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17 November 2021

Financial wellbeing: freedom from fear and frustration over making repayments

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Interview with Lewis Romano, Executive Director and Co-Founder, Credit Clear.

As many Australians face an increasingly complex financial life, Credit Clear's founder Lewis Romano describes his definition of financial wellbeing, and why he established Credit Clear to help people achieve it.

A few years ago, I was driving to the Australian Open with a friend whose phone rang five or six times along the way. When I asked why he wasn't answering, he explained the calls were from a debt collector pursuing him for a couple of hundred dollars. He'd already received a threatening call the day before.

My friend had asked the collector to call him back so he could provide his new banking details. However, he did not have those details on him in the car. Rather than having another uncomfortable conversation, he chose to avoid it altogether.

Throughout the afternoon, my friend was constantly checking his phone and didn't seem to enjoy watching the tennis. At that moment, I knew there had to be a better way – not just for my friend, but for customers around the globe experiencing stress over making repayments and for companies wanting to better manage their receivables.

What financial wellbeing means to Credit Clear

I became increasingly aware consumers were experiencing enormous friction and frustration from the way communications about payments and debts were delivered. Communications often involved pressure tactics to encourage payment, but lacked convenient options, flexibility or, most importantly, a professional and respectful tone.

This caused people to put their heads in the sand and fall even further behind, creating an opposite situation to that of financial wellbeing.

To Credit Clear, financial wellbeing is a state of mind in which consumers aren't burdened with letters of demand, or fearful of being on the receiving end of aggressive collection tactics. It's about not being scared to go to your mailbox and see a letter from a collection agency demanding payment of your utility or phone bill or personal loan or credit card. Or fearing the sound of the phone ringing, knowing it could be a debt collector. Traditional debt collection calls are uncomfortable for both parties. It's embarrassing to be having conversations about setting $50 per month instalments beside your colleagues at work or housemates at home.

Financial wellbeing relies on empathy, while traditional debt collection often leaves customers feeling misunderstood, excluded, and afraid of being blacklisted or having their credit record adversely affected. Credit Clear's mission is to change that.

Steps to achieving financial wellbeing

The first step to achieving financial wellbeing involves not spending more than you earn. But that's often more easily said than done. It's common for people to overextend themselves financially. I'm happy to admit that Credit Clear was partly born from my own experience. I found myself, like many young people of my time, fresh out of university and fresh into the nightclub: Spending more than I earned.

It's not necessarily a bad thing to overextend yourself – we all need to learn financial management and responsibility. Some learn it younger while others are a bit older. My own experience showed me the stress financial mismanagement can create.

The important thing is assisting people to get back on track if they get into a situation where their outgoings are more than their incomings. That doesn't mean threatening individuals with a black mark against their credit file which means they'll never be able to rent an apartment, get a phone plan, or have electricity connected to their house.

Most people want to stay on top of their repayments, but life happens. Sometimes complexity trips them up, or a budget oversight or temporary situation that can be resolved if addressed in a timely and proactive way. Other people are experiencing financial pressure or hardship. It's important people can address debt matters in a non-threatening way.

How Credit Clear are supporting financial wellbeing

Credit Clear was founded from my desire to improve people's financial wellbeing with a more empathetic, user-friendly and frictionless way of making repayments. We wanted to take away that stigma of falling behind, and help people who are busy and time poor stay on top and keep their credit file looking good.

We wanted to give people the tools, flexibility and capability to address debt matters in the way they would want: In the privacy of the palm of their hand and in their own space and time – not when a debt collector decides to call them or when they receive a letter in the mail.

With technology, we knew we could create something that allows people to address debt matters discreetly, from the convenience of their mobile device, within flexible parameters set by our clients. It's so much more positive and pleasant to receive a tailored message on your digital device than a threatening letter or phone call. If you're behind with your telco, for example, you might receive an SMS inviting you to catch up on your last payment. You're given options to make a full payment, part payment, or to arrange a payment plan. You don't have to remember usernames, login details or account numbers, nor punch in enormously long BPAY numbers. You can simply click through and make the payment using the card that's already stored on your phone. And you can do that all in the palm of your hand while you're on the couch at home after work or in the lift going down to lunch.

We've developed a frictionless way of catching up that enables people to resolve debt matters, feel good about themselves and not be fearful of embarrassing interactions with debt collectors or being stigmatised because of their financial situation. With Credit Clear, people like my friend need never fear those intimidating phone calls again.

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