4 ways collections can help consumers in a recession

By on April 1st, 2020 in Industry Insights

Consumer debt in the United States continues to climb into the tens of trillions of dollars, and as unemployment numbers continue to rise consumers are expected to continue to pay for essential services such as rent and utilities, companies are likely to see an exponential rise in delinquencies. All of these things together can cause financial spirals, especially for those already struggling to pay their bills.

In the midst of troubling economic downturn, it is the debt collection industry’s responsibility to remain a financial service and not create more damaging burdens. Here are four things you and your company can do to continue collecting and maintain customer relationships and loyalty even through challenging economic hardships.

Acknowledge the challenge

Communication is key. Your consumers have to know that they are seen and heard. Your mission has to help consumers navigate the challenges they’re facing.

Visitors to TrueAccord’s consumer website immediately see a banner drawing direct attention to the economic crisis. The banner links to a page with resources for those impacted (and available to those who are not impacted by COVID19) helping to answer the most frequently asked questions related to those with upcoming payments and in settlement plans. 

Provide non-collection related communications

Send communications that do not imply the existence of a debt. Do not mention any account, the balance due, or a demand for payment. Instead, provide other resources that can help anyone during this pandemic, like work from home opportunities, childcare assistance programs, and local resources for those in financial distress, including area food pantries and safe shelters. By providing tools that can aid consumers in need of help, you can be a guiding force for overcoming their financial burdens. 

Individuals in debt often need these resources year-round, not just in the middle of a crisis. These can include tools such as budgeting resources, debt payment calendars, or links to job boards for companies still hiring.

You may also consider sharing less direct financial resources such as educational tools that may be especially helpful to individuals seeking to improve their situation and parents hoping to address their family’s needs.

Extend payment plan lengths

One step that creditors can take that is simple but impactful and can help to alleviate financial concerns is to extend the length of consumers’ payment plans. Agreeing to longer payment plans gives consumers more time to pay, creating lower monthly payment rates, and leaving more dollars they can allocate to more immediate needs. 

Machine-learning and artificial intelligence can help to guide meaningful payment plan offerings. Read more about how new technologies are shaping digital debt collection.

Another step allows consumers to defer a payment. For many consumers in settlement arrangements, deferral may provide the assistance they need while not resulting in the loss of the settlement offer. In fact, North Carolina recognized this and passed this emergency law to make sure all consumers in the state have this option for the next 30 days.

Give consumers the power to manage their debts themselves

Implementing digital collections tools into your business can empower and educate consumers. Online portals and payment systems offer thousands of consumers the ease of access that they require of other financial institutions. 

Ideally, digital tools should extend beyond just payment options and should include opportunities for consumers to:

  • Make adjustments to the length and amount of their payment plans
  • Skip or defer a payment without losing a settlement
  • Dispute all or a portion of their debt
  • Apply for hardship pauses
  • Enter bankruptcy information

All without needing to speak to an agent.

The best debt collection practices should prioritize consumers’ needs and enable them to control their finances. It’s critically important to provide consumers with flexibility and the ability to customize when and how they pay.

Many in debt have tight budgets, live paycheck to paycheck, and sometimes are forced to choose between basic needs and paying bills. Leading the collections industry with compassion and empathy for those in need can make a lasting impact on consumers and creditors alike. 

Want to learn more about what we’re doing at TrueAccord and how we can help your consumers? Get in touch with us!

4 reasons companies worry about digital debt collection

By on March 26th, 2020 in Industry Insights

Committing to work with a collections agency can help to reduce the strain of losses on your business. Whether you’re an eCommerce platform with mounting chargebacks, a small lender, or a rapidly growing bank, working with the right collection agency can reshape how you manage delinquent payments. 

Some digital debt collection options also offer self-service products or platforms that allow companies to manage their collections efforts with an internal team supported by powerful, digital tools while other digital companies offer full-service collections.

No matter how you (or your collection agency partner) choose to collect, there are pros and cons to different approaches, and the newness of digital debt collection can create some cause for concern. It’s important to be informed and understand how digital debt collection can help you and actually directly combats many of the risks associated with collections.

“There’s a compliance risk”

Debt collection is a tightly regulated industry and in order to collect debts safely, companies have to conduct extensive training and build processes that adhere to those regulations. This includes federal laws like the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA), and any legislation passed through the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau regarding collections practices. Regulations on collections also vary broadly at the state-level. 

With all of these regulations in mind, companies that are beginning their debt collection efforts may be wary of investing in an extensive, internal infrastructure and will instead partner with established third-party debt collection agencies. Several digital debt collection platforms and tools have built-in compliance measures, but they still require internal teams to manage. With the proper systems in place, however, they can be used to great effect as they are coded to align with legal compliance measures. 

TrueAccord’s legal leadership team has been in the industry for decades. You can check out some of our legal advocacy work here and here!

