After lengthy involvement in commercial and mass-volume consumer debt recovery, Tarlo Lyons' solution was to provide a single source of debt recovery. Our philosophy is that we should be able to handle any type of debt, whether that means collecting u50 by telephoning, or u1 million through the High Court. The emphasis is on collecting as cheaply and quickly as possible – to stay competitive – while avoiding the adverse publicity which is courted by debt collection.
Computerised systems for debt collection have developed rapidly over the past five years, enabling the automation of letter and telephone contact with debtors, and providing links with the client and with third parties such as credit reference agencies. A terminal on the client's desk, offering instant information, is an attractive option for many clients.
However, behind the technology, an experienced litigation team is vital. You need the ability to spot the difference between straightforward litigation and the complex legal problems which can often occur even on small debts.
The natural market for the one-stop approach spans larger institutions, such as banks, through to smaller companies needing the fuller range of legal services available only from a firm of solicitors. The opportunities for cross-selling are obvious.
The future is promising for firms willing to take the plunge into one-stop debt recovery, but be warned. Against increasing price sensitivity, growing IT requirements and intense pressure on performance, the mass-volume side of debt recovery means heavy investment in experienced staff and sophisticated IT systems, with a long pay-back period if you do the job properly.
The cost of getting it wrong is the loss of disgruntled clients after the first six months and a poor reputation in the industry.
Leigh Berkley is a chartered accountant and finance director of Tarlo Lyons in Southend-on-Sea.