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The Credit Services Association (CSA)
The Times They Are A-changin' - DGI data, Q4 2014
Do the latest statistics from the Credit Services Association’s Data Gathering Initiative (DGI) reflect the changing make up of the debt collection industry? CSA Vice President, John Ricketts considers.
While the politicians argue over who is best placed to handle the economy, and reduce the country’s deficit, they may be interested in examining the latest 2014 year end figures from the Credit Services Association (CSA) that reveal some interesting trends in the area of consumer debt.
The figures, released as part of the CSA’s quarterly Data Gathering Initiative (DGI), show that the total amount of consumer debt held by CSA members grew by 1% (Q3 to Q4 2014) to close the year at £67.37 billion.
Debt held for collection by debt collection agencies (DCAs) continues its quarter-on-quarter decline during 2014 and ended the year at £27.13 billion, a further 3% decline on Q3 (£27.95 billion). Year-on-year, values have declined by 14%.
In contrast debt held by debt buyers continues to grow, rising to £55.26 billion in the final Quarter, an increase of more than £1 billion from Q3 (£54.23 billion). A like-for-like comparison with Q4 2013 (£49.95 billion) reveals a significant 11% year-on-year growth.
At one point in 2014 it looked as though the debt buyers were sharing their success with the DCAs as we saw a steady growth in debt outsourced by buyers to the DCAs in the first three Quarters. However in Q4 this stalled at £15.02 billion, slightly down on Q3 (£15.50 billion) and perhaps reflecting the trend by debt purchasers to rationalise their DCA panels.
But there is also good news for DCAs: quarterly collections have started to rise, reaching an impressive £431.8 million from £411.2 million in Q3 with declining stock, compared to buyers’ collections at £235.4 million against £233.5 million in Q3 with a growing stock. In 2014, DCAs returned £1.737 billion to UK plc, a figure that increases to an impressive £2.641 billion when all CSA consumer members (ie including debt purchasers with in-house resources) are taken into account.
The DGI does not only collect data regarding the volume and value of consumer debt. It also looks at issues such as employment and customer complaints and both are demonstrating interesting trends.
Collections staff numbers certainly appear to be falling: the number of call centre collection agents in the industry declined by a further 3% (165 people) in Q4, continuing an annual trend.Indeed since Q4 2013, the number of call centre collection agents has dropped by 672, a 10% decline from 6,614 to 5,942. Non-collections staff numbers have remained relatively static throughout the year, however, following a substantial increase at the start of 2014 as the industry prepared itself for FCA regulation.
There are perhaps two reasons for this: one is undoubtedly a reflection of industry consolidation and the efficiencies that come from the economies of scale achieved. The other is how the collections industry is making greater use of new technology and analytical tools to achieve a better result with fewer people. The challenge, of course, is in striking the right balance. Automating processes and systems may enhance efficiency and improve the customer experience but the roles of individuals in Treating Customer Fairly will never be lost.
DGI Data Q 3 4 2014 In terms of complaints, the total number has remained static over the last Quarter, although there has been an 11% rise over the last 12 months (ie Q4 2013 to Q4 2014). The number of upheld complaints has also risen significantly (from 2,377 in Q4 2013 to 3,095 in Q4 2014). This may be a reflection of the industry’s new approach to compliance, or partly explained by a reclassification of what constitutes a ‘complaint’ to FCA requirements. Either way, it is an area that requires closer scrutiny and understanding.
And so to return to our opening question as regards whether these figures reflect the changing make up of the debt collection industry, the jury is perhaps still out. Another Quarter of significant change and a further decline in debt held for collection by debt collection agencies together with relative increases in DCA collections, may indeed look less like coincidence and more like a definitive trend towards a dominant debt purchase market with buyers and creditors being supported by a smaller but better served DCA sector.