The debt collector who faces bankruptcy
‘The law is a joke’
“In my experience, the most common reasons people fall into debt are addiction, broken marriages, the death of a partner or a failed business,” he says. “All of those reasons not to pay debt are easy to prove. But we had countless cases of, say, large multinationals that wouldn’t pay suppliers on time and we had to chase them down.
“The law in this area here is a joke and the delays and costs seeking judgments in courts are prohibitive in terms of taking a legal case. Persons who owe money know this and that is why some don’t pay, even though they can. Many, especially after 2007, jumped on the bandwagon of the economic downturn and used it as an excuse not to pay their debts.”
Kelly made money by agreeing with a client what percentage of a debt his company could keep if they collected. For several debts totalling, for example, €100,000, the percentage might be 10 per cent. For smaller, one-off debts, Kelly’s cut could be anything up to 40 per cent.
He admits that not all debt-collection agencies adopt polite practices and he doesn’t condone some of their tactics. In a way, he says, his compassion probably cost him his business. So what attracted him to collecting debts for a living?
“Not paying debts is a crime everyone pays for. The only way a business can stay going and absorb bad debts is to charge other customers more. A lot of the satisfaction I got came from making somebody who had no intention of paying debt pay it.
“In Ireland, when you bounce a cheque, it is a criminal offence, and you should get a visit from the Garda but won’t. In Portugal, when you bounce a cheque, your account is frozen and all banks are notified. We are too lax in Ireland.”
Did he ever feel sympathy for those he tried to collect debts from? “If someone was genuinely in difficult circumstances and had lost their life savings, for example, of course I empathised with them. I’m not inhuman or a robot. I am a rational human being with feelings.”
The last good year for Kelly’s was in 2008. By 2011, his revenue was down by 80 per cent and he had to let his employees go. He has found it harder to collect debts in recent years, which affected his revenue. He is currently going through the liquidation process and expects to be declared bankrupt soon.
In an effort to keep the company going, he sold the family home to finance the business. In his driveway sits a 13-year-old Jaguar that he can no longer afford to run and he hasn’t yet been able to sell. Both he and his wife are now in receipt of social-welfare payments. In recent months, Kelly has applied for dozens of jobs, but despite his experience, he has yet to secure employment.
A few days after we meet, I call Kelly with some queries. He emphasises that he has talked to the media about his experiences because he has nothing left to lose. In his view, it is wrong that many good professionals in the debt-collection industry feel they cannot speak about the work they do for fear of being labelled thugs and criminals.
“I’m not one of the baddies,” he says towards the end of our conversation. “If I was, I wouldn’t have lost my own shirt.”