Women and Debt Collection
Receivable management and debt collection is still a male-dominated area. The prejudices and stereotypes of being a woman in this field, creates a huge wall that prevents having a broader understanding of doing an effective business. The theme of 2020 International Women’s Day on the 8th of March is ‘An equal world is an enabled world’. In other words, celebrating women’s achievement, raising awareness against bias and taking action for equality. That’s why today in this article, I wanted to highlight how to get over these prejudices by giving examples from my experiences in the debt collection industry for several years hoping to shed a little light for an equal and enabled world.
I am young woman entrepreneur within this field and the founder of ARS Consultancy, which is the pioneer debt collection agency in Turkey focusing on international cases. In 2007, I was acquainted with this business while I was an Erasmus student in the Netherlands. After I graduated from Political Science and International Relations at Bogazici University (Istanbul, Turkey), I went back to the Netherlands and completed my Master Degree at Tilburg University within the field of Organizational Sciences on ‘Management of Cultural Diversity’. That leaded me to focus on a business which should be ‘international’ and in 2011, my journey at ARS Consultancy started. Until then, the only asset I had was the passion of being a young woman entrepreneur and the know-how of ‘debt collection’ which I had accumulated in the past 3 years because I had been doing business all around the world with different debt collection agencies. After that, I had been traveling around the world and attending the conferences of associations and groups of international debt recovery industry. What I have seen so far is that, on average %80 of the people at these conferences are men. In other words, receivable management and debt collection is still a male-dominated area, not only in Turkey but all around the world.
How to free ourselves from prejudices of being a woman in debt collection?
In 1791, the French thinker and writer, Olympe de Gouges published the ’Declaration of the Rights of Woman and the Female Citizen’. Here is the Article 4 of this declaration which inspires me the most to keep standing as a woman in this difficult industry of debt collection;
‘Liberty and justice consist of restoring all that belongs to others; thus, the only limits on the exercise of the natural rights of woman are perpetual male tyranny; these limits are to be reformed by the laws of nature and reason.’
The high percentage of men within the field of ‘debt recovery’ can be balanced by simply using the laws of reason and nature. I will explain ‘how’ with the examples which are outlined below. But let me make a short reminder before that, ‘dealing with money and making an amicable debt collection’ is not easy at all. It requires an eager chase, being organized, prepared, understanding and staying calm by not taking things personal. In short, the success in debt collection lies in ‘certain capabilities’ rather than the gender. When these capabilities are coupled with ‘knowledge’ and ‘experience’, here you have the achievement. The laws of reason, allows a person can discover her or his capabilities. Similarly, the laws of reason enables to increase appetite for knowledge. Last but not least, felicities of experience can shine by the laws of reason. In other words, ‘capabilities’, ‘knowledge’ and ‘experience’ are the key determiners of an amicable debt collection, not being a man or a woman. That’s exactly why eliminating the bias (which comes not only from men, but sometimes also from women) will have a crucial effect on having a more successful and effective debt collection by mediation and negotiation during prelegal stage.
In 2011, I was visiting a potential client at their office in Ankara and the male owner of that company, which was also the creditor, asked me this: ‘ Women are more naive. Can you be though enough against the debtor and handle my case properly?’. This approach came like a slap in my face right in the beginning of my entrepreneurship journey and I was shocked.
Kindness is mostly mixed with being naive. In order to collect an outstanding debt requires to be clear and precise. However this does not mean to be rude, bad or tough. Being kind is not peculiar to women, but the special attention of women to keep kindness at all times, can even explain the reason of their higher success rates in debt collection by negotiation. In sum, kindness rather than being naive enables an efficient debt recovery, like being precise rather than being tough.
Another story I would like to share is about the prejudice of ‘women are more emotional, therefore can be easily deceived by the debtors’. Firstly, communication is made between two people, even when we talk about company debts. This means emotions such as ‘anger’ or ‘ happiness’ or ‘disappointment’ are at stake due to the nature of a humankind, not because of being a woman. Showing empathy is highly correlated with the ability to control emotions which is another important key to prelegal debt collection with success. What matters here is the way of expressing oneself and making rational decisions. Empathy is not peculiar to women, but the special attention of women to be more interrogator and detail-oriented, can even explain the reason of their higher success rates in debt collection by negotiation. In sum, being emotional can strengthen the ability of showing empathy and interrogating prevents to be deceived.
These two examples were among the dialogues between our clients. Turkey is a developing country and still is a male-dominant society although a lot has changed in the last ten years to achieve equality. At a moment that I was thinking these kind of gender oriented prejudices are mostly coming from the perspective of creditors, the following dialogue I had with a debtor came as a surprise; ‘I can not express myself clearly to you because you are a woman and I have to be more careful talking with you’.
That was interesting! We are all in the business world and in order to express yourself, you do not have to be comfortable as if you are speaking with a friend. We all need to think twice and carefully select our words in the art of a better expression. Moreover, I am aware of how people can be sweary and slangy while they are talking with a female debt collector. No matter what happens, staying calm and not taking things personally are the keys. If inviting such debtors to be polite does not work, it may be the best to end the phone talk in a proper way. Staying calm is not peculiar to women, but the longer patience of women, can even explain the reason of their higher success rates in debt collection by negotiation. In sum, selecting the words carefully by thinking twice can strengthen the quality of a business dialogue rather than a pure comfort which may be a disadvantage.
My last example of another bias against women in debt collection will be about the so-called smartness on ‘women are more understanding so it is easier with them to agree on a payment plan’. An outstanding debt already means an overdue amount which is not paid on time as agreed. In other words, there already is a violation of agreement and enough understanding has already been shown and a flexibility is already given. It is important to keep negotiating and being persistent to follow the given promises. Saying ‘yes’ to any offer is not a negotiation. Of course counter-offers should be raised in order to persuade debtors to come to a mutually agreeable plan. Persuasion is not peculiar to women, but the tendency of women to listen by focusing on details, can even explain the reason of their higher success rates in debt collection by negotiation. In sum, being understanding does not necessarily mean to be flexible, bur rather contains active listening which enables persuasion.
More examples, dialogues and moments like this can be shared. Of course, they are not always clear or direct or applicable in everywhere and they can even change in time. I personally have witnessed an important change in a positive way since 2007 and still do see developments. I am part of this change actually through our client portfolio which is increasing every single day, and through the job interviews for growing our operation team of collections. All these developments raises my enthusiasm to lead debt collection industry in Turkey and love my job every other day. Although being a woman brings challenges, it also give hope for development and I wish everybody who loves the job they do, to keep their enthusiasm.
Ayse Burcu Arslan Demirtas
Founder & Managing Director | ARS Consultancy