After conducting an intensive study on the debt counselling landscape of South Africa, Compuscan Academy has released results indicating the competency requirements and skills needs of South African debt counsellors. The study further highlights those areas where intensive and urgent training is needed and offers recommendations regarding the future training of debt counsellors.
The debt counselling profession is a relatively new occupation introduced by the National Credit Act (NO.34 of 2005) in 2007 to provide assistance to the many over-indebted consumers of South Africa. Ultimately debt counsellors are tasked with assisting consumers by reviewing their indebtedness and making recommendations regarding the restructuring of the consumer’s debt in a way that will help them to rise out of the debt trap which they find themselves in.
Currently there are 2013 debt counsellors registered with the National Credit Regulator, however, of these it is estimated that less than 1 000 are still practicing. Since its inception, the profession has been plagued with challenges and obstacles which have hindered the successful performance of today’s debt counsellors. In particular, a focus has been placed on the current levels of competence of debt counsellors and the requirements regarding education, competence and experience as laid out in legislation and the National Credit Regulations.
As a result Cindee Groenewald (General Manager: Compuscan Academy) launched an intensive study as part of her MBA dissertation to determine the competency requirements and skills needs of debt counsellors. The study itself comprised of two phases – the first to establish the competency requirements of debt counsellors via a task and competency analysis based on interviews with key stakeholders and a review of industry documentation. The second phase involved conducting a skills needs analysis and was aimed at collecting and analysing data on the skills needs of debt counsellors to develop a competency framework comprising various skills related and knowledge competency areas. A competency framework is an outline of key competencies required for a specific occupation or job and more specifically the knowledge, skills, personality and characteristics which underline them.
From the analysis of the results it was concluded that the most important or critical competencies for debt counsellors are attention to detail, professional integrity, knowledge of credit legislation, regulations and laws, debt assessment interviewing, financial and over indebtedness assessment, problem solving and analytical thinking, managing personal finance and knowledge of the debt counselling industry. More than 80% of respondents indicated these competencies as the most important for the performance of debt counselling related tasks.
In addition, the study also examined in which areas debt counsellors feel there is an urgent need for further training or skills development. According to the study the top five competencies which are viewed by debt counsellors to require the most urgent training are: Consumer Protection; Credit Legislations, Regulations and Laws; Debt Counselling Related Declaratory Orders, Rules, Guidelines and Codes of Conduct; Legal Representations and Consumer Education and Counselling.
Another concern which arose from the study surrounds the duration of the current debt counselling training programme. Respondents indicated that the course is too short and that more time should be devoted to debt counselling courses which should be extended to 6 or 12 months. It was also suggested by respondents that the format of debt counselling courses be changed to a certificate or diploma.
Another concern raised focuses on the lack of practical training included in the current debt counselling programme. Respondents claim that the course is too theory based and should include more practical learning activities and case studies or perhaps be combined with a mentorship or internship programme. It is therefore suggested that the course includes a three to six month internship with an NCR approved debt counsellor or that training be supplemented with on-the-job coaching and mentoring or alternatively with simulated role play learning that provides prospective debt counsellors with an opportunity to practice the skills in a controlled environment. Likewise, more workshops and continuous professional development interventions are required to address debt counsellors’ skills and training needs.
It is hoped that the findings of this study can be used for the design and development of an occupational curriculum to contribute to the debt counselling profession and the industry at large. Ultimately, with the insight on what current debt counsellors and industry experts regard as critical competencies for the performance of debt counselling tasks, a benchmark can be established for targeted skills training for debt counsellors as well as for the development of an occupational profile and qualification curriculum for these professionals.