Full-scale digital debt collection agencies take this a step further and are able to provide comprehensive debt collection services with built-compliance software alongside technology experts that manage the product for you. With measurable digital channels taking priority over agent calls, compliance fixes are integrated into every communication, no training required.

“This will impact how we talk to consumers”

Traditional collections agencies are driven by a call-to-collect model of business that leans on agents calling consumers. The collections industry has remained largely unchanged in its practices for decades, but consumer preferences have shifted. It’s becoming increasingly difficult to reach consumers over the phone; in fact, in the State of Collection 2019 report, one industry leader included in the survey said that “right-party contact has fallen off a cliff.” 

Transitioning to digital debt collection from traditional models is easier than you might think. Want to learn more about how easy it can be? Get in touch with us.

In order to meet the growing demand for convenient communication methods, digital debt collection strategies are redefining the industry’s approach to connecting with consumers in debt. While this digital transition will have a lasting impact on the collections industry, companies looking to start or change their collections strategy have the opportunity to work with partners that are embracing the change. 

“Setting up new technology takes time”

Implementing new processes always takes time. Using a traditional call-to-collection agency still requires building a business partnership and sharing debt portfolios for agents to begin working accounts. In the digital debt collection world, implementation can begin quickly and is made easier by uploading CSV files of contact information directly to the online platforms and applications.

Using internal digital tools can also cause delays due to the need for introducing agents and other team members to the system and allocating training time and resources to building infrastructure. Full-service digital-first collections agencies are able to merge the simplicity of starting with a digital strategy with the value of a dedicated team built specifically to manage these new processes. 

“We aren’t ready to bring on a new tool or partner right now”

Timing can be a blocker for any number of company decisions. Collections and recovery may be a year-round function, but teams still see a seasonal ebb and flow in payment rates. Trying to adopt a completely new strategy in the middle of a busy tax season, for example, can feel like a gamble. Or maybe you’re in the middle of a major acquisition or change in leadership and the business’ future is uncertain.

Even in times of change, it’s important to understand that digital collections tools perform better over time than traditional collections agencies. By beginning your digital approach sooner, even with a small subset of accounts, you can begin to compare digital efforts directly to other collections partners.

Comparing digital-first agencies and tools directly to traditional competitors on the market helps to illustrate the power of digital infrastructure on contact rates. The sooner you start, the sooner you can ramp up, and the sooner you can collect. 

Digital debt collection may be new, but that newness only serves to improve existing systems. Companies that depend on traditional collections efforts can see substantial growth in outreach using digital channels, and those that are not yet collecting have more opportunities to get started now than ever before. Future-proof your company’s losses, improve recovery rates, and keep your customers happy all at the same time. 

Connect with our team today to learn more about how digital debt collection is changing the industry for the better.

One True Holding Company writes to the CFPB

By on March 24th, 2020 in Company News

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) is set to help shape massive changes to the debt collection industry. In an effort to continue our mission to protect consumers from predatory and aggressive collections experiences, the co-founder of TrueAccord, Ohad Samet, recently drafted a letter to the CFPB’s Director Kathleen Kraninger.

In the midst of major economic uncertainty, we understand that we must be compassionate when many consumers are struggling financially. Offering consumers in debt flexibility by supporting and expanding the industry’s digital infrastructure enables us to extend self-service options to those that need it most and limit their exposure to collections efforts that are intrusive and harassing. 

Some states are considering freezing collections efforts, but we continue to believe in consumers’ ability to manage their finances for themselves. Access to online portals and self-service payment plan adjustments can help them manage their overdue accounts at their own pace, even in times of financial instability. A complete suspension of their ability to pay, if and when they can afford it, can make matters worse.

Passing the NPRM into law can help to restructure collections to protect consumers today. 

You can read our letter to Director Kraninger below:

Our letter to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau

Dear Director Kraninger,

I am the CEO of One True Holding Company, a technology company providing business- and consumer-facing solutions in the debt collection space. Our subsidiary TrueAccord Corp. offers machine learning-based, digital- and mobile-first servicing for debt in collections and recoveries. Our subsidiary True Life Solutions offers consumers a SaaS platform that consumers can use to contact collectors and creditors digitally.

We service millions of consumers on a monthly basis, sending more than 18 million emails a month. As a technology startup at the forefront of debt collection efforts, we have both quantitative and qualitative views of the state of the economy and debt collection within it.

Times like these require swift action, and technology allows us to empower consumers while reacting to changing circumstances without having to re-train a large workforce. Since the crisis began, we have been able to seamlessly launch features allowing consumers to modify their payment plans on their own and set up longer and more flexible payment arrangements. We are launching tools for clients to offer automated digital relief programs. Consumers still interact often with the emails we send as they try to stay abreast of their finances and remain informed. 1

Our pandemic response page, offering tools and perspectives about finances in this time, sees more than 1,200 daily visits. Technology offers better service, a sense of empowerment and agency, and keeps our users informed through complicated circumstances. As a consumer-focused company, we carefully track our customer satisfaction (CSAT) scores, and those have remained high (at 68.45% for the month of March). Consumers appreciate our approach, as these reviews also show:

Consumer review from 3/19/20 

You were patient. All emails were kind even from the beginning of my debt. You motivated me to repay my debts and monitor my credit. You appreciated me and I felt the extraordinary customer service from the day I first took the loan. I am grateful and even during this pandemic [emphasis added] I felt my loyalty to complete my payment of this loan over any other bill. Thank you again!

