One of the many significant impacts of the pandemic crisis is citizens’ increasing vulnerability to debt. Business closures, reduced wages, permanent and temporary layoffs, and delayed unemployment benefits result in increased personal financial uncertainty and indebtedness.

For Finland’s Ministry of Justice, technology is playing a key role in providing high-quality financial and debt counseling services that help citizens more effectively manage their debt, safeguard their mental and financial well-being, and rebound from the current crisis.

Developing a new centralized system

In Finland, debt counseling was the responsibility of municipalities and regional government agencies. Following an amendment to the law that came into force on January 1, 2019, financial and debt counseling services were transferred to 27 legal aid offices to provide the services under the Ministry of Justice.

To support this transition, the Legal Register Centre (ORK), the agency responsible for the provisioning of IT services in the administrative sector of the Ministry, needed a new centralized information system.

For close to two decades, CGI has been a transformation partner to the Ministry of Justice, supporting a number of initiatives across its departments. When the need for a centralized and agile financial and debt counseling system arose, ORK chose CGI to help.

Leveraging an agile approach to bring together disparate systems and improve service levels

At the time CGI experts began working with ORK to develop the new system, the number of Finns’ defaulting on payments was on the rise. According to Suomen Asiakastieto (a leading provider of consumer information services), in June 2019 there were more than 380,000 people in the payment default register, or about 6.9% of the population.

In addition to a growing debt problem, disparate systems spread across agencies and municipalities led to inconsistent services. Furthermore, when citizens relocated to a different municipality, accessing their information was a challenge.

Together with ORK, CGI developed an agile financial and debt counseling system that unified processes and services support.

CGI’s team comprising experts from local Finnish offices and a nearshore delivery center in Portugal provided the right mix of local accountability with global value. Using the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe), the team ensured a high degree of agility and transparency, enabling continuous communication and quick feedback from various stakeholders throughout the project.

User friendliness was one of the cornerstones of the project. By involving a user group during development, the team understood and addressed usability requirements. For instance, the system includes a calendar that enables officials to manage their time and work more effectively.

Supporting the seamless flow of information to enable better decision making

The new system is helping the Ministry support those in its care, particularly needed during this challenging time. For example, since the pandemic, the number of payment defaulters has risen to 390,000 (as of May 2020).

The new system collects data more efficiently and provides a faster, more uniform service and a clearer picture of citizens' economic problems. The information supports improved decision making for citizens to better manage debt and plan finances, and for officials to manage their work more effectively.

As the system is nationwide, citizens can approach any legal aid office irrespective of the municipality they reside in, and in the event they move, their information follows.

Through strong client involvement and trust and continued agile development, CGI experts have expanded the system’s functionalities to support improved quality of citizen interactions with the judiciary. Recently, a new citizen services functionality was introduced that allows citizens to view their information online and communicate directly with their debt counselor.

Cooperation with CGI has been seamless, and even challenging issues have been discussed directly and solutions have been sought in good cooperation. CGI managed to scale and grow the team as the project progressed. The financial and debt counseling system project is a good example of how to make agile development, nearshore delivery, and client cooperation work within a strict time frame.

Mika Kanervisto, Service Manager, Senior Specialist at the Legal Register Center

Continuing to reinvent services and citizens’ access to the judiciary

ORK recently partnered with CGI to accelerate the development of its e-services. The contract aims to facilitate better and more efficient interaction between citizens and the judicial administration. E-services will process information in digital format, from initiating proceedings to resolution and archiving, and citizens can track processing of their cases in different phases.