Manju Bhatia’s narrative could be straight out of a Dibakar Banerjee movie: A woman throws acid at a recovery team in Aurangabad, to keep the bank from possessing her house; a family of four generations pleads with her for more time to repay its loans; the property of small businessmen who cannot settle their debts gets auctioned.
The gutsy protagonist, Bhatia (27), is the joint managing director of Adhikrut Jabti Evam Vasuli, or, simply Vasuli Recovery, which helps track loan defaulters and conducts recovery operations. What’s new, you may ask. She runs an agency that hires only women as recovery agents.
This is almost counter- intuitive. Recovery agencies are dominated by men who are known to be brutal; they visit defaulters and almost scare them into paying up. But Bhatia feels that women are best-placed to facilitate recovery. “I think people are ready to listen to us and that makes all the difference. Male recovery agents have an aggressive image in the minds of the defaulters. Their immediate reaction is to hit back,” says Bhatia, who experienced her first taste of recovering debts when she was barely 16; she helped SBI follow up with a known politician who had forgotten to repay personal loans.
Bhatia realised that with proper communication and transparency from the bank, most of these problems could be avoided.
She started Vasuli in 2003 with three agents. Today she has a topline of around Rs 6 crore and 200 agents in different cities. Vasuli works only with public sector banks (PSB) because Bhatia finds private sector banks lacking in empathy. PSBs, on the other hand, understand the customer and are always willing to give them another chance. “They look at customers as a long-term relationship and are very considerate in dealing with them,” she says.
“Even I was a little sceptical initially. But Bhatia is a bold girl. She has taken this business of recovery to another level where you don’t require aggressiveness at all. She handles it with decency and communication,” says OP Dua, general manager, Union Bank of India who has been working with Vasuli since 2006.
Bhatia has offices in almost all Indian cities. So, which is the worst when it comes to recovery? “You might be surprised, but it is Chennai,” she says.