Denise Crossley: Adding a More Human Touch to Debt Recovery

“I’ve always believed that, even in the world of debt collection, and especially when you’re dealing with people facing difficult circumstances, there is only one way to behave: be empathetic, honest and relatable. This approach is at the very heart of Lantern,” states Denise Crossley, the CEO of Lantern, an award-winning debt purchase & recovery specialist.

How it All Started?

Lantern started its life as a small independently owned business, turning over c£2m with small profits. In 2014, the sector became regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority, therefore it was time to overhaul its operation and become more robust and industrialised, in readiness for regulatory scrutiny. Growth followed and increased volume of debt purchases meant the company now held several debt lines per customer, therefore it made sense to look at improving the customer journey. Ultimately, it migrated c1m customers to a new collection platform and created a unique ‘single customer view’. This provided a bespoke journey for the customer whilst creating operational and cost efficiencies.

Denise reviewed the company’s position and found that the market it was heavily focused on was in decline due to regulation, and thought deeply about its USP against competition. As the largest purchaser of ‘payday’ debt it had by far the most comprehensive data set of vulnerable customers. By this time, she had focussed the whole company on delivering a specialist customer management programme. It no longer considered itself as a debt recovery specialist.

In 2016, the company successfully gained regulatory authorisation and attracted new investment for growth in 2017 from Copper Street Capital who acquired the controlling share in Lantern. Then came the much needed rebrand to ‘Lantern’ — based on its consideration of being ‘a leading light’ in the sector and ‘a light at the end of the tunnel’ for the customer.

The new investment, together with additional funding lines secured from two banks during 2019/20 allowed Lantern to grow its customer base to c3m today and triple all of its key financial metrics.

To ensure the culture was embedded across the business and colleagues worked towards the same goals, Denise introduced an LTIP for staff at all levels. This aided alignment of culture and vision across the company in order to deliver the strategy.

In 2019/20 she wanted to see what customers and staff really thought about the business and its treatment of them, and thus, embarked on an independent survey by Investors in Customers (IIC). Denise is incredibly proud that it resulted in a silver award initially, followed by GOLD in 2020 and again in January 2021, which is fascinating in any business but particularly one whose ‘customers’ never chose to conduct business with Lantern at the outset. Only 1 of 2 businesses in the sector have achieved this.

During 2020, these achievements led to 8 new client contracts, 5 of which have committed long term to Lantern to acquire their vulnerable customers.

Being a Reliable Partner

Lantern’s brand and reputation, its low level of upheld complaints, and its single customer view make it the ‘safe’ choice when lenders think about a partner to acquire and manage their customers in arrears who require specialist care. Its extensive database of consumer data and sector trends is invaluable as a tool for pricing debt purchases accurately to ensure over-pricing doesn’t lead to customer detriment through inappropriate practices, and for developing bespoke collection strategies.

It’s About Creating Real USP

Denise is of the opinion that being in a regulated business means that the accountability and responsibility of all personnel is a prerequisite. This ensures that her ‘open door’ policy and ‘firm but fair’ leadership style allows her executive team to remain autonomous but within the confines of compliance and regulatory guidelines. In some respects, regulation has helped her to embed the correct culture across the entire organisation. She likes her team to get on with it, but ensure controls are in place to check and authorise changes.

Her idea of impactful leadership is staying ahead of the curve. She believes that if one wants to stand out from the crowd, one must stand for something special. With that said, she adds “Create a real USP that everyone believes in and supports, then encourage your teams to further innovate and grow that USP which in turn develops the whole business into something special that clients and colleagues alike want to be a part of. The rest will take care of itself.”

According to her, belief, tenacity, bravery, being a forwardthinker and planning well to execute ideas are some of the essential traits every leader should possess.

Aiming to Scale the Business

The future is always in Denise’s thoughts, as she likes to horizon scan and forward plan in readiness for the company’s strategy days and has therefore been ‘industrialising’ the business regularly with senior management hires, to ensure alignment with growth plans. Her ultimate vision is for Lantern to be the single largest specialist Debt Purchaser acquiring and managing defaulted customers experiencing vulnerability. Over the next 3 years, the company aims to scale the business to c3x the current turnover and profit, utilising technological efficiencies and creating more customer self-serve options to avoid increasing headcount. Acquiring competitors or ancillary businesses would add to that growth and are certainly in its sights.

Having Belief in Self is the Key

In her advice to upcoming entrepreneurs, she says, “Have belief in yourself and stand up for what feels right and what you believe in. Always try to ensure you’re speaking from a position of strength by getting your facts right, then work smart and make sure your voice is heard in the right way.”

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