Tracing people, helping families
By Nikki Jacobs, Operations Manager
Over the past six months, Fairheads has developed another value-add service to our list of growing products – tracing services. In addition to the specialisations we can now offer retirement funds in this area, our stand-alone tracing services have an important side benefit of providing jobs for micro-enterprises and thus contributing to enterprise development in the country.
An expanded tracing service is a logical progression from the tracing work we have always done over the past three decades in our beneficiary fund and umbrella trust administration services. Here, our fiduciary duty has been to keep in touch with members or beneficiaries, normally via their guardians or caregivers. We have required them to send us a “certificate of existence”. It often happens that people change address or phone numbers and then we have gone out of our way to trace them, acting on a mandate from the board of trustees of the fund in question.
Where we have not been able to trace a member using our in-house system, we are mandated to use external tracing service providers. We also pioneered the use of our own field agents who traverse the country, making home visits or enquiring at the local church or police station about the whereabouts of “missing” members.
One of our unique strengths is that our employees and partners go beyond the traditional ways of finding members, having gained a solid understanding of the community and employer networks that can be tapped into to make positive connections. These include schools, local tribal authorities and various non-governmental organisations.
These services have always been driven with a sole purpose in mind – to ensure that our members receive the much-needed money owed to them. It would not be an exaggeration to say that we are passionate about tracing.
Extending the service and growing our tracing team
We believe that our experience gained in administering death benefits, particularly in finding those who have not yet become credit-active and therefore have no digital footprint, places us in a unique position to offer superior tracing services to the retirement fund industry – including finding solutions to address the serious challenge of unclaimed benefits.
Often, large retirement funds do not have the capacity to contract directly with tracing service providers because of the numbers involved, as well as the time required to ensure their governance standards are satisfactory.
It is this gap in the market that we seek to remedy and therefore, in the fourth quarter of 2019, we started to explore the possibility of extending our tracing capability.
We approached the board of trustees of a certain client fund and offered to undertake a pilot project to trace some 140 members who had previously been unsuccessfully traced by three other tracing service providers. The trustees were amazed at our success rate over a relatively short period of time and this has given us confidence to go ahead and grow our tracing services proactively.
Our team has now grown to 10 people. We offer the service in all languages and our team has been chosen for their skills in dealing with people, an ability to ‘think on their feet’, and a passion for finding people to whom monies are due, in order to help improve – indeed sometimes transform – others’ lives.
Investing in technology
Traditionally, most tracing agencies use manual processes, such as spreadsheets to record data. Fairheads’ IT department has now set about digitising our tracing service. Our approach is to harness technology as far as possible to find those who have a digital footprint. However, discrepancies in data means that we use human intervention throughout the tracing process to clean and segment data in order to find more members.
This, together with our growing network of foot-soldiers sets us apart in the tracing game.
Consider the following example of a recent set of cases that we managed to trace. From data we received we were able to establish that the subject of our trace lived on a particular street at some stage in the past. Using databases available to us, our tracing agent searched for people who still lived on the street and phoned them, asking if they perhaps remembered our subject. After a number of attempts, our agent spoke with an ex-neighbour who was still in contact with our subject and was given his phone number. Through this contact, our agent was able not only to establish contact with our subject, but was also able to make contact with a number of other trace subjects who had worked with him, had unclaimed benefits in the fund, and with whom he had remained in contact.
This example highlights the impact that applying human logic and curiosity to the tracing process can have and is what differentiates Fairheads from many other tracing providers. A large degree of diplomacy and cultural knowledge is also required. As we have discussed in a previous issue of Fairheads Times, often the people who are finally contacted, are naturally suspicious when told that a sum of money is owed to them – there are many scam operators in this field and so sometimes we resort to asking the employer’s retirement fund to write a letter explaining that they have given Fairheads permission to undertake a trace.
There are times when the only remaining method of finding missing members is through deploying feet on the ground. In addition to our own field agents and others whom we use, we are sourcing, engaging and coordinating appropriately placed providers, including those who operate as small, often single person micro-enterprises, within the communities that they live. We refer to them as our ‘foot soldiers’. This is a win-win solution: tracing members and creating jobs.
Our aim is to help develop these micro-enterprises by providing not only a means of income, but also the support required to sustain their business. This includes giving them access to a system which they use to track their cases. Fairheads carries due diligence responsibilities with these partners.
Please do not hesitate to contact Fairheads if you require more information on our stand-alone tracing services. You may contact me directly on email@example.com.
Fairheads Financial Services (Pty) Ltd is an authorised financial services provider FSP 18435