What is skip tracing in debt collection?

By on May 12th, 2020 in Industry Insights

When a consumer falls into debt, and they are unable to pay off their accounts, debt collectors are brought on board to recover payments on these delinquent accounts. Occasionally, a consumer, feeling they are out of options and entirely unable to complete payment on their account will stop responding to communications from a collection agency. In some instances, breaking the line of communication is entirely accidental. 

If a person moves, and they don’t update a forwarding address, letter-based communications may be completely lost, and with 95% of collection agencies continuing to send letters, this can lead to a massive drop off! Consumers that have accumulated large amounts of debt may be forced to move frequently or are left without a home entirely. These consumers know that their debts will not disappear, so how do you communicate with them to discuss and resolve their account?

What is skip tracing?

Skip tracing is the process of collectors actively locating consumers that owe money on an account. The term comes from the phrase “to skip town,” and can make it seem like these consumers are intentionally abandoning creditors’ attempts to reach them. 

How is skip tracing conducted?

Skip tracing in collections is sometimes necessary to close out these long-forgotten accounts. Skip tracers are dedicated to gathering as much information about a consumer as possible in order to clarify their most accurate and up-to-date information. As more traditional collections methods are shifting to a digital approach so too is skip tracing.

Major names in the finance world like TransUnion and Experian offer powerful, data-driven, digital skip-tracing tools that help update contact lists live. These tools draw from accessible lists of user data to pinpoint consumers that may have updated their contact information elsewhere online including:

  1. Local exchange carrier listings
  2. White pages
  3. Credit files
  4. Other proprietary lists acquired by the company

Some third-party debt collection agencies also retain a dedicated skip-tracing service in order to accommodate these hard-to-reach accounts. Unfortunately, there is a chance that some accounts are simply lost, but by employing proper tools, even in-house collections teams can minimize the number of customers that skip out. 

Another important step in reducing the need for skip tracing all together is to gather consumer email addresses as another point of contact. Over 244 million people in the US have registered email addresses. They are not tied to locations, and most importantly for consumers in large amounts of debt: they are free to open and maintain. 

It is also possible that a customer may intentionally hope to evade a creditor if they feel they are being harassed by aggressive collections techniques or if there are no payment options that work with their budget. Fostering consumer relationships with customers that are past due on their account may seem counterintuitive to some businesses, but creating a positive customer experience should be at the forefront of any collections strategy. 

This extends to offering payment plans to accommodate customers at any point in their customer lifecycle. Working with these consumers proactively to build a plan that they can afford prevents the need for reactive measures down the line. In order to effectively contact consumers in debt, teams must adapt to changing consumer preferences, actively work with their customers, and encourage them to retake control of their finances. 

Using a consumer’s preferred contact channel can go a long way in preventing lost contact. Talk to our team to learn how going digital today helps you tomorrow.

3 things to avoid with in-house collections teams

By on May 6th, 2020 in Compliance, Industry Insights

When more than one-quarter of American consumers have debts in collections it’s easy to see the rising need for any company to have a collections strategy. Working to get a dedicated internal team up and running to collect effectively can be a resource-intensive project, especially for small businesses. 

Creating the infrastructure for a collections team includes building extensive policies to protect your business from compliance violations, carefully training agents (or building incredibly complex digital infrastructure), and hiring collections and recovery experts to support these new efforts.

Once you have the logistics of your collections department sorted out, it’s time to start reaching out to your customers. Here are important things to avoid when you get started.

Wait to start collecting

“Too late” can come all too soon when it comes to recovering on aging accounts. A series of small payments or even a single large payment can cause issues for small businesses, but missed payments—especially in a recession—can pile up quickly for anyone. Avoid getting too far behind (and potentially sabotaging your growing email strategy) and get ahead of the problem.

While you gradually build an internal collections team, you can also consider partnering with a third-party debt collection agency. Having a partner on retainer can prepare you for working with a growing number of accounts as your business expands. These strategies aren’t mutually exclusive either, and you can gain greater insight into the performance of both teams by comparing their respective strategies and methods.

Reveal a debt to a third party

The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) clearly states that it is illegal to expose an individual’s debt to third parties—including friends, family, neighbors, co-workers, and employers. The FDCPA was established in 1977, and it primarily focuses its regulation toward traditional call-and-collect debt collection agencies (with a team of collectors calling consumers on the phone). 