Consumer review from 3/18/20

Settled in a manner that facilitated affordable payments on a schedule that fit my life. I wish all collection agencies were this caring and flexable [sic]. Hopefully, I’ll never have another collections account, but if I do, I pray it’s with this agency.

As a single father making minimum wage, finding money to pay bills that aren’t crucial to keeping my kids healthy and happy is a real struggle, and my credit score had taken the hit in the past. I am really, truly grateful this is one acct that gets crossed off my list. Thanks!

I write today to ask the CFPB to accelerate its NPRM and swiftly push the industry to rely predominantly on digital communications for the purpose of debt collection. We need to continue to communicate with consumers through their channel of choice, in a non-intrusive manner, allowing them to easily manage their finances while controlling who they want to interact with. We need to continue to allow them to access their accounts and make adjustments to fit their personal circumstances.

Through this last week consumers have continued to set up customized payment plans on a daily basis, at a rate comparable to pre-tax season behavior. These are consumers acting on their own, responding to our low-frequency digital contact efforts. Finances aren’t one-size-fits-all, and a digitally native collection service supports this variety even in these trying times.

Thank you for your consideration and leadership in these trying times. We are eager to share as much data and qualitative observations as possible to support your policy-making and continue this conversation with a focus on consumer protection, choice, and experience

Citations

1. More than 20% open rate per each individual email broadcast as of 3/21, comparable with and exceeding eCommerce benchmarks

How can you help protect New Yorkers from aggressive collections?

By on March 17th, 2020 in User Experience

The collections industry continues to expand its digital footprint as growing consumer preference for digital channels combines with stricter regulations on call volume and call rates. Digital communications are standard today, but a key law passed in 2014 by the New York State Department of Financial Services of New York limits third-party collectors’ abilities to connect with consumers via email. 

We’ve seen the impact that digital communications can have on people’s lives, and you can help your fellow New Yorkers by sending the governor and your local official an email using the template at the end of this article!

The law (23 NYCRR 1)

Many existing collections laws are rooted in the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) from 1977, long before emailing, text messaging, and direct voicemail technologies existed. In an age of growing prefernece for digital communication, New York’s 2015 law—§ 1.6 of 23 NYCRR 1—states that collectors may only contact consumers via email if they have:

  1. Voluntarily provided an electronic mail account to the debt collector which the consumer has affirmed is not an electronic mail account furnished or owned by the consumer’s employer; and
  2. Consented in writing to receive electronic mail correspondence from the debt collector in reference to a specific debt. A consumer’s electronic signature constitutes written consent under this section. 

Shortly after the law took effect the New York Department of Financial Services compiled a list of answers to frequently asked questions. You can review them here.

These laws were put in place to protect consumers from collectors excessively emailing them, but consumers are not required to opt-in for debt collectors trying to call them on the phone. In the State of Collections 2019 report published by TransUnion and Aite Group, one collections industry leader said that “right-party contact has fallen off a cliff,” and for many debt collectors, this means that their existing call-based strategy is suddenly becoming unviable. 

On the other hand, we’ve found that consumers provide their email address opting into electronic communications with their creditors. In fact, 95% of accounts placed with TrueAccord come with an email address provided with the placement file. Of those we reach with our digital-first strategy, 65% of them open at least one email, and 35% click at least one link to begin the process of repayment.

When debts go unpaid, some creditors and collectors turn to legal action, and New York is suffering a resurgence of lawsuits since the passage of the 2015 debt collection law. In fact, 2017 saw a 61% increase in debt collection suits according to the New York State Unified Court System. In other states across the country, TrueAccord has seen dramatic growth in consumer debt repayment using email and other digital channels as the primary mode of communication. 

At TrueAccord up to 96% of accounts are resolved without speaking to an agent and nearly one-third of users prefer to manage their accounts outside of the “presumptively convenient” hours (8 am to 9 pm) legally outlined by the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act.

Consumers understand the ease of this digital management system and regularly share their positive experiences with a digital-oriented collection strategy. Here are a few:

  1. I liked that the email system was used rather than phone calls. I found it easy to use, and it helped me to gather information, figure out a plan, and get the bill paid. It was a small balance, but during this time, it seemed bigger to me. Thank you for your service.
  2. This was the best way for me to take care of my outstanding debts since I’m always on the road. Thank you for taking your time with me and not blowing up my phone!
  3. TrueAccord has been friendly and helpful, and your systems are always up and running for me to use. You should be proud!

