability an integral part of its operations. But what does “sustainability” actually mean to a credit management company? Intrum’s Global Sustainability Director shares her thoughts on this, how expectations have risen in recent times, and what’s needed to succeed going forward.

As the world entered a new millennium, a general awareness grew of how important it is to run businesses that truly sustain our environment, our societies and our economies over time. Industries and businesses across the world started embracing this perspective. The debt collection industry was no exception.

In 2017, Intrum hired Vanessa Söderberg to be its first Global Sustainability Director. Given that she had already worked for Intrum in its debt collection operations while studying sustainable development, she came into the position with existing knowledge about the company’s operations Understanding what sustainability is has grown over time. Today’s sustainability efforts focus on a wide range of impacts, direct and indirect, positive as well as negative, on people, the economy, and the climate. It also involves aspects such as social responsibility, which in turn includes ethics and fairness.

In 2017, Intrum hired Vanessa Söderberg to be its first Global Sustainability Director.

These are highly relevant areas in the credit management industry, Vanessa explains. She believes that sustainability for a credit management company is about applying a whole­ business approach to making a positive difference in the lives of everyone from clients to customers and employees – both now and in the future.

Treating customers fairly and ethically

“Sustainability for us means that debt collectors must treat customers fairly and ethically, respecting their human rights and dignity. At Intrum, we conducted a human rights impact assessment based on both internal and external stakeholder dialogue in 2021 to identify what human rights our business is at risk of impacting.

Intrum’s 10 principles for ethical and sound debt collection practices >>

We listed nine various aspects, such as right to non­discrimination, right to information, right to privacy and integrity, and right to due process. I believe that ethical treatment of customers is in our DNA and it’s only natural to continue to improve and keep setting the bar higher for the debt collection industry.”

Client expectations add extra pressure

When Intrum’s business grew in the 1990s and early 2000s, several of Europe’s most renowned banks be­came some of Intrum’s largest – and most demanding – clients. The bank­ing industry is also at the forefront of sustainability, with strict requirements and high expectations on their partners for transparency and compliance.

For sustainability to work, we have to look at the entire value chain. Banks are already doing this, and upcoming EU directives and regulations will enforce it. Banks expect us to stay up­-to­-date on relevant certifications and ensure we are responsible, compliant, fair, and trustworthy in how we work, from our environmental footprint to diversity and inclusion and how we collect money from our clients’ customers. This is to ensure that the banks in turn can demonstrate compliance with the high sustainability expectations of their own stakeholders
Vanessa Söderberg, Global Sustainability Director

“It’s the right thing to do”

The Intrum Group has a history of going through periods of alignment and centralisation, traditionally after periods of many mergers. As the Group now celebrates 100 years, it’s time for another wave of organisation­ wide alignment, this time around integrated sustainability. The group will have to come together even more to meet expectations from all stakeholders – from clients and regulators to customers, employees, and shareholders.

Vanessa again: “We shouldn’t do this only because stakeholders want us to or because industry peers are looking to us to continue setting an example. There is a business case for this as well. Research shows a correlation between investing in sustainability and long-term business success in the form of profitability and innovation. If that wasn’t reason enough, then of course there is the moral aspect: sustainable conduct is the right thing to do. There’s something everyone at Intrum can do, from how you speak to customers in the call centre to our approach to colleagues to remembering to turn off the lights in the office.”

Read our Treating Customers Fairly principles

“Sustainability in debt collection is a new tool for combatting age-old nega­tive perceptions of the industry, and I’m confident this is just the beginning of a historically significant progress,” Vanessa concludes.