2021-05-31 18:42:03 Debt Didn’t Disappear During The Pandemic. Meet A Man Whose Job Was To Collect It.
Debt Didn’t Disappear During The Pandemic. Meet A Man Whose Job Was To Collect It.
Relief from debt collection was not one of the consumer protections extended to Americans by lawmakers during the pandemic. While emergency laws allowed people to put certain types of debt into forbearance, such as student loans and mortgages, people whose debt took other forms, such as credit card, auto, and payday loans, had no legal protections. Debt collection hummed along quietly as the pandemic caused widespread death, disease, and unemployment.
Collection agencies not only continued to operate in the last year, but they also outsourced work to lower-cost labor markets as the unemployment rate in the United States rose. BuzzFeed News spoke with someone who worked in an American third-party collections company’s Tijuana, Mexico, office. To protect his identity, he requested to be identified by a pseudonym. “Rick,” a 20-year-old Mexican citizen, said he logged into an automated call system for 10 hours a day, which churned agents like him through hundreds of calls back-to-back. He recalled attempting to extract money from people who simply did not have it, as well as from one person who was being treated in the hospital for the coronavirus. “It hurts because I also have debts,” he explained. He resigned earlier this year.
Rick’s story, which has been edited for clarity and length, is below.
Because I had recently relocated to Tijuana, I was unemployed in 2020. I saw a job posting on Facebook and had some friends who worked there who said they were looking for customer service and collections. Because you needed customer service experience, the ad made it appear as if this was a customer service job. It wasn’t until I started training that they informed me that we would be collecting from people who called in and attempted to make payments. And, as we gained more experience, we would make calls to customers. I had no idea.
That threw me off a little because they weren’t really upfront about it. I previously worked in call centers, but for customer service rather than collections. As a result, it was a little frightening for me. However, I required the position. So I gave it my all. In training, we only had two weeks to learn everything. Because English is not everyone’s first language (Spanish is mine), we had to learn new terms like “deferment” and “balloon payment,” as well as what a borrower and creditor are. As a result, it was both interesting and challenging.
I would arrive at 6 a.m. and work for 10 hours a day until 4 p.m. Because of COVID, we were seated two seats apart. We were always required to wear face masks. The team consisted of approximately 90 agents.
We have a system that dials automatically throughout the day. The account number appears on the screen automatically, and we gain access to the account. However, dialing takes no more than 30 seconds, so we’d have one minute or less to review their information and determine how much they owed. We’d just have to go in and start the call without knowing anything about the account’s history. Sometimes the system would just connect us and people would start saying, “Hello? Hello?” I didn’t feel prepared to handle something so important with such little time to prepare. That is something they should definitely improve because people are going through a difficult time.
Typically, the system would dial more than 200 consecutive calls per day. The majority of them did not respond. Every day, I’d talk to about 50 people. All of the customers were from the United States. Personal loans and auto loans dominated. I could put myself in a function to stop receiving calls if I needed to use the restroom or take a break, even though the supervisors didn’t like it.
We don’t really have any control over how many times we call a customer. We don’t have a system in place to find out. Sometimes a person would receive ten calls in a row, which irritated them. We’d sometimes be reconnected to the same person in the same day, and we’d have to pretend we didn’t know them or apologize to them.
My coworker once called someone and she was furious. She stated that she had received at least 20 calls that day and that she would not pay because she was tired of it. She was, in fact, in the hospital. She stated that she had lost her husband to COVID, and that she was now in the hospital with COVID, receiving oxygen, and in critical condition. But, in reality, someone else would probably try to contact her two hours later, and the day after that, because there isn’t much we can do about the calls.
We had some goals that we needed to achieve. But it wasn’t about how much money we brought in. Our “customer service” was graded by a quality assurance agent. They were taught how to evaluate our calls. We had our scripts, and some of them required us to say them word for word, verbatim. So they mostly evaluated the customer service we provided based on that; if you missed just one word, for example, you’d get a zero. I was doing fine.
In our scripts, you must first complete the verification process. When it came time to collect, the consumer would explain why they couldn’t pay, such as because of COVID or because they weren’t working. We’d have to try at least twice to get paid. We could, for example, offer a deferment or a payment plan. On a typical day, more than half of the people I spoke with were unable to pay anything. There is no money.
It hurts because I also have debts. I also have bills to pay. So trying to get them to pay was a difficult task for me. Even without the pandemic, it’s difficult to ask for funds. But it’s more difficult when you know that everyone is going through something that has affected a large number of people. I felt a little bad asking people for money, but we had no choice but to keep going with our work. We didn’t get involved in order to assist [the consumer]; we were simply there to collect, as our supervisors reminded us throughout the process.
My weekly salary was around 3,000 Mexican pesos [$150]. Because we are so close to San Diego, we have a higher rent here. So, I mean, I can make do with that. When compared to someone who has attended college, it is nothing. But, to be honest, I’m sure they could be paying more because it’s an American company.
People were mostly irritated at you because you were bothering them and trying to collect. I was used to people yelling at me because I had worked in call centers since I was 17 years old. But, at the end of the day, it’s difficult for someone to yell at you and tell you mean things. In February, I resigned from my debt collector job. I’d like to do something different. I believe I am still working for a call center because I am accustomed to it. And because they are American companies, it pays better than other jobs.