In the United Kingdom, the Financial Inclusion Commission has previously expressed concern that 31 percent of the adult population has experienced one or more signs of financial distress, such as regularly accruing overdraft charges and using credit to pay for essentials each month. While the Bank of England has warned U.K. households about the risk and effects of their alarming, yet growing, dependence on loans and credit cards, knowing how to manage debt successfully is a vital skill many lack. While most individuals do comfortably manage their debt repayments, many unexpectedly face tough times, especially following disruptive life events that complicate financial management.
Since joining Experian from university in 1992, I have been involved in a number of developments and initiatives to help people better manage their money, particularly during difficult times. Years ago, I oversaw the launch of our first telephone helpdesk for the UK public, and today I still answer questions online and occasionally on the radio from individuals worried about their credit scores and loan payments. After years of one-on-one interactions, my team and I have discovered that the key to growing our capacity to serve the community is through partnerships.
To provide more effective support for U.K. consumers, Experian began to partner with debt advice charities that give free and professional guidance to people, including about credit score issues. Experian’s role is to make sure debt advisors understand the nuances of credit reporting and credit scoring when talking to and helping their clients. We provide this support in a number of ways.
In the last year alone, we have trained more than 600 debt advisors through workshops and seminars, and provided free credit reports to more than 60,000 individuals through debt counselling outlets. Additionally, we have used our insight and data consultancy services to help a number of charities better understand, engage with and support their clients, for example, by identifying their clients’ preferred communications channels. This has included the Money Advice Trust, which runs National Debtline, and StepChange Debt Charity, a leading UK debt counselling provider.
Our partnerships within the debt advice sector have not only enabled us to support, educate and empower more consumers to reach their financial goals, but also helped Experian better understand consumers’ greatest fears and misconceptions when it comes to finances. I have enjoyed representing Experian for the past 25 years including working with a number of great organizations and really passionate individuals – so much so that I jumped at the opportunity to join the board of a new debt advice charity, The Debt Counsellors Charitable Trust, a couple of years ago which was very much focused on helping the most vulnerable people. The relationships I’ve developed with these intelligent, ambitious debt advice advisors and charities has really inspired and humbled me. They work tirelessly every day to ensure households in the U.K. can reach their financial milestones – including, importantly, when things go wrong – and I am grateful to be a part of this important network.
James Jones: Head of Consumer Affairs, U.K.