From apprentice to risk analyst – how to fast-track a successful career in the debt collection industry

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Credit Services Association (CSA) is the UK trade body for the collections and debt purchase sector and an apprenticeships training provider offering specialist programmes in credit, collections, compliance, counter fraud and debt advice. CSA member company Lowell is one of Europe’s largest credit management companies with a mission to ‘make credit work better for all’.

Phoebe Backhouse, Risk Analyst at Lowell and former CSA Level 3 Compliance Risk Officer apprentice, says:

“In 2016, after asking myself some tough questions, I decided to leave university where I was studying accounting and finance to seek alternative learning opportunities through the workplace. Attending university is a fantastic privilege but sitting in a lecture theatre of 200 people did not allow me to thrive. I am curious and like to ask a lot of questions, learn in a hands-on way, and I didn’t feel my learning needs would be fulfilled in an academic environment.

I soon realised that it was the ideal route for me to gain a highly regarded but hands-on qualification while developing specialist professional skills and getting invaluable experience in the workplace. It was a win-win.

“Still today, there is a lot of unfortunate stigma around being a ‘university drop out’ as well as misconceptions about vocational education options. However, I took the leap because I felt strongly that I would be more capable of fulfilling my potential in a professional setting. In fact, once I realised graduating is not the only way to start a career, I was more determined than ever to prove myself.

“Shortly after leaving university, I came across a role at Lowell in the Customer Engagement Centre. At the time, I understood little about the collections industry, but I could see that this entry level role had the potential to open doors for me. The role gave me a unique insight into how collections firms work and what kind of circumstances customers are facing, and it quickly became evident that the widely-held perceptions about ‘debt collectors’ were not like the reality. Seeing first-hand how collections firms help people repay their debts and restore and renew their access to credit made me feel proud and drove me to want to work in the industry long term.

“Much as I enjoyed supporting our customers directly, I had a burning desire to transfer my skills into other areas of the business. I was monitoring internal vacancies when I came across an apprenticeship role in the UK risk function. This was a unique opportunity to carve a career pathway in a fascinating area of technical expertise while learning on the job through a Level 3 Compliance Risk Apprenticeship delivered by our industry trade body, the Credit Services Association (CSA).

“Prior to this, my perception of apprenticeships was that they were designed for traditional trades such as building and plumbing, so I was quite surprised when I came across a relevant apprenticeship that offered a credible career opportunity within financial services. However, I soon realised that it was the ideal route for me to gain a highly regarded but hands-on qualification while developing specialist professional skills and getting invaluable experience in the workplace. It was a win-win.

“As soon as I started in the new apprentice role, my mindset switched from that of a student to that of a young professional and it kick-started what has so far been a hugely rewarding and successful career. Because my new role was created with an apprenticeship ‘built in’, it had hands-on learning and development integrated from day one, which gave me exposure and opportunities that I do not believe would otherwise have been possible at that level. With specific time set aside for learning, and practical projects and assignments that fed directly into my day job, I was able to take a strategic view immediately and make a much more significant impact than I would have done as a graduate rather than apprentice.

“As an apprentice you have a lot of flexibility to shape your learning, so I took the initiative to develop a role that mutually benefitted the business, the department, and me personally. From the outset, I had to approach key stakeholders to fulfil the requirements of both my apprenticeship and my role and demonstrate that I was gaining the knowledge, skills, and behaviours required of me. It allowed me to shine and be recognised for my hard work and ambition as someone who is worth investing in.

“I had a huge amount of support from the CSA tutors and also experienced fantastic networking opportunities with my apprenticeship cohort peers, including attending industry conferences run by the CSA.

“I was fortunate enough to progress into a Risk Analyst role, where working in a fast-paced environment means no two days are the same. But the apprenticeship was not just a ‘tick box’ to progress up the career ladder; I still use the course content and skills I learnt on a daily basis as part of my own continuous development and improvement. Highlights during my apprenticeship include winning a ‘Best Newcomer of the Year’ Award at a functional company Away Day. I am also immensely proud of achieving the Institute of Risk Management’s ‘International Certificate in Enterprise Risk Management’ alongside the apprenticeship, which is internationally recognised and equivalent to degree level.

“Working as a Risk Analyst in a debt collection firm might not sound like the most appealing job, but to me it is exciting and empowering to be part of a function that helps to create a ‘risk aware’ culture in the business. Having the opportunity to not only provide assurance and oversight that we are managing our risks to colleagues, investors and regulators etc., but also knowing that I am contributing to providing reassurance to our customers, really motivates me and reminds me of why my role is important.

“I would highly recommend both a career in the collections and debt purchase sector and apprenticeships to those looking for a rewarding job where they can make a real difference to people’s lives while fast-tracking their own career in a professional, innovative industry. Based on how far I have already come in just a few short years, I am excited to see what the future holds!”

Find out more about CSA apprenticeships at: https://www.csa-uk.com/apprenticeships

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Risk Analyst at Lowell, and recent CSA Level 3 Compliance/Risk Officer Apprentice

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