(London, UK) Collections Departments faced unprecedented challenges throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, from embracing remote working to managing significant payment holiday volumes. And now, they must take action on HMT Breathing Space while transitioning from payment holidays. Auriemma Group’s Collections and Recoveries Roundtable has been discussing these events and their corresponding strategies amongst the UK’s top financial institutions. These two deadlines are quickly approaching, and along with the unpredictable macroeconomic environment, lenders must leverage learnings from the last year to prepare for the likely spike in volume ahead.
“Payment holidays have been the primary focus since the beginning of the pandemic, but with the extension of support schemes, that has now switched, and priority is on HMT Breathing Space,” says Louis Stevens, Director of Roundtables at Auriemma Group. “However, the payment holiday conclusion date is looming, which could mean a significant strain on Collections teams.”
In 2020, lenders quickly learned the need for automation and additional headcount to manage volume spikes, and they are now applying these learnings to prepare for the coming months. On average, lenders intend to increase their collections teams by 42% throughout 2021. Additionally, 86% of lenders have invested in their automated decisioning and digital channels to prepare for volume spikes.
Are Lenders Prepared for HMT Breathing Space?
On 4th May 2021 HMT Breathing Space (Debt Respite Scheme) will go into effect, giving consumers in problem debt the right to legal protections from their creditors. The Debt Respite Scheme has two paths: either through “standard problem debt” or through “a mental health crisis” referral. During this moratorium, lenders cannot communicate with customers and must stop interest from accruing.
According to Auriemma Group’s Collections and Recoveries Roundtable, as of April 1st,69% of lenders indicated that they feel somewhat prepared for the regulation, and the remaining 31% still feeling somewhat unprepared. There are a number of remaining concerns affecting preparedness, including the delay of the creditor portal, ambiguity in the regulation and unknown volumes.
To try to estimate the volume of customers who could potentially enrol in the scheme, lenders are utilising data from payment holidays, debt-advice charities and usage rates of other types of breathing space (e.g., CONC). They are also slightly increasing forecasts due to the worsening economy, payment holiday conclusions and the ceasing of furlough programs.
38% of lenders have already, or are planning to, increase their teams due to HMT Breathing Space. Initially, most lenders will use a combination of manual and automated processes to manage the regulation with the hopes of further automating as they get a better grasp on volumes.
How Will Payment Holiday Conclusions Affect Operations?
Although the deadline to enrol in payment holidays was 31st March, consumers have the option to extend their payment holidays until 31st July as long as it is within their six-month allowance for both secured and unsecured products. The number of customers returning to contractual payments after a payment holiday has remained strong; however, 92% of lenders are anticipating an increase in delinquency volumes following the conclusion of payment holidays.
“The primary watchout is the cohort of customers working in particularly hard-hit sectors, such as travel, tourism and food service. As the support ends for these sectors, we could see significant increases in delinquency volumes as many of these businesses are currently overstaffed,” says Stevens. “The magnitude of volume is contingent on the ability of the economy to bounce back and if predictions, such as the travel boom, come to fruition.”
Customers needing additional support will likely look to long-term forbearance plans, which have caused lenders to focus their attention on that process. Investments have been made in streamlining income and expenditure assessments and digitising the forbearance enrolment process as well as increasing the size of Vulnerable Customer teams.
Auriemma Group’s Collections and Recoveries Roundtable is tackling these challenges head on through our executive meetings, workshops and benchmarking exercises. Within the next three months, the group will be meeting six times with two sessions dedicated to HMT Breathing Space. If you are interested in attending any of these sessions, please reach out via firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more than 30 years, Auriemma’s mission has been to empower clients with authoritative data and actionable insights. Our team comprises recognised experts in four primary areas: operational effectiveness, consumer research, co-brand partnerships, and corporate finance. Our business intelligence and advisory services give clients access to the data, expertise and tools they need to navigate an increasingly complex environment and maximise their performance. Auriemma serves the consumer financial services ecosystem from our offices in London and New York City. For more information, call Louis Stevens at +44 (0) 207 629 0075.