Debt Counsellor Profile: Awie Coetzee of SA Debt Help
Debtfree Magazine caught up with award winning Debt Counsellor Awie Coetzee who is based in Melville, Johannesburg. We asked him about his start in Debt Counselling and the challenges facing both Debt Counsellors and consumers under debt review.
Where in SA are you Based?
I have small to medium size debt counselling practice. My offices are in Melville (Johannesburg), and also in Pretoria. We do however deal with consumers from across the country.
How Long Have you Been a Debt Counsellor?
I have been a registered and practicing Debt Counsellor since 2008.
What Did you do Before Becoming a Debt Counsellor?
I was in financing for almost 10 years, before turning to debt counselling, which I have now been doing for 13 years.
Why Did you Become a Debt Counsellor?
I was introduced to debt counselling back in 2007 by my aunt (who was also one of the very first debt counsellors– Erna Scott), as we came from similar backgrounds. It quickly became an interest of mine to explore this avenue, which I found quite fulfilling.
What Makes Your Business a Success?
I believe in being hands-on. As we are a smaller “boutique” type debt counselling firm, we tend to give more personalized attention to our clients. This is critical for success.
Where Do You Find New Business?
We do marketing campaigns to inform potential clients of the benefits of debt counselling. Since we have been in the industry for so many years now, we also get a lot of word-of-mouth business, from clients who were under debt review before and also from our current clients.
‘Since we have been in the industry for so many years now, we also get a lot of word-of-mouth business’
What Challenges are you Seeing Coming from the Credit Provider Side at the Moment?
Since the lockdown began back in 2020, we have been seeing a big delay in turnaround times from most of the creditors, as quite a lot of them have had to work from home. This created quite a few challenges I feel, as communication often is delayed or even totally missed.
What is the Biggest Challenge Facing Debt Counsellors at the Moment?
I feel the challenge the Debt Counsellors are having is (STILL) misinformation about the whole process from the consumer’s side.
There are many consumers that still don’t really know what the correct process entails and that means they, unfortunately, cannot make an informed decision when it comes to debt counselling.
There are a small number of Debt Counsellors who are still not following the correct procedure and this does a lot of reputational harm to the industry. It causes some to have a negative view of debt counselling which is a great process that can really help debt stressed consumers.
What is the Biggest Challenge Facing your Clients at the Moment?
A lot of my clients were negatively affected by COVID 19 in 2020, and these issues have spilled over into 2021.
Now many of my clients are having to deal with further income reductions. Many self-employed clients suffered a total loss of income during the initial stages of lockdown. This means that these already over-indebted clients, suddenly had the impossible challenge of trying to keep up with their previous court ordered debt review instalments. Many fell into arrears with their debt review obligations and due to the ongoing economic problems this has made it nearly impossible for them to catch up.
‘Many fell into arrears with their debt review obligations and due to the ongoing economic problems this has made it nearly impossible for them to catch up’
So, What Advice do you give Consumers Experiencing Debt Stress due to the Lockdown & Pandemic?
Speak to your Debt Counsellor to organise to make payment arrangements as best you can. The Debt Counsellor will send out form 17.3’s and suggest revised proposals to credit providers.
We, fortunately, have had great success during the lockdown with these types of temporarily reduced payment arrangements. Talking honestly and promptly with creditors does help in this regard. Your credit providers will normally help if they can. They understand that there is a global pandemic going on.
What Advice Do You Have for Consumers Already Under Debt Review?
Be pro-active with your budgeting, lifestyle choices and spending habits. Stick closely to your proposed instalment in order to avoid default payments. Never miss a payment.
If and when you can, try and settle smaller accounts. Also try to see if you can sell unnecessary items (vehicles, property) to rid yourself of these debts or put more funds into your debt review. This will significantly shorten the term on the overall debt payment plan for all your debts.
This article first appeared in Debtfree Magazine Issue #5 of 2021