Debt recovery and collection look quite different in 2022 than it did ten, five, even just a year ago: new channels to reach consumers, larger data sets to analyze, complex regulations that can vary state by state, and so much more.
So when it comes to deciding the best way to engage consumers and effectively recover debt, has your strategy evolved to keep up? Machine learning, artificial intelligence, data science—these terms are thrown around a lot, and for good reason.
But how does it tactically improve the experience for both lenders and members?
Decoding Machine Learning for Debt Collection and Recovery
To help decipher real differences between a machine learning strategy versus the traditional call-and-collect, we have designed a highly visual guide to cut through the jargon and help you understand the basics of machine learning in collections. Decoding Machine Learning for Debt Recovery and Collection provides straightforward definitions, clear diagrams, and bottom line benefits make this eBook your at-a-glance guide to machine learning in debt collection.
From delivering a better experience in-line with what consumers expect from businesses to streamline communications, machine learning has gone from a “nice to have” to a “must have” for collection efforts.
Upgrade Debt Recovery & Collection With HeartBeat
Although this type of technology is a step in the right direction, it’s only one step forward—your debt collection strategy can go even further with TrueAccord’s patented decision engine, HeartBeat.
Integrating machine learning into your practice is certainly important—but how does this technology know what the best choice is to engage all of your delinquent accounts now and in the future?
Say hello to HeartBeat, our intelligent decision engine, and say goodbye to missed debt recovery opportunities left on the table by basic machine learning models. See exactly how HeartBeat upgrades your collection strategy in our new eBook, Upgrade Debt Recovery & Collection With HeartBeat—the more in-depth companion piece to our visual guide to machine learning (detailed above).
While HeartBeat utilizes machine learning in its decision-making process, it is not limited to it. This decision engine is continuously evaluated for performance, and adjusted to align with the current economic situation, changes in consumer behavior, and updates to compliance rules.
If you are switching from a more traditional outbound approach then a basic machine learning model can provide a short-term lift in recovery rates, but will hit a dead end when it comes to optimizing, adapting, and improving over time. HeartBeat is set up for the long game and recovers more because of it.
Discover how an intelligent, digital-first collection strategy drives overall improved performance, better member experience, and the more effective recovery of delinquent funds—without implementing more manual processes or adding headcount to your team.
On May 23, 2022, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), in partnership with the New York Attorney General, filed a proposed judgment against a debt collection enterprise with a history of deception and harassment to pay $4 million and be permanently banned from the debt collection industry.
This follows the September 2020 Federal Trade Commission (FTC) initiative “Operation Corrupt Collector” to protect consumers. The FTC, along with more than 50 federal and state law enforcement partners, focused on several predatory collection methods, including “phantom debt collection,” a practice where companies were trying to collect debts they cannot legally collect or that a consumer does not owe.
According to federal regulators in the 2022 case, the group of debt collectors in upstate New York went after their targets by calling friends, family and employers and orchestrating “smear campaigns” against people they claimed owed money—only one part of the predatory practices the debt collection ring employed.
Predatory Practices in Debt Collection
The collection industry has long been scrutinized for the methods used to engage and recover debts, but technology and social media have created new avenues for predatory practices to evolve. In addition to the smear campaigns, other illegal tactics to collect debt outlined in the CFPB lawsuit include:
Falsely claiming arrest and imprisonment
Lying about legal action
Inflating and misrepresenting debt amounts owed
Harassing people with repeated phone calls
Failing to provide legally mandated disclosures
Contacting to Collect Via Social Media
As of November 30, 2021, debt collectors can now contact consumers on social media. This change to the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) did include specific rules for social media communications:
The message must be private
The debt collector must identify themself
The debt collector must provide a way for the consumer to opt-out of social media communications
In addition to these new rules under the FDCPA, collectors who abuse or harass consumers via social media violate the Dodd Frank Act’s prohibition against unfair deceptive abusive acts or practices (UDAAPs). The CFPB and FTC through Operation Collection Protection, also look to prosecute UDAAPs in their protection of consumers
Compassion Collects More (and Protects Against Penalties)
Although the majority of collectors do not go as far as committing “emotional terrorism,” as one social media smear campaign victim described in the 2022 lawsuit, finding the appropriate way to connect with today’s consumers to recover delinquent funds can seem nebulous—and nerve-racking with the potential for hefty penalties.
Even as communication channels expand and new regulations are handed down, best practices to engage with consumers remain the same: friendly, humane messages will empower and motivate customers to pay more effectively than aggressive outreach and threats. TrueAccord has proven that this compassionate approach works with more than 16 million customers served, 4.7 on Google reviews, A+ rating with the BBB, overwhelmingly positive customer feedback, and industry-leading recovery results.
