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Leading the conversation; delivering our purpose

Posted by: Lowell|May 21 2020

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Jason Clarke, Head of External Communications at Lowell, discusses our recent Corporate Affairs activity.
 
What has Lowell been doing on the Corporate Affairs front?

For the last 18 months we have been increasing our Corporate Affairs activities, specifically our engagement with government, policymakers and influencers within the debt advice sector. 
 
Why have you decided to do this?
 
This is a natural progression of Lowell’s role as a leader in our industry, and the practical application of its purpose: to make credit work better for all, by driving positive change not just for our customers but for all consumers.
 
Historically, Lowell played a key role in the foundation of our trade body, the CSA, and its Code of Conduct: setting out minimum standards for members to adhere to. However, as the largest player in the UK market there is both an expectation and a responsibility to take a wider role in leading policy conversations and educating decision makers about how the industry works within the credit cycle to support customers, clients and the wider economy.
 
What have you done to increase engagement in the policy field?
 
Our initial work to broaden our engagement had three elements: one-to-one ministerial engagement, consultation responses, and building on our existing relationships in the free debt advice sector.
 
The MPs with whom we engaged with included Guy Opperman, Minister for Pensions and Financial Inclusion, and Nicky Morgan, then chair of the Treasury Select Committee. These meetings enabled us to bridge some of the gaps in understanding modern, customer-focused collections as both an integral part of the financial services industry and the support network for those who find themselves in debt.
 
Having previously responded to policy proposals from regulators, we expanded to include government consultations on proposed legislation. The highest profile of these was that on Breathing Space. As Lowell has provided more than the proposed statutory minimum period of respite for several years, we were able to provide real-life insight as to how the process can work effectively for consumers.
 
With the free debt advice sector: including Money Advice Liaison Group, Money Advice Trust and StepChange, we have had good operational relationships with them for a long time, but hadn’t worked with them at a policy level. Our initial steps were to simply introduce ourselves again to those people responsible for policy/corporate affairs within these organisations, gain an understanding of the key issues they saw on the policy front, position our desire to work collegiately and then to identify the areas of policy work that overlap with our own.

Could you tell us more about what you learned from your initial engagement and how you’ve changed your approach as a result?

The first was just how little government knows about how the credit management services industry, both in terms of the support it gives customers and its important role in the credit cycle. The second, and somewhat of a consequence of the first, was that it would be difficult to drive the kind of positive change we want to see for consumers on our own by seeing individual ministers.
 
We had to find an effective way to get our name and voice across to a greater number of policymakers, framed within a pro-customer context. Having identified a group of think tanks who are active in the financial inclusion field, we approached them to understand their work and opportunities to work together.
 
This led us a partnership with the Centre for Social Justice, which is comprised of several elements: supporting the formation of their financial inclusion team; our UK MD, John Pears, sitting on the CSJ’s advisory committee; a joint fringe event at the Conservative Party Conference on dealing with debt that featured StepChange and Money and the Mental Health Policy Institute; and working with them on their recently published white paper on raising collections practices and standards in government agencies.
 
Do you have plans to do more engagement?
 
Very much so, and during the initial outbreak of the Covid-19 virus, we were actively engaging with the Treasury to call out the efforts being proactively made to support customers, including our enhanced customer commitments.

Conversations are ongoing with partners in the free debt advice sector about projects for later in the year. We had hoped to deliver something sooner but Covid-19 has caused us to rethink what that is and how we do it.
 
We plan to do more work on financial inclusion policy and will add to our engagement with the work that comes from our new partnerships with the Urban Institute and the European Consumer Research Labs. So watch this space!

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