Though the FDCPA was primarily focused on call-and-collect technologies, its rules still apply to other communication channels. Collectors attempting to call consumers must be wary of leaving voicemail messages that directly state that they are calling to collect a debt due to the potential risk of someone else listening to it. The law regulates how your teams can (and cannot) use social media to get connected with consumers. 

Use confusing or unclear verbiage

Even if you are sending messages directly to a consumer’s inbox you can potentially violate communication compliance regulations. In the case Lavallee vs. Med-1 Solutions, that the defendant (Med-1 Solutions) did not provide the consumer with the required initial disclosures. The consumer received an email and had to click an unknown link and navigate a series of tasks before accessing information related to their debt. The email did not convey any information about the debt, and the court ruled that this series of steps meant that the email did not constitute a “communication” for the purpose of collections.

Any communication to a consumer from a debt collection agency must explicitly state who it is coming from and why (read more on the mini Miranda here), and masking that intent (either purposefully or not) can lead to more compliance troubles. While it is strongly recommended that you borrow metrics from marketing teams to enhance digital communications, be careful with taking too many queues from marketing language. All content sent by TrueAccord’s teams are processed through a legal review before they’re ever sent to a consumer.

As a collector, your first step to reaching your collection goals is having a well-organized team to support your efforts. Collections and recoveries at major companies can account for hundreds of employees, but a new department won’t appear overnight. Remaining careful as you scale your team and their strategy can save you from potential lawsuits and ensure a positive consumer experience. 

Are you looking for a debt collection partner to help answer some questions? Talk to our team today to see how we can help build your digital collections strategy together.

How do you correct (or prevent) email deliverability issues?

By on May 4th, 2020 in Product and Technology

Email is only one of many powerful digital channels at your disposal when it comes to connecting with consumers. Regardless of which of these channels you decide to use to reach those consumers, you also have to decide how to measure the effectiveness of your new digital tools. 

We’ve discussed email deliverability and what it means to collections, but once you have the proper email infrastructure in place, your team’s focus should shift toward both measuring the impact of those email efforts and understanding what declining performance can mean to your collections process. Here are a few things to keep in mind so that you can minimize the impact of deliverability issues and optimize your contact rates.

Build a baseline

The first step in effectively correcting email deliverability problems is to start with a baseline that you can compare to. Measuring the impact of issues on your digital collections strategy requires your team to establish what “normal” looks like for your business. Some engagement-related metrics that matter most to email-based digital debt collection typically include:

  1. Open rates
  2. Click rates
  3. Conversion rates

For email marketers, conversion rates signal when users take a desired action after engaging with marketing material. These actions often involve making a purchase or signing up for a product demo. In collections, conversion rates are measured by a combination of email engagement metrics and the more traditional liquidation rates. The desired action your collections team is looking for is a promise to pay or a completed payment.

With a baseline set for your digital performance, you can compare your average conversion rate to any fluctuations you see in your deliverability. Tracking this data over time then helps you to clearly measure how your deliverability rates impact collections and how specific deliverability issues (send volume, send time, content, etc.) impact your bottom line.

Identify and monitor engagement with deliverability

Email deliverability rates directly reflect whether or not you are reaching consumers’ inboxes, but your engagement shows you whether or not your consumers are taking action. Tracking deliverability in tandem with engagement metrics can provide insight into what changes need to be made to accommodate potentially shrinking inboxing rates. Here are two important correlations to keep an eye on.

Stable open rates and decreased deliverability

If you notice a decline in deliverability, but consistent open rates, there is a strong chance that your email list is out of date or a newly imported list contains incorrect contact information for your consumers. Consumers in your system that are listed correctly are continuing to engage at the same rate, but you have a higher number of bounces or failed sends.

Email validation is an important step in limiting the chances of a situation like this happening as this process confirms whether or not email addresses are legitimate. Large lists may contain small typos or transpositions that would turn an otherwise valid email address into a useless string of characters.

Decreased open rates and decreased deliverability

In the event that there is a decrease in both open rates and deliverability, it is likely that your send domains (the part of an email address after the @ sign) are being blocked or blacklisted. Fewer recipients are actually receiving your emails and even fewer are opening them.

There are a number of steps an organization can take to prevent this downtrend including using multiple domains and carefully scaling an email strategy before attempting to reach thousands of consumers. Attempting to remedy these issues after they have happened may prove to be too late.