The power of digital communication

Digital channels give people the power to access and manage their debts on their own time without having to work directly with call-center agents. Moreover, it provides greater consumer protection by providing a paper trail of debt communications, unlike aggressive phone calls that consumers most likely wouldn’t be able to record. The more hassle-free options that folks have to pay, the more likely they are to get out of debt and avoid aggressive call-and-collect agencies.

We want to encourage New Yorkers to make their preferences for easily accessible digital channels to be heard. Pay off your debts on your time, not on an emotionally charged phone call or in a courtroom. 

Reach out to Governor Cuomo by clicking here with the template below and make your voice heard. Once you’ve sent your email, share this information using #CollectWithoutCalls and let the governor’s office know that digital is easier for everyone!

Email template

The following text may be used as a template for reaching Governor Cuomo or other elected officials in your state. Please replace any content in the parentheses with your own information.

Subject: RE: 23 NYCRR 1

Dear Governor Cuomo,

My name is (your first and last name) and I am a (family member/service provider/advocate/community member) who resides in your district.

I feel that 23 NYCRR 1 concerning debt collection by third-party debt collectors and debt buyers places an undue burden on consumers in debt. It limits the ease and efficacy of digital communications and gives priority to intrusive and aggressive call-and-collect agencies. I prefer to use email and the internet to manage my own finances, and permitting 3rd-party collectors to email me directly (if / when) I am in debt gives me the ability to manage my accounts on my own time rather than at the collector’s discretion.

Please read here for more information about consumer preferences and see the movement on social media. #CollectWithoutCalls

Sincerely,

(Your name)

(Your city)

3 essential tips for managing chargebacks in eCommerce

By on March 12th, 2020 in Industry Insights

As more consumers shift away from physical stores and toward subscription services, online storefronts, and digital banking we have seen a growing number of chargebacks in the eCommerce space. In order to accommodate this, some companies even add costs associated with chargebacks to the price of their products (it’s estimated that for $100 in chargebacks, you are actually losing out of $240).

Other companies, unable to recoup losses themselves, send chargebacks to collection agencies, and they may be waiting for too long. Here are three things your eCommerce business can do to better understand chargebacks and mitigate your losses.

Analyze why the chargeback was filed

Not all chargebacks are fraudulent. Consumers may file a chargeback due to a billing error or an unauthorized purchase was made on their card. Doing an in-depth analysis of accounts prevents potentially damaging your own reputation with a consumer by sending them to collections without first seeking resolution. This also provides you with an opportunity to then reach out to your customers and understand the reasons they renege on their payment so that you can possibly prepare for similar situations in the future.

This also enables you to create a larger chargeback strategy. Being too lenient or allowing chargebacks to go unmanaged will leave you at a loss, being too strict may alienate otherwise loyal consumers, and investing time and money into smaller or more resistant accounts may lead to worse losses.

Developing a routine for who to reach out to and how to reach them based on historical behavioral data can help you to best recoup your losses before needing to send accounts to collections.

Start a conversation with your consumers

These communications can open more details than internal analysis. A consumer may have provided incorrect measurements for a garment or accidentally order 200 of something when they meant to order 20 and prompted a service dispute. You can work to maintain a relationship with the consumer and protect your brand. Chargebacks aren’t always driven by malicious intent, and you might be able to resolve the issue together.

Connecting with your consumer and resolving the situation is a best-case scenario post-chargeback. If you reach them and they continue to dispute the charge, cite your reasons and offer them an opportunity for response.

When you are supported by analytics, you have valid grounds to inform them that the chargeback will be sent to collections; ensure that you have documented your communications with them and send the account to your debt collection partner.

Find a debt collection agency before you think you’ll need one

The collections industry is often seen as a last resort for eCommerce teams, but waiting until your financial situation feels dire means that the collectors you hired are pressured to perform (and behave) aggressively and quickly. 

These collection strategies are often the foundation for the negative stigma surrounding the account recovery industry, and working with a debt collection partner that supports your brand and can collect chargebacks at a controlled, even rate provides you more flexibility. A more gradual effort can help you maximize your returns and protect your business.

Digital-first collection strategies can not only support but can help build your brand reputation! Read more about how they can help.

Partnering with the right collector can also, counterintuitively, help to prevent accounts from being sent to collections. The negative stigma of the collections industry extends to the minds of consumers, and many consumers fear the prospect of their accounts ending up in collections.

Whether this is due to the potential damage to their credit scores or their perception of traditional call-and-collect debt collection agencies, simply having a collections partner can help to reinforce your valid claim to payments before your recovery specialists ever see the account.

Chargebacks can be damaging to a business and catastrophic to small businesses. By effectively tracking them, understanding how to talk to your customers about their chargebacks, and recognizing when to escalate the issue to a partner company, you’ll be prepared to protect your eCommerce business. 

How is machine learning driven by experimentation?

By on March 6th, 2020 in Machine Learning, Product and Technology
microscopes in a laboratory

Building scalable technology requires constant evaluation and improvement. Experimenting is defined by trying new things and creating effective changes that help teams to make informed decisions around product development. Trying new things creates momentum, and organizations that are driven by experimentation turn that momentum into growth.

