Excerpts of the interview with Harish Parmar, Founder of SingleDebt, first and only company in india to offer affordable debt management solution and legal services for debtors. Harish Parmar shares with TechStory the story of SingleDebt and importance of imparting financial knowledge.
In the interview, he also shares his opinions and concerns regarding increased number of illegal loan activities and debt trap.
1 – According to the company profile of SingleDebt, you are the only company in India that offers an affordable debt management solution, including legal services. How did you realise that there was a need to set up such a company in our country?
Debt management is a popular solution used largely in US and Europe. If the debtor is struggling to maintain their monthly loan and credit card payments, a tailored repayment plan is arranged within their monthly income to cover their outstanding debts and their monthly living expenses. This is common practice in many countries and has helped people stay in control of their finances and remain a key contributor of the economy instead of being financially locked down by debt.
After studying how debt was being handled in India, we realised that the people of India needed a professional debt counselling service. There didn’t seem to be any real help for people struggling with unsecured debt when it should be an easy answer.
We noticed that the average person didn’t have the basic knowledge of how credit worked and how to manage finances. I think this has caused issues between the borrower and the lender, which is why we offer free counselling and financial education as part of our commitment to help people overcome their debt burdens. The introduction of our services has been widely welcomed, and as a result, our company has grown and evolved PAN India.
2 – India has a huge population of people who depend on debt and similar financial instruments to move ahead in life. Majority of these people have very minimal knowledge about financial laws and money management. What is the significance of a debt management solution company like SingleDebt in India?
The banks and NBFCs aggressively market many financial products, like credit cards, personal loans and home loans to name a few, to an audience that in large are not financially literate. Due to this, many people fall into the debt trap and are unable to manage and fulfill their commitments.
The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has programs to educate the public on financial literacy, but it would take many years to penetrate the huge Indian population. RBI have also tried to promote debt solutions, in particular debt management, however, more awareness is needed, along with independent agencies to re-initiate debt management in India.
SingleDebt promotes its debt management services in the public domain, it gives people the knowledge that we exist, that help is available if they need it and they know where to turn to. So as there is heavy marketing from banks and NBFC’s for loans and credit cards, we are marketing debt solutions to customers should they fall into the debt trap. To compliment the loan market, debt solutions must be available to keep a balance within the industry, or there will be an overload of debtors not able to pay their dues with no help available for them, this will cause major problems within the economy, as we are already experiencing.
3 – On a daily basis we hear news about farmer suicides in the country due to them being in a debt trap. A huge amount of these loans is issued by unofficial or illegal entities who do not have any kind of legal backing. Does SingleDebt have any plans to help people in rural India who are entrapped by illegal lenders.
Sadly, many farmers and now urban residences have fallen victim to these illegal loans. Unfortunately, many have committed suicide, with one factor being due to the level of harassment they experienced from collection agents using aggressive and illegal tactics. Our internal research suggests that these illegal loan app firms are targeting vulnerable people, enticing them to take out small loans with extremely high interest rates. The victims are desperate and not understanding the level of interest being charged. Unfortunately, the collection agents are using tactics like blackmail and intimidation to collect the outstanding debts which can cause all kinds of mental issues for the debtor.
SingleDebt advocates have been working very hard in assisting these victims by filing police and cybercrime complaints and also reporting these illegal lenders to the RBI Ombudsman. We have been successful in most cases in stopping the harassment. We have been providing aftercare by counselling the victims and advising them of what they would need to do to stay protected from the harassment.
Our door is always open to anyone facing harassment from illegal app firms.
4 – There have been reports that creditors are resorting to illegal means and harassment to retrieve loan amount and interest from debtors. How does SingleDebt handle such situation when a customer face it?
We see many forms of harassment from the creditors. Their conduct towards debtors in most cases is illegal in the eyes of the law. But as the debtors are not aware of their consumer rights, the creditors will continue to get away with this type of behaviour. Our duty has and will always be to uphold and protect their rights as per the law. Our legal team work very hard to combat the harassment our clients face on a daily basis.
