Fallout: The Financial Crisis

India’s debt collection centers booming

Marketplace Staff Feb 6, 2009
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Fallout: The Financial Crisis

India’s debt collection centers booming

Marketplace Staff Feb 6, 2009
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TEXT OF STORY

Kai Ryssdal: Granted you have to look pretty hard to see ’em. But there are some economic positives to this recession. Falling prices mean paychecks go farther. And according to the Federal Reserve today, Americans are pulling back on the plastic.

Actually, all consumer borrowing was off in December. Besides just credit cards it’s things like car loans and personal lines of credit too. Still, there are bills to pay. And the farther we fall behind, the more new opportunities are created half a world away. Raymond Thibodeaux has more now on the Indian debt collection business.


Raymond Thibodeaux:

Jay: Hi, Ms. Morris. Actually, we’re calling about your credit card account with us.

Meet “Jay” — at least that’s the name he uses over the phone. Your next bill collector could be someone like him.

Jay: Your existing credit card is showing it’s running in arrears by three payments right now.

At this busy call center in New Delhi, nearly 300 young collection agents sit in neat rows of cubicles wearing telephone headsets and punching data into their computers. Like many here, Jay says he’s surprised that so many Americans struggle to pay their bills.

That’s good news, if you happen to be in the business of collecting debts. It’s even better news if your business is in India.

Aparup Sengupta: Collections is going to be a growth market from an outsourcing standpoint. Definitely, yes.

That’s Aparup Sengupta, the chief executive officer of Aegis, a firm that handles collections for companies like American Express and Bank of America. At this point, American consumers are facing nearly a trillion dollars in outstanding debt.

And Indians, as it turns out, are particularly good at getting some of that money back, partly by tapping into Sengupta’s notion that most people want to pay their debts.

Sengupta: Human beings across the world, especially in the West, have a tendency to pay. And if you understand that our job is to work as performing artists and work with customers as partners to find out how we can solve their problem.

Understanding American spending habits is part of what makes collection agents in India better at getting people to pay up. Studies show that Indian agents are on the phone 25 percent longer than American bill collectors. But Indians collect about 20 percent more money per call.

And that’s what counts, says Raman Roy, who heads the Delhi-based outsourcing firm Quatrro. Taking extra time to build rapport with debtors, he says, apparently pays off.

Raman Roy: It is based on their compassion. It is based on their hunger. Succeeding in the job means a lot more to you than to some of your international counterparts.

There is a hunger — these jobs are desperately sought after. Indian collections agents make about $5,000 a year. Roy calls that “a king’s ransom,” a fortune in India. Still, it’s less than a fifth of what their American counterparts make. For now, Indian agents collect a tiny percent of U.S. debt, but they’re eager to get more American consumers to pay what they owe.

In New Delhi, I’m Raymond Thibodeaux for Marketplace.

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