The Slow Death of a Salesman as Britain's Provident Culls 2,000

  • Subprime lender to poor cuts almost half door-to-door agents
  • Lender moves to full-time sales staff amid technology spending

Provident Financial Plc has sent self-employed agents to the homes of Britain’s poor selling loans since the reign of Queen Victoria. Now, the FTSE 100 consumer-finance firm is cutting 2,000 roles and bringing the new generation of iPad-carrying sales people in-house.

The British subprime lender said Tuesday it would cut all of the 4,500 self-employed agents who travel door-to-door and would replace them with 2,500 full-time “customer experience managers.” From more than 10,000 about two years ago, the number of traveling sales people -- who double as debt collectors -- will fall below the total the firm had in 1920.

Provident, whose stock has tripled in the past decade while Britain’s big banks stumbled in the financial crisis, says it wants more control over its representatives as it increasingly uses technology to drive sales. Unlike the stock gain, the job cuts and tech spending are in line with Provident’s mainstream peers: former Barclays Plc chief Antony Jenkins has said as many as half the jobs in Britain’s finance industry are at risk from automation.

“It’s a big step up in level of customer service we can provide,” Chief Executive Officer Peter Crook said in a telephone interview. “We’re putting in further technology, including routing and scheduling software like courier firms would use, and voice-recording systems.” Sales people will still be going door to door, he said.

Provident Financial, started in 1880 by Joshua Waddilove in Bradford, England to offer affordable credit, serves 2.4 million customers, many of them unemployed or on welfare. Its receivables book was worth about 2 billion pounds ($2.5 billion) at the end of 2016. Besides door-to-door loans, it operates an online short-term lending business, installment loans and a credit-card brand.

Earlier Tuesday, the company reported a 26 percent increase in pretax profit to 343.9 million pounds in 2016 and boosted its dividend. The shares were little changed.

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