​MEET: Lindeni Xulu, debt collector in UP’s Department of Legal Finance

Posted on August 28, 2020

Lindeni Xulu tells Tukkievaria how her own financial difficulties taught her vigilance as well as empathy –traits that have stood her in good stead as a debt collector.

Integrity goes a long way and my reputation is on the line, so professionalism is key,’ says Lindeni Xulu, who has learnt to take a holistic approach to debt collection.

TV: Tell us a bit about your background.

LX: I was born and raised in Soweto, and matriculated in 1994. I then enrolled for a diploma in Nature Conservation at Unisa, but due to financial constraints, I had to discontinue my studies. I was employed as a school administration officer, focusing on fundraising. Later, I got a diploma in Debt Recovery at Boston City College.

TV: What does your job entail?

LX: Rather than being confrontational, debt collection is about listening and empathising. It’s about negotiation and working with the debtor. This was a revelation to me. My own financial struggles taught me to be vigilant and I learnt that being a debt collector requires you to master many skills.

Firstly, it is important to listen. You might be the world’s best investigator and be able to trace a person that owes money, but what do you do when you finally get them on the phone? You listen. They always have a story to tell and they need to tell it, so listen to them. You also have to be sensitive – a big ego will get you nowhere. The debtor or former students are already embarrassed about the situation, so I try to be sensitive to their feelings. I do not yell at them, talk over them or belittle them. I prefer to show compassion and empathy.

Keeping my cool is also crucial. If a debtor starts yelling at me or frustrates me with broken promises or bounced payments, I take a deep breath and relax. I let them have their rant, but I know they’ll run out of steam eventually. I have also learnt that being clear, concise and confident carries more weight. Once I have identified that I have the correct person, I tell them why I am calling – I do not try to deceive them, as they will sense that something is not quite right. It is important to be upfront and honest.

The role of a debt collector is to work on file after file, but to understand the big picture. I follow the guiding personal questions: what are the bankruptcy procedures; how will this affect the debtor’s credit rating; what are the legal procedures if this were the case; does the institution want payment in full or would it be happy with reduced lump sums, or will they accept instalments? It is important to know what the institution wants out of the deal.

We also have to make sure we stay within the bounds of collection laws, and that we do not act outside of the institution’s rules. In this regard, I try not to make inaccurate notes on a debtor’s file, cherry-pick the best cases or ditch cases without an honest attempt to collect them. I believe integrity goes a long way and my reputation is on the line, so professionalism is key.

TV: What is your least favourite part of the job?

LX: Some debtors are aggressive and vulgar, so I try to keep things light-hearted – there’s no harm in having a bit of fun while I work. I try to be positive and show my funny side with debtors – this often puts them at ease. This position requires intelligence, intuition, the ability to be objective, quick thinking to adapt to new situations, good diction and communication skills, the ability to problem-solve and some charisma. Anyone can be an excellent collector, as long as they have the ability to listen, learn and take direction.

TV: What do you do in your free time? 

LX: I exercise and experiment in the kitchen with new desserts that I can sell at the flea market.

TV: Who is your all-time hero?

LX: I attribute my achievements to various people, so I cannot single out an individual. In the African culture, raising a child is a collective effort. I regard all my family members as my all-time heroes. However, if I had to pick someone who isn’t a family member, I would have to say Winnie Madikizela-Mandela; I consider her to be a beacon of hope who could bring light to a bad situation.  


- Author Jimmy Masombuka

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