If transforming the way you reach customers to recover delinquent accounts isn’t on your radar in 2022, a year where projected delinquencies are expected to soar, you’re at risk.
Fortunately, we recently rounded up a panel of experts to share their insights and experiences taking those first steps away from outbound calling and toward better consumer communication in our webinar “What Labor Shortage, Wage Inflation, and Regulatory Restrictions Mean for Your Call Center”—available to watch on-demand now»
Below are some of the top questions, answers, and first-hand accounts from our discussion (plus some attendee poll results):
What percentage of contacting consumers is done via phone vs other channels?
Heather Bentley [HB]: Overall a little bit above 50%, but that includes outbound calling from live agents and interactive self-serve calls, which really is more the digital channel.
John Craven Sr [JC]: Live agent we’re at 0%. We do use a virtual agent, so I would say we use that virtual agent probably 40% to 45% of the time.
Jennifer Masterson [JM]: We’re close to 50/50. We will always be taking phone calls, but we are doing a lot more now in the digital space trying to contact people.
Richelle Rocazella [RR]: Less than 1% of our communication is via phone. And that is all inbound when we do engage with our customers. We will only make an attempt to reach a customer via phone if they have requested a call.
What does outbound calling versus an omnichannel strategy look like at your organization?
JM: An omnichannel strategy triggers customers to get them to self-serve and frees up our agents to talk to customers that need more help or more assistance. That’s really where the more valuable conversations happen.
HB: It’s really about putting the two pieces together [outbound and other channels], and trying to find the sweet spot of customer experience and collection effectiveness. Pulling those two things together – so if we find customers who are responding to a specific channel like text, but then if they go past the point we would normally see in delinquency, we can say, “Wait a minute, something’s different. Now we need to call this customer.”
JC: When you take a person that’s spending a good portion of their day making outbound calls, and you turn them into an inbound agent where they’re talking to a customer almost every time that the phone rings, the maximization of your employee’s time puts you into a completely different realm of being able to perform.
Was COVID or labor shortage and wage inflation a driving factor in the shift to a more digital approach and self-service approach?
JM: We started before COVID because consumer behavior was dictating it. It’s really hard to get someone to pick up the phone. The number of times that you actually connect to somebody live on dials is really low. That’s really what drove us to start going down the digital path. Now, I think there’s a ton of benefits to be gained from that, things like when COVID happened, this labor shortage. Once you have the channels in place, it becomes easier to ramp them up or down depending on what’s happening in the economy.
How did you get started?
HB: We started individual channels at times with easy things like virtual messages, then interactive messaging and email and text, and then moved into two-way in those channels. And we’re still working so that you could have the same experience in that digital space that you’d have with an agent on the phone.
JC: In 2014 [Cox Communications] started texting customers and then we added email around 2017, but we didn’t have a digital platform at that time. We implemented a digital platform in early 2020, and fortunately we were able to go full omnichannel with integrated channels that we were able to roll out.
What are some of the challenges to building an omni-channel strategy?
RR: Making sure all channels are integrated to develop a full customer experience journey. Also ensuring service levels are maintained as more channels are added.
HB: If you’re not sequencing [the channels] and working them together, it can be like bombing your customers again. If you’re bombing them with calls and now you’re bombing with text and with email and it’s just, “Hey, we’ll just try everything.” You quickly desensitize your customers to your communications.
JC: We set up all the channels and then we went on a journey to bring them all in and orchestrate them so they were working together. If I can suggest anything to those that are using the phone strategy, if you’re ready to start your digital journey, start with a journey that is an orchestrated journey, instead of building out the channels and then trying to bring them all together. You’ll get so much further ahead and a quicker response to digital integration.
From a self-serve standpoint for debt collection and recovery, what are some of the compliance or regulatory challenges to keep in mind?
HB: As we move to digital channels, [regulators] move their focus to what happens in email and on your website and in text messages, because before their focus has been about calling over the last 10 years. So as an industry we have to stay ahead of that and think both like a customer and like a regulator. Be a bit conservative in some of your interpretations of how far and wide your communications go.
JC: From the risk side of things, if you’re moving from an analog or non-digital traditional approach to a digital approach, think how to digitize your compliance rules that may have some risk mitigation in it. Don’t create a new reality—make sure that you replicate what you have already in place to make sure you have safeguards.
