The debt collector who faces bankruptcy
When debt collector Anthony Kelly first moved to the picturesque village of Kilfinane in Co Limerick, he had to work to earn the trust and respect of his local community.
“When I set up business here, locals thought a debt-collection company in the area was going to be trouble,” he says. “They thought it would mean criminals hanging around the place. Then they realised I was a normal family guy not involved in nastiness.”
Kelly helped ease relations with his rural neighbours by deciding from the outset not to take on any debts of people living within a 10-mile radius of his home.
Apart perhaps from tax inspectors and car clampers, there are few other professionals that the general public dislikes and misunderstands more than debt collectors. Many debt-collection companies are reluctant to speak to the media (I approached up to a dozen before making contact with Kelly) for fear of negative stereotyping of their work.
Kelly has been collecting debts on behalf of clients for 22 years and has always done so, he says, with a sense of compassion. When I initially approach him, he replies: “I’m about to be made bankrupt, so I’m not much use to you.”
As we chat, he explains that the public rarely hears the debt collector’s perspective. They seldom hear about the businesses and jobs debt collectors save because of monies they collect on behalf of their clients. He is out of the game now, he says, waiting for his business to be wound up, living in a rented home and driving a 10-year-old car. He lost money trying to expand his business. The debt collector has become the indebted.
On the wall of Kelly’s now disused offices of All Ireland Credit Solutions is a cheque worth more than $346,000. The cheque purports to be from a well-known bank, and was part of a scam that Kelly was hired to investigate. Luckily, he says, his experience taught him something wasn’t quite right when the cheque was presented as payment for debts (a bank had allowed the cheque to be lodged), and he was able to prevent a fraud being committed.
This is just one example, he says, of how he helped businesses avoid well-executed scams over the years.
Kelly apologises for the lack of heat in his office building, which is divided into a smaller office for him and a larger space where employees once worked.
Kelly, a trained accountant, built up his business after returning to Ireland from the UK in 1989, and the eight employees he hired gave much-needed employment in the local community. He is well-spoken and articulate, but there is vulnerability in his voice.
Kelly wants to set the record straight in relation to some debt collectors he knows, himself included. He says anyone who genuinely could not pay their debts, and could prove so, was never pursued by him or his company. His methods were to send one letter a week over a four-week period and then, and only then, to attempt to meet the debtor in person. He never confronted people in public and never disclosed their debts to anyone other than the debtor – not even to family members.
“It wasn’t in my interest to write dozens of letters to someone if I didn’t think they had the money,” he says. Kelly was interested in people who could pay, but decided not to. The biggest debt he collected was €5 million, and in that case the longer the company didn’t pay what they owed, the more the money earned on deposit for them.