Recognize the scope of an issue

Sending collections emails at scale can mean trying to reach thousands of consumers per day. It’s difficult to imagine a process of that scale without some sent emails not bouncing or simply being ignored.

TrueAccord successfully delivered millions of emails. Want to learn how we do it? Check-in with our team today.

As we mentioned earlier, a massive downturn in deliverability can lead to email domains being blacklisted which means those messages will be relegated to spam folders across ISPs (internet service providers). TrueAccord’s in-house Head of Email Operations, Raja Datta, has some extra advice (which was also contributed to a segment for Kickbox) for those looking to prevent these issues from causing further damage.

Attempting to recover your domain authority (proving to ISPs like Google or Yahoo that you aren’t a spammer) at that stage is remarkably difficult, but if you recognize a downtrend in click-rates, you can make relatively minor changes to the content of an email (phrasing on a call to action, different subject lines, etc.) to improve engagement. 

The scale of your deliverability issue will dictate how urgently you have to respond to it and how many resources must be put toward its resolution. Tracking these potential problems early and often can lead to intercepting them before your email strategy is significantly weakened and send domains are entirely blacklisted; update your subject line now and avoid getting blocked later.

Getting to the root of deliverability issues will ensure your email strategy is sustainable for years to come. As right-party contact rates continue to fall and digital channels take priority over phone calls, starting to track your email performance now and understanding how to measure your digital strategy’s success will get your team ahead of the collections curve. 

Does this all seem a bit daunting? We get it. Talk to our team today to see how we can help perfect your digital collections strategy.

Debt collection software vs. digital collections agency

By on April 30th, 2020 in Product and Technology

Traditional call and collect strategies are becoming increasingly difficult to maintain. High agent turnover rates, plummeting right party contact rates, and ever-evolving legislation are driving companies to abandon long-standing practices and seek new solutions.

The two driving options for bringing collections strategies into the digital world are integrating digital collections software into an existing plan or partnering with a 3rd-party, digital debt collection agency. What are the key differences and which one will work for you? Let’s take a look at the pros and cons of each to help your team make a decision.

Debt Collection Software

Collections software can help existing teams build new, digital infrastructure. They cover a wide range of services including:

  • Customizable self-service portals
  • A/B testing for communication
  • Engagement reporting
  • SMS and email automation
  • Chatbots
  • Pay by text tools

These tools offer the ability to engage consumers based on their preferences for time and digital channels. They also bridge the gap between traditional collections methods and consumers that prefer emails and online portals over phone calls.

Compliance support

Software as a service (SaaS) companies in the collections space also boast built-in compliance adherence and aim to decrease the risk of agent-driven call centers.

Cons

Debt collections software solutions can offer incredibly extensive performance evaluation and automation tools, but the volume of tools available can easily become overwhelming for teams new to a digital experience. This can lead to underuse and turn a powerful tool into a wasted resource.

There is also a struggle at the industry level to help transition collections into a digital space. Call and collect strategies continue to be the norm for collections, and the voices seeking to shift the industry in a new direction are met with the Innovator’s Dilemma: “the very decision-making and resource allocation processes that are key to the success of established companies are the very processes that reject disruptive technologies…”

This caution is multiplied by the fact that these software platforms may not be all-in-one answers to a collection team’s problems. The process of integrating a single tool can be costly (in terms of both money and resources), and suddenly needing to integrate another one because the first solution did not offer a specific SMS-based tool, can mean a team starts to look more like they’re putting together technology tech stacks than a collection strategy.

Lastly, traditional call and collect teams that do integrate new technologies may rewire them to drive inbound phone calls rather than focusing on the possible growth of primarily digital approaches. 

Digital debt collection agencies

Full-service digital debt collection agencies offer many of the same benefits provided by SaaS platforms, but they also provide the expanded assistance of an expert team and end-to-end service. Software companies provide account support and insight into product performance, but digital-first agencies not only have full teams and systems dedicated to product optimization, they also have agents that are trained to work in tandem with the digital tools.

Fully integrated teams also mean that agencies can offer simple, accelerated onboarding. In contrast, software platforms vary in how easily they can be integrated into an existing strategy, but successfully maximizing their performance still requires committed internal resources. 

Third-party team support

Digital debt collection agencies support their efforts with dedicated teams:

Product development

Product teams continually develop new strategies for improved digital performance including optimization of onboarding, enabling new digital tools, and continually improving the consumer user experience. 