JM: On the phone side you’re dealing with agents that have to remember to say things right. But coming out of COVID a lot of the banks and other financial institutions put hardship assistance online just as an example, and I think the regulators like that because everybody’s essentially getting the same experience. I think it’s easier to be in compliance and meet all the regulatory requirements in a channel like that, than it is with agents.
What was the best way organizations should have prepared to meet the guidelines for the CFPB’s Regulation F to move to a more omnichannel approach?
RR: The best thing any organization could have done for Reg F would be to have a strong legal and compliance group that you work with. While it’s not something that drives revenue, it is a must in every organization.
Where would be an ideal place to start exploring or considering if you’re moving away from the outbound call center and looking to integrate more channels?
JC: Whatever your strategy is, you need to set yourself on a path making sure that your digital journey has a brain. Recognize that different profile customers react differently to different contact channels. As you use your omnichannel approach, having that brain mentality. Knowing what your customers’ preferences are and then leveraging those preferences will set you on a great path to performance.
JM: Every company is different in terms of what capabilities you have or don’t have. While texting and emailing made sense for PNC at first, maybe there’s another channel that a company can easily plug into. Start wherever you can because consumers don’t want to pick up the phone and call. Whether it’s the ideal option or not, give consumers another path and another option. Start somewhere and then build off of that in whatever way makes sense for your organization.
RR: For businesses in the early stages of adopting a more omnichannel approach for collections, email or text would be a good place to start.
“Death of the call center”—you may have heard this phrase before, but today’s labor shortage, wage inflation, regulatory risks, and changing consumer behavior are all nails in the coffin of this once sure-fire business tactic.
But don’t say a final farewell to the call center just yet. There is a way to utilize those phones to more effectively reach your business goals—especially when it comes to recovery and collection operations.
To understand how collections call centers can survive and remain profitable in recovering delinquent funds, we need to understand the difference between two basic functions of a call center: outbound calling vs. inbound servicing.
Outbound Calling: Call center agents dial out directly to customers
Inbound Servicing: Call center agents answer incoming calls made by customers
A 2020 survey showed the effectiveness (or ineffectiveness) of outbound phone calls to collect debts due for more than 30 days.
When we break it down, we can start to see that the outbound model to collect on delinquent accounts is truly on life support this time around.
So What are the Killers of Outbound Call Centers in 2022?
When the “Death of the Call Center” was first foretold back in the early 2000s, the culprit was firmly identified as the internet and technology taking over the call center career opportunities for people.
But a closer look shows this isn’t the case given today’s massive shifts in the labor market, regulations, and consumer behavior.
Labor Shortage & Wage Inflation New technologies aren’t pushing people out of working in call centers—people just don’t want outbound calling jobs like they used to. Competition to hire is fierce and compounded by the Great Resignation sweeping through the market. Unfortunately, many outbound call centers already faced notoriously high (and costly) attrition rates as well.
On top of that, call center wages have increased by 15%+ since the pandemic began, an astounding spike even when every industry is riding the wave of wage inflation.
Regulations & Consumer Expectations Outbound dialing platforms must comply with a long list of regulations—especially in the debt recovery and collection sector, like the TCPA, FDCPA, and Reg F—all before they can even start talking about recovering delinquent accounts…that is, if anyone even answers their call.
Consumer preferences have moved away from talking on the phone and moved towards self-service options online. Do a quick google search on how to stop debt collection calls and an endless amount of articles will pop up. But overall, consumers have found an even simpler solution: don’t answer the phone.
So can you actually connect with your customers through a call center?
A Second Chance for Call Centers
In the wake of changing labor markets, regulations, and consumer behavior, businesses must evolve to integrate digital-first solutions into call center operations to save manpower, regulatory compliance efforts, and customer satisfaction. We may be perpetuating the old trope, but 2022 really could spell the end for outbound call centers as we know them, and be the opportunity to transform them into inbound engagement centers.
The freeze on student loan payments has been a hot topic since the start of the pandemic—not just for borrowers, but for debt collection departments outside of the student loan debt sector. Although student loan borrowers get a reprieve for another few months, repaying other debts can still be a tricky issue for consumers to budget for today. Debt collectors need to find ways to start engaging with borrowers now before student loans get added back on to the balance.
The Freeze Continues Through the Summer
On April 6, 2022, only weeks before collections were set to resume in May 2022, the Biden administration announced another four-month extension on the freeze for federal student loan payments, interest, and collections. After granting several extensions due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, the decision to further extend the pause reflects the challenging economic landscape and unmanageable financial burden faced by many Americans.