Our clients have the comfort in knowing that SingleDebt will protect them in any given circumstance. We are very successful in stopping harassment because our clients inform the creditors that SingleDebt is now managing their debts. Creditors and collection agents are advised to speak to SingleDebt regarding any EMI’s that are due, as we are the customer’s representative. All EMI’s are paid through SingleDebt, so this helps the communication stay between us and the creditor. Most creditors now know that if SingleDebt is managing the debt then they will not be able to use illegal tactics against the mutual customer. All illegal conduct is reported to the RBI Ombudsman and to their Nodal Officer of the bank, this often results in them losing their job.
We also offer a service where our clients can redirect all their creditors calls to our team of paralegals who will speak to the creditors and collection agents on their behalf. We advise and remind them that they need to stay within the guidelines of the law.
5 – Since the beginning of COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, various MSMEs and business entities have found it difficult to repay back loans which were taken from financial institutions for various purposes. What are the services provided by SingleDebt for assisting such MSMEs and businesses in handling their debts?
The Covid lockdown had a huge impact on businesses, which halted their income lines, this applied a lot of pressure when it came to paying back their business loans. Some had to shut down, but others that survived experienced very difficult times to stay afloat. Our expert team of debt advisors are well-versed in business debt. We provide tailored debt solutions that help businesses handle outstanding debt in a constructive manner.
One of our debt solutions called CIDA – Company Informal Debt Arrangement, not only allows the business to continue trading without the pressure from creditors but also gives the business breathing space to get themselves back on track. Businesses that have legal action against them due to non-payment, are supported and advised by our legal team. All our debt solutions are non-borrowing solutions; therefore, we are not compounding the problem for the business. The solution allows businesses to repay its debts at an affordable rate, until the business has re-established itself and secured its income line again.
6 – According to the website of SingleDebt, the company is providing a Personal Debt Program for individuals who are finding it difficult to repay their loans and monthly EMIs with their current rate of salary. Is SingleDebt acting as a financial and legal intermediary in such situations where people are not able to repay loans?
The Personal Debt Program (PDP) is a combination of services that assists those people who have missed EMI’s and are struggling to make their monthly payments, within that they will receive legal support for any action they have against them and a call re-direction service, where we will take all collection and creditor calls on behalf of our client.
Single Debt will act as an agent for the client, but will get legal representation from the legal team if required.
7 – How does SingleDebt help its customers to avoid loan defaults and debt trap?
Normally, when customers approach us for help, they have already fallen into the debt trap, have defaulted on their loans and are receiving pressure from creditors and collection agents to make payment. We will only enroll customers to our services if they have already missed their EMI’s, this shows that the person is genuinely struggling financially.
But to avoid falling into a debt trap, we would advise to work within a budget, that means cutting back on non-essential costs and putting aside extra money every month. A debt consolidation loan is another option where you can pay off existing loans. If you are a homeowner, a low interest secured loan is a good option to pay off existing loans, the EMI can be much lower, so it would be easier to manage.
We provide training material to anyone that wants to learn about finance, budgeting and managing credit. We publish blogs weekly with tips and advice on making your money go further and essentially staying out of debt.
8 – Does the company have any plans to venture into other areas of financial management in the coming years?
India is an emerging country with great potential, but it still requires a lot of attention to bring in better practices that protect consumers and lenders. Laws and regulations need to be reviewed to construct a robust system that encourages safety within the financial industry.
There is a long way to go, but we are constantly looking at ways we can help the industry maintain good practices. We would like to work closer with the banks and NBFC’s to help minimize NPA’s and protect borrowers from being financially strained.
We will be focusing more on educating people about financial management so that they can make better decisions when dealing with credit facilities. We will be providing courses on money management and budgeting so that people can be more confident when taking credit, paying back loans and keeping themselves financially healthy.