When strains in consumer credit started showing up earlier this year, GE Money's Retail Consumer Finance unit was prepared, not surprised. "We're in the private-label card business," explains Margaret Keane, president and CEO of GE Money Retail Consumer Finance. "We saw a delinquency problem in 2007, and we jumped on it, hiring 800 collectors and reaching out to at-risk customers."
The group rethought its entire collection strategy. The number of delinquent customers is actually below last year, but dollar amount is 40-percent greater, Keane notes. "Consumers are really struggling, and we're trying to get them help before there's a problem." Keane's solution is to turn collection into customer service. "The person at the other end of the phone is more open to help, then," she says. Keane listens in on collection calls every other week. "I can learn how customers are coping, how their situations differ." The customer-friendly approach has softened the impact of delinquencies and losses on her unit, to some extent.