Treating Customers Fairly: Reflections from the CEO
Intrum has launched 10 principles to promote fair and ethical debt collection practices and treatment of customers, individuals and companies alike, across the credit management industry. We met with Anders Engdahl, President and CEO of Intrum, to talk about the background to the principles.
Why has Intrum set up these principles for ethical debt collection, called Treating Customers Fairly?
As Europe’s largest credit servicing company, we believe that we have a responsibility to not only ensure that we conduct our operations in an ethical way, but also to encourage our industry peers to do the same. We hope that these principles can form the basis of a future industry standard to enable that all customers are treated fairly and ethically, regardless if there is strong consumer protection law in place or not.
What does Treating Customers Fairly mean for Intrum, and why is it important?
To put it really simply, it is about having fair and ethical treatment of our customers at the core of everything we do. Our clients trust us with their most important assets, their customers, and fair treatment of them is both a matter of ethics and a natural part of delivering the highest quality of service to our clients.
How are the principles applied in our day-to day-operations?
They guide us in the more than 250,000 customer contacts we have on a daily basis and constitute a group-wide standard for how we should treat our customers in the 25 countries where we operate. Our goal is that all customers who are in contact with us are met with the same high ethical standard regardless of which country their late payment is registered in and independently of the reason for their late payment.
What does ethical debt collection mean to you?
It means to always conducting our operations with an ethical compass, where fair treatment of the customer is a central part. Handling all cases in line with applicable legislation is a given, but what we define as ethical debt collection goes beyond the minimum requirements set up by local legislation. Extra precautions to ensure that information is clear, fair and not misleading when communicating with customers is one example.
Some of the countries where we operate have limited or no legislation regarding debt collection and credit servicing. In these markets, our Treating Customers Fairly Instruction plays a particularly important role and sets the standard.
How does Intrum balance profitability with ethics in its collection activities?
Intrum is a public listed company and that means that we, among other things, are expected to generate the best possible economic value to our shareholders. And there is no contradiction between that obligation and treating our customers in an ethical way.
Instead, fair treatment of our customers is a prerequisite for us to be able to deliver on the expectations that our clients have on our services, as well as ensuring that we create long-term shareholder value. Conflict of interests sometimes occur in our day-to-day operations, which is why our internal instructions and values are so important to ensure that we conduct our services with ethics in focus.
Our clients trust us with their most important assets, their customers, and fair treatment of them is both a matter of ethics and a natural part of delivering the highest quality of service to our clients.Anders Engdahl, President and CEO of Intrum
Is there more to do to secure ethical practices across the debt collection and credit management services industry in Europe today?
There are several countries which have limited or no regulation of credit servicing, which opens up for practices that are not in line with what we at Intrum would define as sound. That is one of the reasons why we promote an EU-harmonized legislation for all types of credits and credit servicing. Having clear and reasonable regulations would benefit all parts in the credit chain.
Covid-19 has put many vulnerable consumers under additional financial strain. What measures have Intrum taken to support these groups during the pandemic?
We have introduced pandemic specific guidelines across all our markets on how we can help customers in difficult financial situations. It could for example be offering a payment holiday, a longer payment plan or freezing the debt. Of course, we also follow local authorities’ instructions and guidelines, which vary from market to market.
We all have a responsibility to contribute to the community during challenging times and we will always do our utmost to find good solutions that are adapted to the individual's situation. We therefore encourage everyone who experience payment problems to contact our local offices so we can find solutions that work for all involved.
How does the Treating Customers Fairly instruction and its principles link to our overall sustainability strategy?
Ethical treatment of our customers is central to how we are perceived by all of our stakeholders, and it is also one of the target-set focus areas in our sustainability strategy. In the ESG agenda (Environmental, Social and Governance), the “S” is most important for Intrum, as it is at the core of our business that our customers are met in a respectful and empathetic way.
What is Intrum’s ambition with these principles going forward?
The principles have been implemented throughout our operations across Europe, but we will of course continue to develop and improve how we work with them on a daily basis.
Looking ahead, we would like to see an industry-wide standard for ethical treatment of customers. We hope that these principles could be a starting point of such a discussion and process. Having a standard in place would not only benefit the customers, but it would help understand and see the benefit of our industry as a whole.