Meet Roger Rajan, the 'teddy bear' debt collector

Meet Roger Rajan, the 'teddy bear' debt collector

He may look more like a grizzly than a cuddly stuffed toy but debt collector Roger Rajan does have a soft center

Busted your credit? You don't want Roger Rajan to come knocking at your door. “Hi, I’m Roger,” says the giant behind the desk.

He stands, and quite literally engulfs me.

After all, anyone who's 189 centimeters tall,  weighs 106 kilos, and bench presses 110 kilos will create that Shaquille O’Neal effect. That’s one of the reasons why Roger Rajan, owner of JMS Roger's Associates, doesn’t have problems when he’s sent to collect debts for his clients.

You’re not too far off if you think “Ah Long” or loan shark runner at first. After all, both parties use embarrassment tactics to get debts repaid.

But that’s where the similarities end.

The modern debt collector

Instead of splashing paint or nailing pig heads to the front grille or scrawling “O$P$” on walls, Rajan wades into the fray with … letters and banners.

“We send out letters of demand and give seven days to the debtors to respond," he says. "If there is no response, we create a case study and hand the job over to my debt collectors. They go into the field wearing the company jackets and badges to visit the debtors’ residence or office to demand payment.”

“We also send out notices and negotiate with them [the debtors] during our visits. As the very last resort, we will put up a big banner with the words ‘Debt Collection in Progress’ on it for the public to see.”

Doing debt diligence

Before they go in, Rajan -- who started out collecting debts for his wife's company before branching out on his own -- emphasizes that they have to understand the case.

“We will do an investigation, find out the number of debtors involved, if there is any proof or documentation of the debts owed, how to go about debt collection and what kind of effort and time needed,” says Rajan.

Operations manager, Ravin Raj, backs Rajan on this –- the need to know whether it is right to demand debt payment from their client’s debtors is important.

“There were cases where clients try to cheat us,” says Raj. “They misuse us to harass people and give us fake documents. That is why we always try to be professional when we meet the debtors and try to come out with an arrangement.”

Chasing people for cash isn’t the safest job. Previous debtors have attacked field operatives with knives and metal rods; one unlucky collector even had hot water splashed on him.

If that had happened in a bar, it would have led to an all-out brawl.

Rajan and his crew do not retaliate.

“We abide by Singapore law -- we can only visit the person to demand payment with no violent actions,” says Rajan. “If such thing happened, we normally will gather a bigger group to visit the debtor again with a digital camera to record down the whole process. And if violent acts were involved, we would call for the police.”

The police are happy enough to maintain the peace, and Rajan’s documentation helps to expedite his debt-collecting claims.

Lending a muscly shoulder

More often, Rajan will get sob stories and hear all about sad situations. He remembers a case where a husband and wife ran a food stall. However the husband fell ill and could not pay a debt of S$3,000 for food supplies.

“Our debt collector went down and saw the man,” says Rajan. “He could not walk and he just lay down on the sofa at home. The next day, his wife came to our office. She brought in three kids, one was still a baby, and the other two were young kids too.”

“She used up the whole tissue box crying and told us that she was not able to work or pay back the debt. I helped her negotiate with the client to repay her debt in S$50 monthly instalments. I gave the lady S$100 and consoled her as well.”

That is probably why his staff had nicknamed him “Teddy Bear.”

Man up and pay up

Despite his more sensitive side, Rajan doesn’t have much sympathy for Singaporeans who get themselves into debt. And it certainly seems to Rajan that more locals are rushing headlong into it. He blames it on the casinos.

“Since the casinos opened, I’ve seen more individual debtors than in the past,” says Rajan. “Many houses get repossessed because they could not afford the mortgage. We’re seeing more houses painted by loan sharks. Wives come to us with children, and complain that they are single-handedly paying back their debts while the husbands had run away.”

To stay out of trouble, like the man said -- neither a borrower nor a lender be.