Machine learning and artificial intelligence support large-scale, concurrent experimentation that helps these technologies to improve upon themselves. With the right tools in place, you can test a variety of scenarios simultaneously.

For example, we use our systems to track changes in the collection process and better understand how our digital collections efforts can be improved. Since digital-first channels offer thorough tracking and analysis, including real-time tracking on our website, we can learn in short cycles and continuously improve our product. 

This kind of frequent experimentation helps to avoid making product development decisions based on untested hunches. Instead, you can test your instincts, measure them carefully, and invest energy where it matters.

Machine learning drives the experimentation engine

Aggregating historical data and processing it using machine learning algorithms and artificial intelligence helps you to understand their effectiveness. Regardless of how intelligent your learning algorithms may be, waiting to test and expand your knowledge base before marching blindly ahead can make or break the success of your product.

To launch an experiment, we follow these steps: 

  1. Start with a hypothesis that you want to test
  2. Assign a dedicated team to manage the experiment
  3. Monitor the performance of the test as it is guided by machine learning
  4. Iterate

B2B companies can benefit from partnering directly with clients to customize experiments for their unique product lines in order to make experimentation-based optimization an ongoing process for both new and existing business. Keep in mind that the goal of product optimization is not always jumping to the finish line. 

Understanding how your product works ultimately offers you and your customers more value, but it’s easy to become distracted by positive outcomes. Effective, scalable products require intentional design; if you’ve accomplished a goal, but the path there was accidental, taking a few steps back to review that progress and test it can help you to get a clearer picture and grow the way you want. 

Below are two sample experiments we conducted to optimize our machine learning algorithms. 

Experiment #1: Aligning Payments to Income

Issue

The number one reason payment plans fail is consumers don’t have enough money on their card or in their bank account. 

Hypothesis

If you align debt payments with paydays, consumers are more likely to have funds available, and payment plan breakage is reduced. 

Experiment

We tested three scenarios: a control, one where we defaulted to payments on Fridays, and one where consumers used a date-picker to align with their payments with their payday. After testing and analysis, we determined that the date-picker approach was the most effective as measured by decreased payment plan breakage without negatively impacting conversion rates.

By understanding which payment plan system was the most effective, we were able to provide our AI content that offered these plans as options to more consumers and integrate the knowledge back into our systems and track those improvements at a larger scale!

Experiment #2: Longer payment plans can re-engage consumers

Issue

Customers dropped off their payment plans and stopped replying to our communications.

Hypothesis

Customers can be enticed to sign up for a new plan if offered longer payment plan terms. 

Experiment

We identified a select group of non-responsive consumers that had broken from their payment plans and sent them additional text messages and emails. These additional messages offered longer payment plan terms than the plans they broke off from.

Ultimately, we found that offering longer payment plans, even with reference to the consumer’s specific life situations didn’t lead to an increase in sign-ups. The offers that we sent had high open and click rates but did not convert. This indicated that we were on the right track but needed to iterate and come up with another hypothesis to test.

This experiment was especially important because it illustrates that not every hypothesis is proven to be correct, and that’s okay! Experimentation processes take time, and the more information you can gather, the better your results will be in the future.

We’re able to simultaneously update our product and continue experimenting, thanks to algorithms called contextual or multi-armed bandits. Here’s what you need to know about these algorithms and how they help!

Building the newest, most innovative products feels exciting, but building without carefully determined direction can be reckless and dangerous. By regularly evaluating the effectiveness of machine learning algorithms, you can make conscious updates that lead to scalable change, and experimentation paves the way for consistent product improvement.

5 ways debt collection uses machine learning and artificial intelligence

By on February 28th, 2020 in Machine Learning

Machine learning algorithms are playing a key role in the collections industry’s technological growth. Companies are working to integrate artificial intelligence and machine learning into their strategies in response to changing regulations and evolving consumer preferences. These processes can look dramatically different from business to business!

Some technologies are being applied to optimize traditional call and collect strategies while others are building digital-first outreach platforms. Understanding how these algorithms are working for the industry can provide insight into the future of collections. 

Business intelligence and analytics

Business intelligence platforms are the foundation for the future of collections. They not only help companies understand how to best reach their existing accounts using traditional collections strategies but also integrate into other digital tools to create powerful automated systems. 

These algorithms process large sets of data such as call times, call effectiveness, the value of certain accounts, collections rates, and many other variables. By analyzing this information, teams can optimize their outreach strategies by focusing on accounts that are more likely to be collected on, understand what times of day or channels work the best, and even determine what language to use in conversation with specific subsets of accounts. 

Portfolio evaluation and exchange

By adding a clear scoring system to business analytics tools, teams can share their portfolios in an online marketplace with other creditors and debt buyers in order to buy, sell, and even outsource debts as needed.

