Business

Debt collection company turns around reputation, fortune

BY JULIAN RICHARDSON Assistant Business Co-ordinator richardsonj@jamaicaobserver.com

Wednesday, February 12, 2014    

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EVERTON Bryan, who heads a local debt collection company, last week won CEO of the Year in the 2014 Business Excellence Awards. His firm, International Assets Services (IAS), has been recognised for top awards and is growing fast through a business model aimed largely at softening the perception of an entity in a sector often vilified for what they do to make money.

IAS has a portfolio comprised of 70,000 accounts valued at over $19 billion. Clients include banking giants National Commercial Bank, Scotia Bank and RBC; utility companies such as the Jamaica Public Service and National Water Commission; and credit unions.

A year prior to Bryan receiving the prestigous individual honour from international business coaching firm, ActionCOACH, last week at a ceremony held in New Orleans, IAS was named a finalist in the Best Turnaround Company and Young Entrepreneur (35 years and under) categories at the 2013 version of the event. Despite IAS not taking the top spot, the nomination brought to the spotlight the great job that Bryan has done to turn around the fortunes of a company that was not so long ago in the red and under threat to fold.

Bryan took over ownership of IAS, where he started out as a debt collector ten years ago, in 2011.

"The opportunity came from the company losing money. The company was in deficit and wanted to exit. It was either the company closing down or I taking over the company," Bryan said, noting that he and his wife, Dianne, acquired the firm through mostly savings.

But Bryan faced a huge task as, he admits, knew nothing about running a business. It was even daunting for a man who had climbed his way up the corporate ladder at IAS from a debt collector with no experience in finance -- he had been restaurant manager at Carlos Cafe before joining IAS in 2004 -- to general manager in just nine years.

"Now, this is not about me as an individual, my mindset had to change; I was green," Bryan acknowledged in an interview with the Jamaica Observer at IAS's offices on Constant Spring Road in St Andrew.

He credits business coach Marcia Woon Choy for putting him on the right track.

"We started with (lessons on) the operations of business, then we started creating our core values and mission statement, then she started getting into my brain -- what is it that you want, your personal goal," Bryan recalled.

From that, he said, "I started putting certain things in place."

One of his primary goals, he said, was to change the perception of IAS.

IAS, originally an American-owned company, was incorporated in 2003. It made headlines a few years later when some Jamaicans complained of being ambushed and bullied by the foreign company into acknowledging and ultimately settling Finsac credit card debt in instances where the statute of limitation on the repayment was already in force. The debt collection agency bought the portfolio of past due, and in some cases dud credit card receivables from Joslin Jamaica Ltd for a fraction of the face value of the outstanding debt -- the business model apparently predicated on the idea that the collecting agency could spin a healthy margin, even if only a modest percentage of the accreted balance was ultimately settled.

"Finsac was a very bad thing for Jamaicans because they thought the exchange of the debts and collections of it should have been handled better. I shared the same sentiments as most Jamaicans, but a business is a business," Bryan said.

"How do you turn around the perception of this business to make it positive? I said. Like every other business, it's about customer service, about how you treat people, how do you educate them, and how do you work with them as best as possible. What we tried to do was put all of those together and make our model," he noted, stressing the importance of such an approach as banks and other clients in the market are becoming increasingly concerned about their reputations when hiring a collection agency -- they don't want their names tarnished by overly aggressive collectors.

The upshot is that IAS has reduced complaints in excess of 80 per cent and, Bryan Advise the business has grown eight-fold under the leadership.

"In changing that (perception), that created more opportunities for us. So we kept our clients happy in collecting and minimising the amount of calls they would get from persons complaining," Bryan said. "We had to protect their brand and also our brand, that was my goal, and I think we are achieving it."

What's more is that it recently registered in three US states -- Florida, New York and Delaware -- with a view to expand into the US market later this year.

"We are negotiating with clients and looking for space right now," Bryan said.

IAS's staff complement of 64 employees is made up of collectors, IT support, legal and administration personel. The collectors are comprised of mostly young adults with strong but pleasant personalities.

"A collector has to have a certain dominance to them and has to be very influential, the same with a salesperson," said the IAS boss.

"How do I convince somebody to do something they feel they ought not to do?" he highlighted.

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