Businessexcellence July 07 72 that person needs a loan, when they’re in better shape, they might think of us before they go to the bank and that’s really something.” Turner’s average loan size is around $5,500 in the auto division and $2,000 on the personal loan side of the business. Most loans are for terms of 24 months for cars and 16 months for personal loans. “We try to turn the loans over quickly so they aren’t bogged down making payments on interest for a long time,” says Levin. To date, Turner has operated only in the state of Illinois, but will be expanding outside the state and is finishing up an automated decisionmaking tool that will help improve the efficiency of application processing. One of the biggest business challenges Turner faces is the economy itself. Even slight shifts—such as increases in the price of gas and food—can dramatically impact the financial situations of its customers, resulting in fewer loan applications and more missed payments. Other seemingly unrelated issues, such as the move toward vigorous reform of US immigration policy can impact business, since many of Turner’s customers are non-natives. Another challenge Turner faces every day is regulation. Because the sub-prime loan industry has its share of bad apples who take advantage of customers with predatory practices such as lessthan- full disclosure of loan terms and collection tactics built on fear and harassment, consumer groups and other third parties can often be found lobbying regulators and lawmakers to tighten the regulatory oversight of the industry. Levin says Turner counters those efforts by staying actively involved in its own industry associations, such as the Independent Finance Association of Illinois, where he serves as second vice president. That group and the national American Financial Services Association, where he is actively involved as a section board member, help ensure regulators consider the good that sub-prime lenders can do, giving those who can least afford it access to capital to buy a car to commute to work, to fix a broken furnace in the wintertime or buy school supplies for their children. Additionally, the basic business model of respecting its customers and doing everything it can to work with them towards solutions has kept Turner ahead of much of its competition. Technology is also impacting the business in approach when it comes to keeping borrowers who have fallen behind from being sent to a more aggressive collection process. Many of Turner’s 70 employees spend the bulk of their time working directly with customers. “Our collection unit works hard on treating customers with respect and educating them about paying on time and why that’s so important,” says Levin. “Consumer education is a big part of being a successful collector. A customer that goes into late stage collections is usually a lost customer. We want to maintain relationships with our customers. If we can find a way to meet them halfway and keep them paying, we might make a customer for life. If they have a payment of $300 but can afford to pay $150, we’ll accept that and help them get back on track. We’ll be stern, but accept it and look to move forward. Next time
July 07 Businessexcellence 73 many positive ways. Turner offers customers a slew of options for making their payments, from one-time Web-based payments using checking accounts, credit cards and debit cards to recurring automatic withdrawals. It makes it easier for customers to make their payments on time. Many of Turner’s customers are Hispanic, and loan applications are often completed in Spanish. As a result, Turner requires customer service representatives to be bilingual (the company’s Web site is available in Spanish and Polish as well as English) and trains them vigorously. “It’s just constant training,” Levin says of the company’s approach to ensuring its customer-focused philosophy is carried out at all levels. “It’s driven from the top down. It’s me coaching managers, telling them ‘this is who we are, we take care of our customers.’ I am constantly preaching to the managers to make sure that we are listening to our customers’ problems and offering workable solutions that fit their needs so that we are paid first above everyone else all day every day. And from there, our managers carry that message down to the customer service associates, who are told there’s no such thing as ‘no.’” Individual employees are given the authority to make decisions and customer service representatives are urged to bring in their managers as soon as they find a troubled client. “We want the customer to get the feeling right away they are being treated with respect and compassion. That can really turn them around,” Levin argues. “It’s very easy for customers to get on the defensive when they are in tough times. We want to avoid having those defense mechanisms go up. From application to payoff, we strive to do everything we can to give the customer a positive experience.” Turner Acceptance Corp.