"We can help gov't collect its debt"

The Business Weekly & Review Staff Writer KABO RAMASIA talks to the Managing Director of Collection Africa Olebile Sikwane about their product offering and expansion plans and laments the challenges posed by COVID -19 and the huge national debt that Botswana is currently grappling, which the debt collection expert believes they can fix

"We can help gov't collect its debt"
Managing Director of Collection Africa Olebile Sikwane (Monirul Bhuiyan/PRESS PHOTO)

Q: Kindly tell us about Collection Africa (Pty) Limited (CAL).

A: Collection Africa is a 100 percent citizen owned debt and arrears management outsourcing company that
specialises in labour brokerage and recovery of debt for the public and private sectors through comprehensive
technology-driven services. It was formed in 2003 to service the banking, insurance, retail and communications industries.
We are a pioneering debt collection company in Botswana and we have since gone into the agricultural space so as to expand our horizons and solidify our position in the industry.

Q: What sets Collections Africa apart from other debt collectors?

A: It was important for the company to do marketing. We are in newspapers and electronic media and have a robust marketing strategy. Further, we brought in very strong and experienced people in operations to lead and had to revitalise field collections and make sure that we market the products that we have.

Q: What are some of your peculiar products?

A: We have a product called labour–pro-courage/file remediation. Through this special product, Collection Africa does labour brokerage by leasing its collection agents externally. We currently have 13 external agents placed at Absa Bank Botswana and we give labour to several other companies.

We draw from our database and deploy at various companies. Through this offering, we are trying to be different, and it has really worked well for us. This is because we recruit, train and deploy our staff as
and when required.

Q: Tell us about your future plans.

A: We are now trying to collect debt for the government. At the moment our prospective clients are Botswana Housing Corporation (BHC) and Botswana Power Corporation (BPC).

Q: Exactly how can your company assist government to collect debt?

A: There is a huge national debt and the government must aggressively pursue people so that it gets back its money to be able to develop infrastructure like building roads and schools. The government faces budgetary constraints at the moment and it should collect debt.
But the government doesn’t really have the capacity to pursue this huge national debt which runs into billions of Pula. It needs to collect its money, and as a leading debt collection outfit, this is where we come in.

Q: Why should clients specifically choose Collection Africa for debt collection?

A: We have people around the country and we intend to set up offices in the North. Above this, we also collect internationally. We do international credit checks and service everyone. In Botswana, we collect P1 million and above and we’re currently sitting on a book of P400 million to collect on.

Our major clients include Absa Bank Botswana, Botswana Building Society, Stanbic Bank, Banc ABC, First Capital Bank, Bank of Baroda, FirstCred, BTC, Orange, Mascom, TechnoFeeds, Mmegi, and Letshego Financial Services.
There are 38 debt collection agencies in Botswana but only a few are durable in the sense that they are credible.

Q: What are some of the challenges that Collection Africa faces as a result of COVID-19?

A: Without a doubt we were affected. But like any other business, we had to adapt. For this reason, a number of our people had to work from home, which means more costs for the company.

One thing you should note is that COVID-19 has hit badly on the pockets of people and they are in debt. We are asked to pursue a lot of people who sadly don’t have cash. Every day we get books to follow people and we have to be aggressive and sensitive at the same time.

Q: How do you navigate through such a challenges?

A: In our new approach, we emphasise a lot on education. We want to educate and bring humanity into collection. As a responsible debt collector, we cannot just expropriate and we therefore encourage financial literacy and education. To cope with this challenge, we try to negotiate structured payment plans which are
practical and encourage clients to come forth and open up so we may advise them accordingly.

The implications of COVID -19 are that everyone is in debt and our national debt has ballooned. Judging by the scenario, there will be more repossessions, litigations, divorces and depression that will all result in increased levels of unemployment and crime.