I ain’t got cash, I ain’t got cash, I got you baby.

These lines from 32-year-old Ayesha’s caller tune—set to Sia’s Cheap Thrills—seem innocuous at first. Until you realise that Ayesha—like millions of other Indian borrowers—has collection agents breathing down her neck after the Reserve Bank of India (RBI)-mandated loan moratorium wound down. Put in place in the aftermath aftermath The Ken India needs NBFCs the most now, but the RBI’s six-month moratorium has put operational pressure on them. NBFCs are staring at a high mortality risk brought on by diluted credit culture and uncertain repayment behaviour Read more of the Covid-19 pandemic, the moratorium expired on 31 August.

In April, even as India was still in the early days of a strict months-long lockdown, Ayesha lost her job as a senior travel consultant at online travel agency Yatra. Her husband lost his job shortly after. Suddenly, the loans she had taken five years prior to pay for her father’s cancer treatment became millstones around her neck.

While repaying the loans—availed through HDB Financial and Bajaj Finance Ltd—entailed equated monthly installments (EMIs) amounting to half her monthly salary of Rs 65,000 ($879.6), Ayesha claims she never missed a payment before. Without a job, she skipped EMI payments on both loans. The moratorium was only extended to her a month later.

Even those who were granted the moratorium from the outset aren’t much better off. Though an immediate relief, borrowers must now repay their loans over a longer period. Despite this, nearly 40% of all bank loans—worth Rs 38,68,000 crore ($523.4 billion)—went under moratorium, according to data from the RBI RBI Business Today Its official! 39% of all loans in banking system now under 6-month moratorium Read more .

With the moratorium officially lifted, collection agents are seeing cases from lenders rain down on them. Rituparna Chakraborty, vice president at recruitment agency TeamLease, said that telecalling for collection services is now among the most in-demand roles.

Collection agents and frazzled borrowers like Ayesha are two sides of the lending coin. In the post-moratorium world where many are still struggling to repay their dues, there can only be one winner. Either borrowers prevail by not coughing up. Or the agent succeeds by completing a collection on behalf of lenders.

Thus far, according to collection agents The Ken spoke to, the former seem to be winning this battle. For instance, a Bengaluru-based collection agent, who caters to large banks like State Bank of India, saw cases increase 4X. To service this, he doubled his collection army to 400 agents over the last six months.

AUTHOR

Arundhati Ramanathan

Arundhati is Bengaluru-based. She is interested in how people use money in the digital age and how new economies will take shape based on that interaction. She has spent over 12 years reporting and writing on various subjects. Previous stints were at Mint, Outlook Business and Reuters.

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