'Tough talks in workshops'

Honest discussions about financial problems and emotions

How does Rabobank treat customers who have trouble paying their debts? That's the main theme in a series of workshops created by Rabobank advisers, especially for customers, colleagues and other stakeholders.

If Rabobank notices that one of its business customers is struggling financially, it makes a point of keeping in close touch with them. Especially out of willingness to help the company and its owner(s) in restoring their business back to health. This is grounded in our belief that thriving customers with solid credit profiles are the bedrock of any banking business.

Members of the Special Asset Management team at Rabobank Westland, a local Rabobank located in the province of South Holland, have been giving regular workshops since 2014 to inform customers, colleagues and other stakeholders on the procedures involved in special asset management for non-performing loans.

Role-playing games

The participants come from all walks of life, ranging from members, customers and employees to business organisations, interest groups, politicians, regulators and journalists. Once the participants have been briefed on the procedures and dilemmas involved in this process, a few of them are selected to take on the role of the adviser, while one of the 'real-life' Special Asset Management advisers acts out the part of the emotional, cash-strapped customer.

Learning moments

This has been known to lead to some particularly enlightening experiences. Rabobank Westland’s aim is to create awareness and encourage the participants to learn from one another. We demonstrate how painful these discussions can be and what sort of feelings they evoke in the customer and the adviser. That's something that people aren't always aware of. Bank employees gain a vivid picture of the deep impact this process can have on customers and their families. By the same token, the bank itself is also faced with a number of tough decisions. By the end of the workshop, customers have generally become more sensitive to the dilemmas the bank encounters in assisting defaulting customers.


Chris Buijink, the Chairman of the Dutch Banking Association, had the opportunity to attend one of the Special Asset Management meetings. The Association presented a series of guidelines for special asset management last year with the objective of managing the expectations of both the bank and their customers in relation to special asset management. 'The meeting was a good example of how banks handle this process,' says Buijnk. 'The roleplay really hits home the dilemmas encountered by employees in Special Asset Management, and I think it really takes courage to act out these roleplays with customers. It just goes to show how important it is for the bank to really involve the customer in their decisions.'

Avoiding problems

Running a business can be a daunting challenge in these times of uncertainty, and unfortunately all too many businesses end up in financial hardship. Luckily, an extended period of weak financial performance need not always end in bankruptcy: experience has shown that the majority of businesses manage to weather the storm by whatever means. Rabobank has taken to contacting customers in financial trouble at an increasingly early stage because timing is essential: it is important that the meeting between the bank employee and the customer is scheduled at the appropriate time and under the appropriate circumstances. Granted, these meetings can be difficult at times, but good timing can eliminate some of the anxiety customers inevitably experience. Scheduling the meeting early on improves your chances of nipping problems in the bud.

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