While debt marketplaces are not new, real-time scoring updates and activity insights provide a dynamic, cloud-based view into a fluctuating market. 

Human-like contact center agents

As companies evaluate their data and optimize their outreach, they can also integrate digital agents to interact with consumers over the phone. Artificial intelligence software can be used to create human-like voices and personalized experiences for consumers.

These platforms can operate at scale more easily than sprawling call centers but still rely on a traditional call and collect model that consumers are shying away from. As consumer preferences shift toward digital channels, more machine learning tools can help to optimize for an omnichannel experience.  

Digital collections platforms

Digital collections software is able to optimize performance data and leverage it using a diverse, multi-channel communication approach. Phone calls may be included as part of a larger strategy, but these platforms are primarily built around modern consumer channels including email, SMS, push notifications, and direct drop voicemails.

Contextual bandit algorithms take channel selection to a level beyond traditional A/B testing. Even if 10% of your consumers prefer one message type to another, it’s important to understand all of your audience’s preferences.

Digital channels integrate seamlessly with decision making algorithms and can optimize communications in ways that call systems cannot. For example, digital channels like email can reach consumers outside of hours typically limited by the TCPA. 

25% of TrueAccord’s consumers access their accounts outside of the 9am to 9pm when traditional agencies cannot legally reach them.

Digital debt collection agencies

Each of these implementations of machine learning help to build a more personalized, more focused, and more forward thinking debt collecting experience for both consumers and creditors. One consistent factor that does limit their effectiveness is the need to build them into existing systems or alter processes at scale. 

A collection agency that bears the consumer in mind and has a machine learning-driven, digital-first strategy removes this hurdle and enables a full-service, easy to use experience for both companies and consumers. With these technologies built into a team rather than a product or service, digital debt collection agencies can provide the services outlined above alongside a dedicated infrastructure and a team of technology experts. 

Choosing the right tools and support for your company’s collection efforts is more important now than ever before, and understanding the options that are available can help you to future-proof your strategy before it’s too late.

Still have questions? Our team is happy to help make sense of what a digital-first collections agency can do. Set up some time to chat!

5 ways to encourage timely customer payments

By on February 21st, 2020 in Industry Insights

Expanding a small business requires a consistent and a steady, growing cash flow. Especially in the early stages of growth, a single, large payment or several smaller payments being delayed could mean the difference between keeping your doors open and closing up shop. 

Your consumers may delay or cancel their payment for any number of reasons: a more urgent financial need arose, they had a disagreement with you about your product or service, they simply forgot to pay, or they adamantly refused to pay for no reason at all. Navigating these situations with your customers can be a challenge and can take time and valuable resources. You have to consider:

  1. How much effort you’re willing or able to put into pursuing payment
  2. How much time you will spend on individual accounts
  3. Whether or not you’re willing to damage a customer relationship (or even lose them as a customer) to secure payment

Unfortunately, there is no right answer to these questions, and your business’ response will vary from case to case. 

Not everyone will pay what they owe

As delayed payments begin to pile up, many small businesses will begin to try to collect on these payments themselves, and the outside options are often limited due to traditional agencies having account volume or account value minimums. Traditional agencies are also seen as greedy, uncompromising, and even sometimes threatening according to a study published in the Journal of Business Ethics. You may only see 50% of whatever they are able to collect, and then also lose out on your customer relationships.

Some customers won’t pay. Period. Newer digital debt collection strategies can help to collect on these accounts and even build up your business’ reputation with consumers, but before you commit to using a 3rd-party collection service, there are some steps you can take to get closer to 100% payment rates! 

1. Have a clear plan for offering credit 

Negotiate payment terms in advance, write them down, and limit how much risk you take on each transaction. It can also help to adopt pre-paid models whenever possible and require a payment instrument before you let customers use your product. 

Your risk team should also be wary of newer customers without an established credit history. If you see a customer start using your product or service and they run up a significant balance in their first few days or weeks, monitor their account carefully. If you run an eCommerce business or a marketplace, frequent and aggressive purchasing sprees from new customers are a major red flag and should be examined before they become larger issues.

2. Charge and invoice promptly

By issuing your invoice or charging a payment instrument immediately following the completion of a job, you can secure payment without leaving room for evading payment.

Beyond that, you can build a (preferably automated) process for following up on chargebacks, outstanding balances, or invoices early and often. There is a careful balance between “often” and “too much” though, so be careful as you set up your contact cadence. Even if you don’t get paid on time, keeping yourself at the top of customers’ minds increases awareness and prepares them to negotiate payment terms when they’re able.

3. Make payment frictionless

Keep a payment instrument on file for your customers and verify it with a $0 authorization. You can also expand your available options and make it easy to set up multiple forms of payment; the more backup payment options you have on hand, the better your chances of completing payment. 

4. Talk to your customers like people

A few stray consumers may actively or angrily refuse to make a payment, but most of your customers want to stay out of debt. If you approach every delayed payment in this way, you can approach payment (and collections) with human in mind, and you can end up retaining a valuable, long term customer.

