Albemarle & Bond criticised after customer helpline is overwhelmed
Pawnbroker Albemarle & Bond has been criticised for “woefully inadequate” communication with customers hoping to retrieve belongings after the company shut its shops and website last week.
The National Pawnbrokers Association (NPA), the UK trade body of which Albemarle & Bond is a member, said it was receiving hundreds of calls a day from worried customers who had been unable to get through to a helpline set up by the pawnbroker.
Ray Perry, chief executive of the NPA, said there were only 10 people working in Albemarle & Bond’s contact centre and they had been overwhelmed by demands for information. He said: “The industry is not impressed and we are quite angry about this. The provision made is clearly woefully inadequate and the information sent out is quite contradictory in places.”
He said that Albemarle & Bond’s directors, who include Kohei Ogawa, a council member of the trade body, had not responded to attempts to contact them.
A&B and fellow chain Herbert Brown, which are owned by Oxford-based Speedloan Finance, closed all 116 UK shops last week. A statement on A&B’s website said the pawnbroker had ceased trading.
Speedloan Finance, which employed 391 people at the end of 2018, later said in a statement that it had “informed its employees that due to the ongoing economic environment resulting in significant losses”, as of 12 September it has closed all its stores and is exploring options available to it, such as finding a buyer for some or all of the stores.
It said: “Speedloan is due to enter into a period of consultation with employees concerning its proposal and has in the meantime offered its employees voluntary redundancy.”
The company, which is ultimately owned by listed Japanese pawnbroking firm Daikokuya Holdings, said it had centralised the operation of its loan and pledgebook operation to its central distribution centre in Oxfordshire to “minimise the impact on customers”.
The pawnbroker’s Facebook page is filled with comments from unhappy customers including Kiran Kiran who said: “What’s going on about the Coventry branch? They are not opening and no one is receiving calls. I have my £3,000 worth of goods to redeem – it’s very worrying.”
Sandra Cahill Creevy posted: “A friend of mine called the number and it just cut off. Doesn’t exist. Thieves!”
One client said: “I’m so upset. I’ve been calling for hours on end over 200 times in the last four days. It’s causing me to lose sleep. These items mean a lot to me.”
He was told in an email to call A&B’s helpline and pay over the phone if he wanted to redeem his goods, but said: “ I don’t trust this at all. What if they do another disappearing act?”
The Financial Conduct Authority is understood to be investigating and to have ensured that items from around the UK have been stored securely by A&B at its national warehouse in Oxfordshire.
A spokesperson for the regulator said: “We are engaging with the firm and asking them to ensure this process is carried out in an orderly manner and to minimise disruption to Speedloan’s customers.”
Perry said A&B’s clients should be reassured that they owned the title to their goods. He said: “Whatever happens to the company it would be breaking the law if it opened the safe and started to sell items.”
Albemarle & Bond has had a difficult period, making a pretax loss of £3.3m last year, up from £1.9m a year before. It was bought out of administration in 2014 by Promethean, the investment vehicle of the former Bank of Scotland boss Sir Peter Burt, before being taken over by Daikokuya.
Source: Read Full Article