Deliverability experts

Email deliverability teams optimize contact rates across digital channels. Deliverability metrics such as open rates and click rates become essential for evaluating the success of digital campaigns when compared to traditional call-to-collect solutions.

Building a scalable email infrastructure is incredibly challenging. Companies cannot simply start sending hundreds or thousands of emails overnight. Check out this article on how to build scalable email infrastructure.

Legal teams

Dedicated agencies require licensing and must adhere to the same regulations and laws that traditional debt collectors do. This means that digital-first agencies rely on in-house legal support and compliance to keep them up to date with evolving industry legislation. 

Account executives/success specialists

Account executives serve as liaisons between the creditor and the digital agency in a similar way they would for a SaaS platform. 

Cons

Digital-first debt collection agencies are not the norm. The biggest challenge to working with a digital agency is trying to understand a completely new approach to debt collection. When traditional call center metrics are no longer useful and your agency partner is ready to discuss open, click, and deliverability rates, there’s a hurdle that must be overcome to viewing collections through a new lens.

The industry is gradually realizing the effectiveness of digital debt collection agencies, but their naturalization will only come after existing agencies recognize the impact of using debt collection software and encountering the challenges that come with it first-hand. 

Whether your team integrates a powerful new software platform to support your internal collections efforts or brings on a third-party digital-first partner, digital debt collection is rapidly changing the collections landscape and redefining how collectors interact with consumers.  

Ready to learn more about what it means to partner with a digital-first agency? We’re happy to help. Schedule some time with our team to show you what more an agency can offer!

What consumer repayment trends can we expect from a recession?

By on April 23rd, 2020 in Industry Insights

Financial institutions around the world are seeing massive changes to the way consumers are engaging with their finances. The COVID-19 pandemic and the growing recession are also changing the way that consumers are engaging with their debts.

During the 2008 financial crisis, we actually saw that “charge-off rates for subprime consumers increased only moderately relative to pre-crash levels” according to a white paper recently published by 2nd Order Solutions and Boston Consulting Group.1

The recent historic and exponential rise in unemployment rates and the rapid onset of an economic recession, however, also means that there isn’t a precedent for precise predictions. Thankfully, based on current trends and existing data, we can see some patterns beginning to emerge.

Based on a survey conducted by Bankrate, roughly 25% of Americans expect to put their stimulus checks toward paying off a debt, and 50% plan to use their checks to pay monthly bills. TrueAccord’s consumer payment trends support this information. Our teams saw a 120% increase in contact rates as the government deposited consumers’ stimulus checks, and even amidst the crisis, we are seeing a change in the way consumers are approaching their payments.

We’re seeing a shift in consumer preferences toward long-term payment plans, rather than one-time payments. While only 30% of payments made in April 2019 were from payment plans, a year later, we now see a near-even 50% split between plan creation and single payments.

Evolving technology meeting consumer needs

Another trend outlined by Boston Consulting Group’s whitepaper highlights the role of technology amidst a recession. 

“[Financial institutions] with a more sophisticated approach to communication fared better than their peers during the crisis. Multi-channel strategies spanning phone, SMS, and email, underpinned by predictive analytics and integrated data acquisition, are commonly seen at these financial institutions.”

TrueAccord’s digital-first collections strategy is showing us first-hand the power of enabling consumers to manage their own finances, at their own pace, even in a crisis. 

Wnat to learn more about how we’re reaching consumers? Get in touch with our team today!

Citations

  1. Boston Consulting Group, 2nd Order Solutions (2020) Winning in the Next Era of Collections: Preparing collections for a recession

Operations insights: An interview with Tobias Campbell

By on April 21st, 2020 in Company News, Industry Interviews

TrueAccord is redefining the collections industry, and the fastest way to do that is by building the best teams. I sat down for a conversation with Tobias Campbell, a former operations manager at a payday and installment loan company in charge of in-house collections—and our team’s newest Account Executive—to discuss his experience in the industry, what challenges he faced in traditional collections (including falling right party contact rates and high employee turnover), and why he decided to join TrueAccord.

Welcome to the team! Before we dive in, could you tell us a little about your experience in finance and how your career led you into the collections space?

Prior to my start in collections in 2016, I worked at a large bank in the retail and private banking investment portfolio space. When I had the opportunity to transition to the consumer finance industry working in-house as an operations manager for a larger consumer lending company I wanted to take the chance despite collections’ negative reputation. I knew there had to be a better way to get in touch with consumers and change that perception.

