Debt collection goes high-tech
 
Debt collection has long been the domain of bailiffs and courts using traditional collection methods and law enforcement. But now the UK’s largest High Court enforcement agency, Shergroup, has pioneered a wave of new technological advancements that are leading to increased knowledge on debtors, higher collection rates and a wealth of information for the credit control industry.

The company has invested heavily in a series of new functional websites, all accessible via www.shergroup.net, which enable both debtors and creditors to view the online management of their cases, accessed via a unique password.

The system, called Sherpa, means that clients such as local authorities or businesses, can track who has paid their debts and see amounts owing, thereby enabling Shergroup’s enforcement agents – who act as ‘superbailiffs’ – to reclaim any outstanding debt.

To support this service, the company has developed a unique information service, available to the entire HM Courts Service, which allows them to track what vehicles are owned by debtors, by allowing authorised access of the DVLA’s computer system. If a vehicle needs to be seized to pay off a debt, ownership can be verified.

Shergroup Chief Executive Claire Sandbrook explained: “Our aim is to bring the role of debt collection into the 21st century, recognising the importance of providing easy-to-understand information to both our clients and to the people who owe them money.”

“There’s a world of difference between people who can’t pay and those who won’t pay and we have been working hard to raise the profile of the hard work undertaken by our enforcement agents in ensuring that people who are owed money receive what is rightly theirs.”

Shergroup – which employs around 100 people and has offices in Braintree, London and Delhi – is now about to introduce a text message reminder to debtors, informing them when their next payment is due.

David Asker, Shergroup’s chief information technology officer, said: “Picking up the phone and telling someone they owe money can often be confrontational, whereas a quick text reminder is just like looking at your calendar.”

“The message will give them the option of clicking on a link that takes them to Shergroup’s payment website or they can follow the contact details and pay in the traditional way.”

Shergroup is also equipping its enforcement officers, who work for its debt collection division Sherforce, with Blackberry PDAs, which will include satellite navigation that directs them to the next job, while informing head office of their whereabouts.

Claire Sandbrook added: “The jobs allocated that day are downloaded into the handset and the most cost and time-effective route is mapped out, ensuring that the most urgent jobs are tackled first using the best travel route.”

“The Blackberries will also allow the enforcement officer to write and file their reports following a visit to the debtor. This information can then be passed on immediately to the client.”

Although tracing its origins as a law firm back 350 years, Shergroup – formerly known as Burchell and Ruston – has always been closely connected with the High Sheriffs of London. In 2004, a new Act of Parliament substantially changed the role of Sheriffs, empowering Shergroup to execute writs in all counties of England & Wales.

As such, it was called on by the Department of Constitutional Affairs to build a central register of High Court judgments before the Act came into force, resulting in the Sheriffs Lodgment Centre system (SLC), built in just three months with I.T. partners in India.

Through the SLC court users can use a range of services to enforce court judgments and can access this through the SLC’s online portal where users are given step-by-step advice to obtain the result they want.

The company prides itself on always being at the forefront of new technology, with key managers able to work from home since the 1990s, using remote access via ISDN2e lines and latterly using Internet VPN connections.

Its Braintree and London offices benefit from leased line links to a Canary Wharf data centre, with a cheap-to-administer WAN and Mitel VoIP telephone system.

All of this is utilised by Shergroup’s various divisions, including Sherbond, which specialises in recovery of land and evictions and has a follow-up service called Shercurity, which secures sites where evictions have taken place preventing squatters, or protesters from entering the land or property again.

As for the future, Chief Executive Sandbrook is now focusing on incorporating audio and video guides into her websites, delivering information to podcast subscribers, bringing the credit control industry into a new era. www.shergroup.net

 
 
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