MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Memphis Light, Gas and Water is working to move customer payment centers out of 30 Ace Cash Express locations around the city to help customers avoid exposure to potentially predatory loans.
The concern is that by having pay agents inside a high-interest loan location, MLGW is exposing its customers to a hazardous financial situation.
“We also want to encourage positive behavior within a positive environment and not inadvertently promote predatory lenders,” said City Councilwoman Michalyn Easter-Thomas.
It will be a tough balance to strike — MLGW wants to move the locations while also making sure customers have access and options when it comes to paying their utility bills.
MLGW acknowledges that, while it does have 30 pay agents in Ace Cash Express businesses across Memphis, it’s not the loan group they have a relationship with.
Back in 2016, they signed a contract a vendor called Firstech, who happens to be located within Ace Cash Express — but the company is working to re-locate those agents.
“We are working with the vendor Firstech to find ways to make the necessary changes to mitigate the concern, and that’s actually been a very positive conversation,” MLGW President and CEO JT Young said. “It’s gonna take them a few months to get that done, two to three months, but we’re going to make sure that happens sooner rather than later.”
Firstech released a statement Tuesday claiming less than 3% of MLGW customers took out a loan within 24 hours of the visit to pay their bills.
But the city and MLGW recognize the questionable optics, and say they’ll continue to try to enhance the customer experience.
“I think you’re right to try and pull them out of there. It just doesn’t look right,” Councilman Jeff Warren said. “It’s the good thing to do.”
Young assured the council that MLGW will not decrease the amount of options that customers have.
“Our goal is to ensure that customers have an excellent experience. Providing more payment options for customers helps with that,” Young said.