By Hennie Pretorius, journalist, Justmoney
Are you happy with your credit provider? Has your debt counsellor done an outstanding job? If so, the Debt Review Awards provides an opportunity for you to show your appreciation.
The awards have been organised by debt counselling industry publication Debtfree. It is understood that the magazine has summoned a number of financial services experts as judges to help narrow down candidates for the awards to recognise exceptional services. The judges’ decision together with votes from the public will be combined to determine the winner.
You can cast your vote in several categories, including ‘Your favourite debt counsellor’, ‘Your favourite payment distribution agency’, ‘Your favourite bank’, ‘Your favourite vehicle creditor’ and ‘Your favourite retail store credit provider’.
The idea behind the awards is to recognise individuals and companies that have gone over and beyond what was expected from them: “It’s not about just doing what the law says, that’s a requirement, it’s about trying a little bit harder,” explained Zak King editor of Debtfree magazine.
King added: “I think the consumers would like to know who’s doing well. If I’m a consumer going into the process and I don’t know a lot about it I would like to know who the industry feels the top companies are.”
But can you rely on the results?
While any initiative that aims to increase industry standards should be applauded Justmoney felt that the information about the awards, the criteria by which the nominees were judged on and what voters needed to base their votes on was lacking.
The judging criteria is not outlined on the website but, when asked, King said the judges will base their decision on several things including ‘morals’, ‘promoting’, ‘staff training’ and ‘turn around’ to name but a few.
The way in which candidates are drawn up is also a little messy because while clients and any member of the public can choose their favourite financial services providers, companies can also put themselves forward for an award. The providers have also been allowed to market their nomination to their clients and encourage them to vote.
It is unclear on the website whether the current lists are made up of companies that have put themselves forward or whether the names arrived there thanks to votes from the public.
When asked to confirm whether nominated companies were allowed to lobby their clients for votes, King didn’t say that it was against the rules but pointed out that if companies could convince clients to vote for them that they deserved the kudos: “For that side of things we would be very curious to see [if companies] can convince their consumers to engage. Because everybody can ask, but what consumer is actually prepared to do it?” He added that clients would ignore such requests if they thought they were getting a bad service.
Transparency of the judging panel was also an issue for us. None of the judges were listed on the website and King refused to disclose the judging panel: “We’ve kept them anonymous for the sake of (avoiding any future conflict).”
Support in the industry
While there is room for improvement in the way in which the awards are conducted Debtfree has received industry backing and a number of heavyweights in the industry including Debt Busters, Octogen, Absa, Standard Bank, Wesbank and Edgars have been shortlisted in various categories.
The Debt Counsellors Association of South Africa (DCASA) has said it will be “playing a big role in helping in the nomination process”. It’s unclear whether it means that DCASA will have someone on the judging panel. At the time of writing this article Paul Slot, president of the DCASA was unavailable for comment.
When asked about the lack of transparency surrounding the awards, King pointed out that this is the inaugural year for the awards and ‘flaws’ in the process will be ‘ironed out’ in future events.
The winners of the Debt Review Awards will be announced at a ceremony organised by Debtfree, on 19 July in Cape Town. Visit www.debtfreedigi.co.za for more information on how you can vote.