What was your focus as an operations manager when you got started?

Initially, I spent time listening to agent calls and getting a clear sense of how they engaged with customers, and I was really determined to improve our right party contact rate. I helped transform the training process for agents to use more of a sales approach.

We still coached the team on building rapport with the consumers they were reaching, but also leveraged sales strategies in an effort to increase our overall performance. Beyond new training strategies for our agents, we started to dabble a little in sending emails, but they were basic drip campaigns consisting of a few manual emails per person. 

The small changes added up, and we were able to double our right party contact rates. But ultimately those improvements were marginal. Calling to collect wasn’t sustainable and the law of diminishing returns started to kick in, especially as we ran into more call blocking apps and services. 

So when training smoothed out, what were some of the other challenges you were running into? 

Two of the biggest ones we were facing were agent turnover and trying to keep up with the volume of accounts we were managing. We had to bring new agents on pretty frequently because of the high turnover rates. When agents first start there’s an element of excitement because they’re ready to start their new job. They can make a difference. They’d start off strong, but then we’d see those same people burnout in three to six months.

TrueAccord was performing 7 times better than our internal team, and that’s including the service fee that we were paying

It’s a very difficult job. Anyone that’s ever worked in collections knows that even if you manage to get a consumer on the phone, especially with an account that’s been delinquent for more than six months, the likelihood of securing that payment is slim. It’s hard to keep agents motivated and excited through that. Plus, there’s the compliance piece. 

Having the technology in place to ensure your agents meet all of the compliance obligations is a daily struggle. No matter the number of tools available, the amount of compliance training, or the level of oversight, there is always the chance for human error when you have live agents on the phone. 

At the same time, we realized that we were just getting too big, and our internal team could not handle our volume, especially with a declining RPC rate. We had our entire collection strategy in-house for so long, so we looked at our numbers, and the further accounts went into delinquency, the harder and harder it got to reach them. There was a need for a partner that could help us in the late-stage space. 

Our CEO at the time knew Ohad [Samet, the Founder of TrueAccord] and he saw what TrueAccord was doing—leveraging technology and email, which we weren’t really using—so we decided to send over any accounts that went beyond 120 days. We kept 10% of that paper ourselves so that we could compare effectiveness rates between the mostly digital and the call-to-collect strategy. 

What did that comparison look like?

The change was night and day. After six months, we saw that TrueAccord was performing on par with our internal team’s historic performance on those portfolios, but [TrueAccord’s machine learning engine] Heartbeat kept going. At twelve months, TrueAccord was recovering twice as much as we were on a percentage of outstanding debt, and by the time I left in early 2020, TrueAccord was performing 7 times better than our internal team, and that’s including the service fee that we were paying TrueAccord. 

We had customers that would get on the phone with an agent, and they would say “hey, can you send me to TrueAccord?” They would regularly talk about having more options, more flexibility, and the most common one was “they don’t call me 3, 4, 5 times per day!”

When you started to see the difference between TrueAccord and your internal team, was there any plan to try and update your practices to something more in line with what TrueAccord was doing?

We saw consumers gravitating toward digital communications over phone calls, so we recruited a product manager to research and build a digital strategy in house. There was some conversation around improving our email messaging by making the tone softer, since our current emails felt very businesslike and, well, boring?

There was a lot of talk around needing to make these substantial changes, but we didn’t know how. We didn’t have the infrastructure in place, we wouldn’t be able to automate content personalization the way TrueAccord does. Plus, the costs needed to develop the solution were a barrier to entry, especially when we already had a partner providing those services successfully. I decided that I wanted to join TrueAccord because I saw that unfolding, and I knew that TrueAccord had a differentiated product: a flywheel for this industry.

If you had to offer a final takeaway piece of advice to other lenders doing in-house collections, what would you tell them?

Don’t lose sight of the backend of the business from a revenue perspective. There is typically an intense focus on attracting new consumers to the product, and we start to forget about previous customers that still owe money on their account.

I would advise other managers in the collections space to think about building a digital line of defense, especially in preparation for a downturn or recession. When consumers are in a difficult situation, digital approaches can better connect with them and will lead to more dollars recovered.

Are you ready to invest in a sustainable digital infrastructure? Get in touch with our team today!

What is email deliverability and why does it matter to collections?