Customers that you work with may be able to provide invaluable feedback to your team’s processes. Make sure to follow up and talk to them!

Your small business’ goal with receivable management isn’t only to prevent late paying customers, it’s also to retain positive relationships with the most valuable ones. Don’t let a temporary situation ruin a beneficial long term relationship.

5. Prepare an escalation structure

Investing in preventing late paying customers can pay dividends to your bottom line, but retaining some expert help in the event you can’t collect on a delinquent account can be an effective strategy as well. Your risk team may be experts themselves, but accounts recovery is a complex industry to navigate, and if you don’t plan on building a full, first-party collections team in-house, you can form connections with other agencies. 

Having a small business collections partner as a last resort also increases your chances of recovery by informing customers that a delayed payment will likely move to collections. Consumers often recognize that having an account in collections can damage their credit scores and will do their best to pay if they are able.  

It’s not easy to prevent customers from missing the occasional payment, but by following a thorough process you can resolve delayed payments before they can damage your business. 

If delays begin to grow out of hand, you can always reach out to a digital debt collection agency like TrueAccord! Let our team know if you have questions.

Multi-armed bandit models and machine learning

By on February 19th, 2020 in Machine Learning

The term “multi-armed bandit” in machine learning comes from a problem in the world of probability theory. In a multi-armed bandit problem, you have a limited amount of resources to spend and must maximize your gains. You can divide those resources across multiple pathways or channels, you do not know the outcome of each path, but you may learn more about which is performing better over time.

The name is drawn from the one-armed bandit—slot machines—and comes from the idea that a gambler will attempt to maximize their gains by either trying different slot machines or staying where they are.

How do multi-armed bandits fit into machine learning?

Applying this hypothetical problem to a machine-learning model involves using an algorithm to process performance data over time and optimize for better gains as it learns what is successful and what is not. 

A commonly used model that follows this type of structure is an A/B/n test or split test where a single variable is isolated and directly compared. While A/B testing can be used for any number of experiments and tests, in a consumer-facing world, it is frequently used to determine the impact and effectiveness of a message.

You can test elements like the content of a message, the timing of its delivery, and any number of other elements in competition with an alternative, measure them, and compare the results. These tests are designed to determine the optimal version of a message, but once that perfect message is crafted and set, you’re stuck with your “perfect” message until you decide to test again.

Email deliverability plays a key role in effective digital communications. Check out our tips for building a scalable email infrastructure.

Anyone that works directly with customers or clients knows that there is no such thing as a perfect, one-size-fits-all solution. Message A, when pitted against Message B may perform better overall, but there is someone in your audience that may still prefer Message B.

Testing different facets of your communication in context with specific subsets of your audience can lead to higher engagement and more dynamic outreach. Figure 1 below outlines how a multi-armed bandit approach can optimize for the right content at the right time for the right audience rather than committing to a single option.

Rather than entirely discarding Message A, the bandit algorithm recognizes that roughly 10% of people still prefer it to other options. Using this more fluid model is also more efficient because you don’t have to wait for a clear winner to emerge, and as you gather more relevant data, they become more potent.

Multi-armed bandits and digital debt collection

Collections continues to expand its digital footprint, and combining more in-depth data tracking with an omni-channel communication strategy, teams can clearly understand what’s working and what isn’t. Adapting a bandit algorithm to machine learning-powered digital debt collection provides endless opportunity to craft a better consumer experience. 

Following from Figure 1, digital collections strategies can determine which messaging is right for which consumer. Sorting this data in context can mean distinguishing groups based on the size or the age of the debt and determining which message is the most appropriate. In a fully connected omni-channel strategy, the bandit can take a step back and determine which channel is the most effective for each account and then determine messaging.

These decisions take time and thousands upon thousands of data points to get “right,” but the wonder of a contextual multi-armed bandit algorithm is that it doesn’t stop learning after making the right choice. It makes the right choice, at the right time, for the right people, and you can reach your consumers the way they want to be reached.

TrueAccord is optimizing how our multi-armed bandit algorithms create the ideal consumer experience. Come learn more about how we collect better!

3 essential digital channels for collections

By on February 13th, 2020 in Industry Insights

The debt collection industry is in the midst of rapid change. With the decline of the effectiveness of phone calls and upcoming legislation from the CFPB that includes limiting call volume, it’s more important than ever that your company’s collections strategy diversifies and introduces a digital, multi-channel approach to communicating with consumers.

Determining what digital channels work the best for your collection strategy isn’t an overnight decision, and using them effectively is another hurdle entirely. When reviewing potential communication channels, you have to consider how you want to use them, how you plan to scale them, and what the investment will be for doing those things properly.

Email

According to the State of Collection 2019, email is the most commonly used digital channel used to communicate with consumers in debt (beating SMS text messaging by 45%). Its frequency of use, however, does not mean that it is necessarily being used effectively. Sending manual emails haphazardly can lead to mixed results at best.

