Business

How life changed for a Provident agent

Provident Financial HQ, Bradford Image copyright Provident Financial

The UK's biggest doorstep lender is in trouble. So what is doorstep lending and why have things gone wrong for Provident Financial?

Every Friday, Daniel Miskelly started his rounds. He had about 100 customers to call on, but knew all of them by name, often stopping for a cup of tea and a chat.

After a good round, he'd have collected £10 or £20 from most houses on his list.

Daniel worked as a self-employed agent for Provident Financial for about a year, finishing this summer.

He first heard about the job because he and his wife had both borrowed money from Provident in the past - just small amounts to tide them over Christmas. They'd become friends with the agent collecting the money each week.

"She'd come up for a chat, and bring the dog a treat, before she went on her way," he said.

Targets

On her recommendation, Daniel applied for the Provident work when he lost his job and, after a successful interview, took over a former agent's loan book.

"The book wasn't great, to be honest with you," he says.

"You want to reach your targets because if you meet them, the more money you get at the end of the week. Some of the customers weren't paying and it was through no fault of their own.

"The agent who had the book before wasn't a great collector, so I had to go around and tell them how I'm going to help them."

That's how Daniel saw his job. Helping people. He says most of the time people just needed a small loan of a couple of hundred pounds to help them through a tricky patch, and he says if people struggled to keep up with the payments, then he had a lot of autonomy to sort out some kind of a deal with them.

Image copyright Getty Images

If someone missed a £10 payment, ideally they'd pay £20 the next week and catch up.

But Daniel says: "If they can say, 'Look I'll give you £12 a week until that's cleared,' I'm happy enough with that. I would never push anyone and go, 'I need that £20 next week.'

"I would say, 'Could you afford even an extra pound next week and clear that wee bit? I don't want you falling in too much debt.' That's the way I saw it."

After four weeks of failed payments, management stepped in, but Daniel says that only happened to his customers three or four times.

Personal 'interaction'

This is a very controversial industry, particularly because the interest rates are so high.

For a £100 loan with Daniel over a three or four-month period, customers would repay £150. But he says it was that personal contact and the ability to get loans and make repayments in cash that made the system so popular.

"I think that's what people liked about Provident and doorstep loans in general. Somebody is coming to the door. A few of my customers didn't see anybody, so they liked the wee interaction."

At the beginning of 2017 the company announced it would be changing the way it operated, employing fewer staff and collecting as many loan repayments as possible through online app payments.

Daniel said he and his fellow doorstep agents knew that would lead to lots more people not making their repayments.

"Under the old system, they're not taking it out of your bank account, somebody's knocking at the door, filling your book in, and you know where you stand. They've just lost that way."

You can hear Daniel's full story on Radio 5 Live Drive later.

Related Topics

More on this story