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MARK Essey, 46, who heads Debt-IN, says he hears some interesting responses when people learn he is a debt collector. “There’s no baseball bat and chains,” he laughs, “People also say I’m the wrong size for a debt collector. ” Nevertheless, Essey does not see himself as someone out to take food off another person’s table or exploit an unemployed debtor. “I don’t think people deliberately make debt with the intention of not paying. We all have a job to do and I joke that mine is to help people keep their agreements,” says the affable businessman. Discounting loan sharks, he doesn’t believe lenders are baddies. “My experience has been that their intentions are good. Obviously, there’s a profit motive, but I don’t think they’re out there to exploit people. ” Well aware of the controversy surrounding borrowing and the pros and cons of the National Credit Act, Essey believes the measures in place are working. “If you look at the 2008 financial crisis and how we were spared, we have our legislation to thank. ” That was nine years ago and, ironically, it was at the height of this global recession that Debt-IN was born. “The most lucrative time to be in debt collection is when the economy is turning and people are employed and settling debts so they can become credit active again. ” About 95% of Debt-IN’s revenue now comes from debt collection and the 110-plus operators manning the call centre collect everything from early stage debt on retail accounts to arrear payments on home loan debt after a foreclosure. The company deals with both secured and unsecured loans and counts two of the big four banks and a number of large corporates, including retailers, as clients. Essey, who grew up in Joburg, says his career has been a “long and winding road”. He graduated with a BCom in 1992 and started out working for a family-owned steel manufacturing business. Over five years he did everything from running the steel shop to working as the financial director. He then signed up for his honours and went on to pass the exam for his Chartered Institute of Management Accountants accreditation. In January 1999, Essey joined FNB as an assistant financial manager.