While this is another round of relief for the approximate 42.9 million Americans with student loan debt, the proverbial can is just getting kicked farther down the road as the relief is only temporary. Additionally, uncertainty leading up to the announcement left many in what has become a familiar anxious limbo of whether or not they would be expected to restart their payments; and that uncertainty can have a broader impact for debt collections beyond student loans.
Don’t Forget the Debts that Don’t Have an Indefinite Moratorium
Student loan debt collection may be dominating the headlines, but it is often not the only financial burden borrowers are carrying. Out of the number of adults with student loans, about 23 million (69%) have at least one additional type of debt, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Looking at it even closer, surveys found that among those with student loans, consumers also had:
Credit card debt (52%)
Vehicle loans (33%)
Medical debt (18%)
The newscycle focus and the ongoing uncertainty of student loan repayments can be confusing to borrowers with multiple debts who are prioritizing based on their cash flow, putting them at an increased risk for delinquency. As noted in our Q1 Industry Insights, February marked the 9th month in a row with increasing 30+ delinquency rates on a unit basis across debt types, notably delinquency increases in first mortgages, second mortgage, auto leases and unsecured personal loans.
And with student loans once again receiving temporary relief, these consumers will likely focus on repaying their other debts. The key for collectors is to understand how to engage with consumers that have limited budgets through a variety of affordable repayment options.
Engaging Consumers Digitally with Repayment Options
The first step is to actually connect with consumers to stay top of mind. While phone calls can go unanswered and canned emails go ignored, reaching customers through customized, digital-first communications can help businesses recover more by reaching those that are ready to repay debts. Consumers already use these types of platforms to interact—surveys found that 46% of people exclusively use digital channels for their financial needs, including banking and bill paying.
The second step is to offer consumers repayment options and flexibility knowing they may be balancing multiple bills. With so many financial options at their disposal, consumers have to monitor an increasing number of accounts for banking, credit cards, autopay, recurring payments, installment plans and more. The ability to choose a payment date that aligns with paydays or to push back a payment when something unexpected comes up are invaluable for consumers and will actually lead to brand affinity and better customer experiences.
With so much uncertainty already swirling around student loans, businesses have a better chance of successfully reaching and recovering other debt payments if they do so in a way that is familiar to the borrower and provides flexible ways to manage repayment. TrueAccord helps reach consumers where they are when they need to be engaged with through a digital-first approach that cuts through the clutter of other communication channels.
Discover how to expand and customize your communication channels for each individual consumer and engage faster with better results. Schedule a consultation today»
Delinquencies are a predictable reality for any business that handles payments, but the most efficient and effective way to recover delinquent funds isn’t always as predictable.
A recovery team could theoretically chase down every last delinquent dollar. But it would soon reach the point at which the operational cost of the effort – and the associated legal and reputational risk – would cut into profitability.
With so many factors involved, it can be difficult to even know where to start…
The planning process should start with an in-depth understanding of what makes a world-class recovery strategy in today’s digital-first age, a look at the big picture for your specific industry all the way down to your detailed metrics, and KPIs that should be steering your strategy. Consumers expect a seamless, personalized experience in every financial transaction, and your recovery operations can continue to deliver that all the way through the customer journey when you have the right strategy in place.
There is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to debt recovery and collection, but getting started doesn’t have to be daunting when you have the right resources to get you going.
Beyond Best Practices and into Actionable Tactics
Go beyond general best practices and start plugging in your own data with the tools inside our new Recovery & Collection Starter Kit. We have assembled guides, calculators, cheat sheets, and more to provide the frameworks and metrics for your organization to get started architecting the right recovery strategy for the long run.
Each starter kit includes:
World-Class Recovery Guide — pick your industry edition!
Manage delinquencies without sacrificing consumer experience
Balance performance with operation metrics and consumer-focused KPIs
Compare, contrast, and evaluate in-house vs partner collection strategies
Cheat Sheet: Top KPIs for Your Recovery Operations
Differences between traditional debt collection metrics, digital engagement tracking, operational KPIs, and more
New consumer-centric KPIs for today’s most effective recovery strategy
How to calculate profitability of a collection operation using operational metrics
Interactive Recovery & Collection Calculator
Enter your business’s KPIs to measure the profitability of your recovery
Discover opportunities to improve the reach, resolution funnel, and cost effectiveness of your recovery operation
Scenario plan how much in additional revenue and cost savings the shift to an intelligent, digital strategy can drive for your business
Choosing a Recovery Partner: Top 6 Questions to Ask
Detailed questions on communication, technology, risks, and more
Why each question matters for both profitability and consumer-experience
Based on each question, what to look for in a potential partner’s responses
These tools will teach you how to maximize profitability by efficiently recovering money lent to customers or members—while simultaneously maintaining consumer loyalty. Now is the time for businesses across verticals to embrace a disruptive, obsessively consumer-centric mindset for recovery and collection, and experience the results of this new approach.