By on April 16th, 2020 in Product and Technology

Without the ability to successfully deliver your collection emails to a consumer’s inbox, email cannot be a successful collection method for your agency.  Email deliverability is the measure of the ability to successfully deliver an email to a user’s inbox. It is perhaps the most relevant KPI in an email-first digital collection strategy.  Several factors can influence whether or not your emails even reach people including spam filters, sending times and volume, and even the content of the message itself.

Want to learn more about building a scalable email strategy? Check out these tips from our team of deliverability experts!

A high deliverability rate then means that you are creating the right content, sharing it at the right time, and engaging your consumers. By measuring engagement through clicks, you can combine these statistics with an online payment portal to create an easily-tracked customer journey to payment without ever picking up the phone. 

Pivoting to tracking deliverability rates, clicks, online payment totals, and payment plans created creates a full digital ecosystem of KPIs with better engagement than traditional call-to-collect models. Here are a few tips for making email an effective part of your collections strategy.

Borrow email metrics from marketing experts

Our own email deliverability experts have years of experience working in the digital marketing space. KPIs like open rates, click-through rates, and conversion rates aren’t just for marketing teams working on generating leads, they can offer insight into the effectiveness of your collections efforts and help you understand whether or not you’re actually reaching your consumers. 

Tracking deliverability rates, clicks, online payment totals, and payment plans created creates a full digital ecosystem of KPIs with better engagement than traditional call-to-collect models. This is a lot of data to keep track of, and digital debt collection tools can provide some assistance in tracking digital and other tracking performance data

Emails also don’t depend on urgency in the same way that phone calls do. Customers appreciate the convenience of managing their finances on their own time (25% of our customers access their accounts outside of the call hours designated of 8am-9pm by the TCPA). Analyzing open rates for different send times provides a deeper understanding of when your consumers like to be reached.

Email marketing metrics not only accomplish the same goals as more traditional call-based KPIs, but you also have an even clearer vision of your collections performance.

Authenticate and build domain reputation 

Email authentication allows ISPs (Yahoo, Gmail, AOL, etc.) to properly identify an email’s sender. Any time an email is sent to and reaches a consumer, you are representing your company’s brand and reputation with that email. The actual process of email authentication requires the implementation of several authentication standards:

Sender Policy Framework (SPF)

This allows the owner of a domain to determine which servers their emails are sent from.

DomainKeys Identified Mail (DKIM)

DKIM is an encryption system that allows the email sender to claim responsibility for a message. That encrypted information can then be verified by the ISP. 

Domain-based Message Authentication Reporting and Conformance (DMARC)

This standard (and policy-making organization) further expands on these and adds linkage to the author (“From:”) domain name to improve and monitor the protection of the domain from fraudulent email. The DMARC organization continues to update policies related to domain security.

Brand Indicators for Message Identification (BIMI)

BIMI helps users to identify brands based on images included alongside their emails. Consider them an email preview profile picture to help users immediately recognize the email’s sender.*

*In order to integrate BIMI, you must have the other three standards mentioned here established first.

Interested in learning more about these standards? The Validity blog has a great series on SPF, DKIM, and DMARC for you to read here

An authenticated domain helps to boost your domain reputation. If your send domain (the part of an email address after the @ sign) has a poor reputation, it is more likely to be relegated to a user’s spam inbox. Taking the proper steps to build authentication standards can secure your reputation against a massive hurdle that you’ll encounter otherwise. 

Validate and increase RPC rates

Email validation is the process of ensuring that the emails you are sending to are valid and deliverable. Where authentication focuses on establishing your own email domains, validation verifies whether or not the consumer email addresses that you have on file are valid emails. 

Sending an email to a non-existent email address will cause the email to bounce; you will receive a notice that the email could not successfully be delivered. A high bounce rate from emailing too many invalid users will be perceived by ISPs as poor list management—a common practice of batch email scammers—and your sender reputation will be damaged and your deliverability will drop.

In the digital collections world, sending to valid email addresses is also directly related to your right party contact rate. By validating your email lists, you can quickly identify which of your consumers have valid contact information in your system. With this information on hand, you can directly reach out to those that do, build your domain reputation, and learn which of your customers you’ll have to reach out to for updated information.

Not every traditional debt collection agency is using email extensively, but it is an invaluable tool in the age of digital communication. Understanding the technical aspects of email deliverability and the challenges that come with properly scaling your digital communications will help you overcome contact hurdles that are more challenging now than ever before.