Trying to send emails at the scale required of a dedicated agency, however, is even more difficult, and poor email management can lead to low deliverability rates, poor domain authority (you may end up relegated to spam folders), and can even end up getting your company’s sending domains blacklisted from reaching any of your consumers. Figure 1, below, shows Debt Collector A’s email sending volume.

Figure 1

Sending hundreds of thousands of emails per month can seem like an effective strategy at face value, but when deliverability is taken into consideration, that appearance changes.

Figure 2, below, mirrors the bar graph in Figure 1 and represents the percentage of the emails sent from Debt Collector A that are delivered to an inbox vs. those that are filtered into a spam folder.

Figure 2

A 2019 email client market share study by Litmus shows just how valuable it can be to understand how to work with individual email service providers that all come with their own unique challenges and filters to protect their users. Gmail, for example, maintains 28% of email users, but only 1% of Debt Collector A’s emails are reaching Gmail users.

Cost

Emails can be an effective strategy, but doing so effectively at scale requires extensive infrastructure. That infrastructure includes five major things, including bringing on email experts to work with email service providers, detailed performance tracking, and creating valuable content for your consumers to engage with. Simple email may not cost much, but building a powerful email-driven strategy from the ground up won’t be cheap or easy.

Emails can serve as the foundation of an omni-channel digital strategy, but creating an ecosystem for consumers to engage at their convenience requires more than one tool.

SMS text messaging

Smartphones abound, and when Americans are sending roughly 26 billion text messages every day, it’s easy to see the potential in the texting as a collections communication channel. Millennials spend 3X more time texting than calling or emailing, and they hold an average of $4,712 in consumer debt (not to mention mounting student debt) which makes them prime targets for daunting debt collectors hounding them about a balance. This can be intimidating and turn consumers further away from wanting to work with you.

SMS allows for fast, direct contact with consumers that are on the move, don’t have time for a phone call, and may have breezed past an email or two. By creating a flexible system with multiple touch-points across different channels, you can create an organic system of contacting consumers rather that gives them the power to contact your team when and where they want.

Key uses for SMS:

  1. Payment notifications
    1. Following up with customers to confirm a payment can help to reassure them that their next step toward financial freedom is done and increases transparency between your business and consumers. 
  2. Payment reminders
    1. Even consumers on a payment plan might forget once in a while. A ping with a text message can be just enough of a nudge to remind them to log in and make their scheduled payment.
  3. Providing instant access to their account
    1. By providing a one-click option for a consumer to make their payment, you can make taking the next step easy! Pairing this option with a simple online payment portal gives consumers the opportunity for a full self-service experience.
  4. Tracking your performance
    1. As is the case with other digital channels, tracking your data and performance is easier than ever with texting. You can A/B test messaging and get consistent results for improving engagement.

When you’re considering what to include directly as part of the content of a text message, keep in mind that people expect texts to be short! Length aside, make sure to avoid:

  1. Sensitive information (e.g., account balances, credit card information, etc).
  2. Misleading information
  3. Threatening consumers
  4. Harassing consumers

Text messages have a 209% higher response rate than phone, email, or Facebook, and part of the reason for that is that they are digestible and often feel informal and friendly. On the flip side, misleading, threatening, and harassing texts not only deter engagement and damage your brand, they are also illegal.

Plus, the CFPB’s proposed rules will give consumers the ability to opt out of text messaging, and your texting numbers can still be blocked manually. Be selective with the messages you send and consider the consumer experience.

Getting started with texting using certain software companies can be as cheap as pennies per message. Full-scale agencies like TrueAccord also make use of SMS tools as part of a broader collections strategy alongside other digital tools.

Direct drop voicemail

Direct drop voicemails (also known as ringless voicemail drops) are a unique channel that can help supplement a digital communication strategy but can’t do much on their own. Rather than an agent calling a consumer directly, a voicemail is delivered to the recipient’s inbox without their phone ringing (hence the name).

The consumer still receives a message from a pre-recorded voice that can relay much of the same information that they would have gotten from an agent, but they do not feel the urgent response pressure associated with a phone call. Much like text messages, direct drop voicemails can be used sparingly as a touch point to remind consumers of upcoming payments or ask them to check an email or call an agent back.

From a cost perspective, direct voicemail offerings can range from a few cents to a few tenths of a cent depending on the provider, and many companies will charge based on successful drops rather than a flat charge for the volume sent which can avoid costs incurred for out of date or incorrect phone numbers.

Both direct drop voicemails and text messages are legally classified as phone calls by the TCPA as the law applies to “placing a call or text to a consumer using the consumer’s mobile number.” Be careful with when and how you decide to use either channel in your collections strategy!

As consumer preferences and collections law continue to evolve, we should expect to see rapid growth in both existing digital channels as well as the emergence of others! Effectively integrating these tools into your strategy together can create a much larger impact than any one channel in isolation, and teams that build these systems today will be the future leaders of the industry very soon.