Top
SLB’s lack of innovation and customer-centricity

Beggars, Not Borrowers – SLB’s lack of innovation and customer-centricity

Let me begin by saying that the Students’ Loan Bureau (SLB) has provided me with the opportunity to pursue my tertiary education, both my undergraduate and postgraduate degrees, with little fear of struggling to complete them due to financial challenges. My degrees have increased my employability and income potential.

With this said, I am grateful for the unsecured loans because my parents and I were not able to completely fund my academic pursuits.
While I am grateful for the opportunities given, I write this to highlight how the SLB has topped the charts in the worst customer service experience I have had in Jamaica to date. I have seen smaller companies with less resources provide a customer experience worth mentioning.

This is a government-funded organisation that is meant to serve the entire country, yet the mechanisms in place to meet customer demands are nothing short of ancient. Who bears the burden of this archaic business model? The borrowers. I am of the view that the management of SLB view its customers as beggars, not borrowers.

Let me go further into the mess that is SLB. Let me state that this is my personal experience intertwined with the personal experiences shared by friends and colleagues who have dealt with SLB. I have so much to say about SLB that I don’t believe I can condense it in this article. I’ll do my best.

SLB has one office. Yes, you read that right. One brick-and-mortar structure. This office is supposed to service the entire country – all 14 parishes. And where is this office? Where else but Kingston? When I first applied for SLB, I was living in St. James where I am originally from.

SLB sent representatives from Kingston to come and verify our documents and they were in town for about two days. If you missed that window, you had better find yourself in Kingston or another parish where they visit. Only recently have they allowed online upload or drop off, I believe, but you still have to go to them in-person for an interview. Imagine needing customer service support. You would believe calling and voicing your queries would not be such a hassle, right? I mean it is only fair seeing that they have only one office.

Nope.

Most cases, you are lucky if you get through to their customer care centre, which is one person really. I usually call, put my phone on speaker, and go about doing other things because I am going to be waiting a while. If you call and navigate their automated attendant, you’ll realise that it probably hasn’t been updated since 2014. In essence, SLB only really serves those who live in Kingston who can go in office for assistance; even then, it is a long wait.

Repaying SLB is perhaps the most painful experience I’ve had. If you count yourself as being financially literate and responsible like I do, you will understand how important monitoring your loan repayments is and how it all fits into your financial goals. In the year of our Lord 2021, the online platform of SLB is as old as Methuselah. It is only useful for basic information and to upload your application. It does nothing for those repaying.

To get my loan balance, I had to call the operator or email my loan officer who usually takes weeks to reply after multiple emails. They no longer provide quarterly financial statements. If you request it, you have to pay for it. If you took a postgrad loan, forget about a financial statement. They send you a little table in your email showing when you made payments. They have nothing to show you how your payments are contributing to reducing your loan balance.

In 2021, SLB does not have an application or at least have an online platform so you can view your transaction history or see your loan balance on demand. Transparency is a thing of the past, apparently. I had to be proactive because I am a bit more obsessed with meeting my financial goals than perhaps the normal borrower. Every other month, I requested my loan balance and kept my own personal records.

Luckily, I was doing this. In one instance, I got a loan balance which made absolutely no sense based on my payments. I investigated and it was found that the balance communicated to me was overstated by almost J$250,000. Just like that, I was almost robbed.

Also, if you are making additional principal payments equal to one or more monthly instalments, they will go to a holding account in the event you miss a payment. You pay a higher rate of interest because the additional principal payments do not go to reducing the loan balance unless you are closing the account. At one point, I enquired and I realised that SLB had over J$150,000 in a holding account. Just sitting there.

Not doing anything. Not gaining interest income. Not reducing my interest payments.

I could go for an entire year, not pay anything, and not incur a late fee. Their systems do not allow that money to be transferred to your principal. When you make a payment, in order to have them put the excess to your principal, you have to pay at the cashier at their office. You can pay online and through bill payment services but you won’t be able to get that excess to your principal. You have to visit their only office and pay in person. Something a simple app could fix. Even in this pandemic, SLB has done nothing new really to improve their customer service. Nothing of note.

I have ranted and tagged our ministers on Twitter numerous times but no response. Maybe I’m not poor enough. Maybe my story isn’t strong enough to support their political interests. In 2012, SLB spent $57 million to acquire a loan management system and it has not met their requirements. Almost a decade later and they still have not done anything about it.

SLB has no interest improving customer satisfaction. There are simple things SLB can do to make their business model more customer-centric but frankly, I don’t believe they have any interest in doing that. They are complacent because there are limited options for tertiary funding especially for low- and middle-income families. They continue to bully borrowers into repayment without being more accessible and innovative.

I am of the view that the government continues to pump resources in SLB and they continue to squander it. But yet, the pandemic has pushed so many companies to innovate and maintain customer satisfaction.

To show how little interest SLB has in improving customer satisfaction, they asked me to fill out a survey and none of the questions were in relation to my customer service experience with them.

Their only interest was that I was able to get work and increase my income potential. They clearly did not care if I would recommend their services or suggest ways for them to improve their services. I guess this is typical of most government organisations. If you are going to take SLB, ask a lot of questions, approach with caution and be relentless. I recommend anyone to SLB if you are seeking an unsecured student loan because they are the most affordable and accessible option. However, expect to be treated as a beggar, not a valued customer.

There’s so much more I could write but I will stop here. It is my hope that my voice and the voices of many others will be heard on this matter. I think improved customer satisfaction is the first step in improving transparency, accountability, and decreased delinquency in the SLB.

Walk good.