May is one of our Debt Adviser Case Officers. She helps people online, over the phone and, more recently, on video calls to take control of their finances. Over the last few months, like many of us, May’s working environment has completely changed. In this blog, May tells us more about the people she has helped and how the way people access debt advice could be changing…

I first started working with PayPlan back in 2016. A lot has changed in recent years both in our clients’ circumstances and how they like to engage with debt advice. Yet, I’d say that none of these changes have ever happened quite so rapidly as how life has changed over the last few months.

I work in the assessment team, which means I work with people to gain a complete insight of their financial situation. Together, we look at the money that they have coming in and what they need to pay for. We also speak about any future changes which may affect their assets and goals. All of this information helps me to give them options on the debt solutions that are available to them and that would be suitable for their current situation and future ambitions.

How have you found working from home?

I have missed working in the office for the sheer fact that I love being around my team! I live in a house share with my best mates, and we have all set up what feels like pop-up offices in our bedrooms. I’m keeping in touch with my team on instant message chat, but it’s not quite the same as being in the same room. It hasn’t changed how I interact with clients on the whole, except for on video calls – because it just feels like a more informal environment.

Has anything changed in what clients are asking during the pandemic?

A few people have told me that the pandemic has brought everything to a head, and they didn’t realise how much they were struggling before.

Another shift that I’ve seen is how much more comfortable people have become with technology. Most people have done at least one Zoom quiz and are using video calls to speak to friends and family. A lot of the people I’ve spoken to who are working from home are using video calling out of necessity and as part of their everyday life. I think the more that people become comfortable with this way of communicating, then it could completely shift the way that we at PayPlan interact with clients over time.

Opening doors – video chat and sharing screens with advisers

This change in how people are communicating means that I’ve done a few assessments with clients over video call now. Some people like to have their video on, and some don’t – it’s not compulsory. What I find most useful though is how I can share my screen with the client to show them their budget in real time. It means that we can go through documents together. Of course, this has worked much better when people are on their computer or tablet, rather than mobile phone – purely so they can see the screen properly.

I think that the video calls I’ve done have been a more reassuring way to complete an assessment. One client said she was instantly put more at ease when she could see how informal my setting was – my bedroom – and that she felt a lot more relaxed.

Supporting vulnerable clients over video calls

Our vulnerable client expert, Emma Gibbons, has put together some additional training for advisers who will be talking to clients over video call. We all go through our vulnerability training, and have a dedicated vulnerable client team, but it’s important that we can give the same level of support that we do over the phone to people when we can see each other.

What do you think the future holds for debt advice?

Although we’ve only just started offering advice in this way, I would say that already the advice process has been noticeably easier when I can share my screen with clients. I have used it a few times and it just instantly removes any confusion. I tend to go through the budget myself and just before I confirm the surplus, I share my screen and then amend the budget if needed while sharing.

There’s no doubt that there is still a need for advice over the telephone, email and in face-to-face settings. We work closely with colleagues in Citizens Advice, and their local knowledge is invaluable to clients seeking face-to-face help.

I think video call is the way that it’s going in the future. I don’t even mean just at PayPlan. Video technology has meant that people across the world can all tune into one music event, or PE session (I think most people have tried or had a friend do at least one Joe Wicks morning!). This whole pandemic has meant that people are thinking differently and doing things that we wouldn’t have before.