Measuring the success of a recovery strategy goes beyond just the dollars and cents recovered. Yes, the goal of a recovery operation is to maximize profitability by efficiently recovering money lent to consumers, but other key factors — like consumer experience and retention — are also important in evaluating the success of your business.
A recovery team could theoretically chase down every last delinquent dollar, but doing so is often not worth the operational cost of the effort, and the associated legal and reputational risk can cut into profitability.
In this blog post, we’ll share the most important key performance indicators (KPIs) for collections and recovery — and how you can use them to create a seamless, scalable, and world-class recovery practice.
Meet the Metrics
Whether looking at portfolio performance, operational profitability, or consumer experience, different KPIs play a role in measuring the success of a recovery strategy. Collectively, these metrics make up the “language” of recovery and collection — helping organizations understand the fundamentals of their operation.
Here are a few of the most integral metrics to know:
Accounts per Employee (APE) or Accounts to Creditor Ratio (ACR): the number of delinquent accounts that can be serviced by an individual recovery agent
Net Loss Rate or Net Charge Off Rate: measures the total percent of dollars loaned that ended up getting written off as a loss
Delinquency Rate: total dollars that are in delinquency (starting as soon as a borrower misses a payment on a loan) as a percentage of total outstanding loans – often an early warning sign on the total volume of delinquent debt
Promise to Pay Rate: the percentage of delinquent accounts that make a verbal or digital commitment to pay
Promise to Pay Kept Rate: the percentage of delinquent accounts that maintain a stated commitment to pay
Roll Rate: the percentage of delinquent dollars that “roll” from one delinquency bucket to the next over a given period of time – provides visibility into the velocity with which debts are heading into charge off
Profitability of a Collections Operation Formula: R x ResF x E
R [Reach]: percentage of consumers in delinquency can you actually reach
ResF [Resolution Funnel]: how effectively you can convert initial contact with a consumer into a commitment to pay – and ultimately, a payment promise kept (see Promise to Pay Rate and Promise to Pay Kept Rate)
E [Efficiency]: calculation of what the “unit economics” of your collection are and how much it costs, on average, for every account that you rehabilitate
The following diagram highlights the relationship between these core operational metrics of a recovery strategy and portfolio-level outcomes.
In the hyper-competitive financial services space, consumer experience is a source of competitive advantage. That’s why it stands to reason that alongside the “traditional” metrics we see above, forward-looking fintechs and lending organizations should include KPIs that measure the value of consumer experiences:
Net Promoter Score (NPS): how likely a consumer is to recommend a given brand after an experience with a brand’s collection organization
Customer Retention Rate: how likely a consumer is to be reacquired by a given brand after his or her delinquent account is rehabilitated
How to Make the Most Out of These Metrics
So you have traditional metrics and consumer-focused KPIs, but how do you use it all? Managing performance with operational and consumer-centric metrics requires understanding the economics of recovery. Successful organizations will use the data to measure trends against the company’s own historical data, evaluate partners and strategies, and understand the big picture.
Understand the Big Picture
Visualize the relationship between operational metrics and portfolio-level outcomes. Conduct scenario planning exercises (e.g., “if we were able to improve the reach of our efforts by 25% through digital outreach, we would be able to reduce our net loss rate by 750 basis points”).
Measure Trends Longitudinally
Benchmark against a company’s own historical data as the collection team rolls out new strategies and tactics (e.g., “we boosted our promise to pay kept rate by 350 basis points relative to the previous vintage with pre-payment date reminders”)
Assess potential collection vendors against a standard slate of metrics and KPIs (e.g., “of the three vendors that we evaluated for our collections, which one led to the greatest reduction in roll rate?”)
Moving Towards World-Class Recovery
Understanding collection KPIs and how to use them is a critical part of creating an effective recovery strategy — learn about all the components of a successful collection operation in our new ebook, the Guide to World-Class Recovery. Available for download now, this ebook provides the tools and frameworks to ensure that you’re architecting the right recovery strategy for your company for the long run.
TrueAccord is a machine-learning and Al-driven 3rd-party debt collection company that is reinventing debt collection. We make debt collection empathetic and customer-focused and deliver a great user experience.
Our digital-first approach to debt collection creates a cycle of collections growth:
1. Improve the perception of the industry
2. Provide a personalized experience
3. Build brand equity and collect