Are you ready to build a future-proofed digital collections strategy? Get in touch with our team to learn what we can do to help.

What role does social media play in debt collection?

By on April 8th, 2020 in Industry Insights

Social media in the business world is typically used in a few select ways: individuals that use platforms like LinkedIn to connect with one another, businesses that engage with directly with consumers on platforms’ brand pages, and businesses that place advertisements to reach specific audiences of prospective customers. 

In the debt collection industry, the use of social media is regulated by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau when used as a channel by which traditional call-to-collect debt collection agencies attempt to reach consumers that they couldn’t reach by phone must comply with the Federal Debt Communication Practices Act (FDCPA) and other state and city consumer protection laws. 

The CFPB’s new debt collection rule addresses appropriate ways to use social media (among many other things), but the rule doesn’t explore the use of social media as a tool beyond private messaging. Social media platforms are very useful tools for digital debt collection agencies and creditors to communicate with consumers but not in the way you might think.

Two things you should not do with social media

Friend request

Sending friend requests to join a consumers’ social network without making it clear that the purpose of your friend request is to collect a debt is a deceptive practice. Businesses attempting to reach a consumer should never attempt to have an agent attempt to secretly infiltrate a personal network in this way.

Instead, if you are going to send a friend request to a consumer, your message should be similar to the Zortman message and make your intent behind the request clear. Beyond that,  and must be a private request (see below on third party disclosure concerns). 

Post on feeds

Posting a debt collection communication on a public-facing account that allows others to see the content of the message on their feed, is an explicit violation of the FDCPA’s prohibition on third-party disclosure. This would publicly expose the existence of that consumer’s debt to anyone who can view the page and is akin to the old (now prohibited) practice of public debtor boards that the FDCPA sought to end.

This doesn’t mean that social media platforms are entirely unusable in the collections space. They can actually prove to be great places to share resources and provide easy access to your team so that consumers can reach you at their discretion.

How social media can help digital debt collection

Directing to support teams

The easiest way to make effective use of social media platforms for your business is to clearly present your company’s website, phone number(s), email address(es), and mailing address(es) online. Increasing visibility and keeping your lines of communication open can lead to greater engagement. 

This is especially important for digital debt collection agencies that make use of payment portals and other online tools as you can guide consumers directly to the answers they’re looking for.

With a public-facing social media account, you will find that consumers will reach out to you with questions—even questions related to their specific accounts. You want to make sure that you are prepared to answer these questions in a discreet but helpful manner so that the consumers get the information they need without any extra disclosures about their debt. 

Consumers expect this ease of access from any business, and it can make an enormous difference in the collections industry that remains largely call-based. Here’s an example of a consumer reaching directly out to our team on Twitter!

The identity of this consumer has been anonymized here, but this is a public-facing post directly on our feed.

Brand Awareness 

Social media platforms offer businesses the opportunity to advertise directly to specific customers based on their online activity. Collections agencies can use social media advertisements to build on brand awareness and help gain customer trust. Providing a hyperlinked statement about your company such as your mission, motto, or BBB rating that will appear in the personal advertising feed is not a collection communication – as long as it does not explicitly address that the consumer is in collections and cannot be shared to their social networks. 

It allows the consumer, if they choose, an easy way to investigate a company’s website, identify your business as legitimate, and gain trust in your brand.

The role of social media in debt collection continues to evolve as legislative bodies more clearly identify how it is currently being used and how those uses overlap with existing legislation. Social media platforms are an omnipresent part of consumers’ lives, and it may seem like an easy way to reach them, but the most important thing to consider is the compliance and security of their information on evolving channels. 

Mastering digital communications is easier when you choose a team at the forefront of the industry. Interested in learning more about digital debt collection? Check-in with our team.

3 key challenges to collecting pre-charge off debt

By on April 7th, 2020 in Industry Insights

Managing accounts and ensuring regular payments is an essential part of being a functioning business. This is especially true for small businesses where several small payments (or one large payment) being past-due can make a massive difference. Many companies will put off hiring a collection agency until they have defaulted accounts rather than creating a partnership at an earlier delinquent stage that can grow as needed.

When it comes to maintaining consistent payments, all parties involved—from the creditor to the consumer—would rather keep accounts up to date than not. When consumers’ financial situations are impacted, and they are unable to make payments for a long period of time, their defaulted accounts are “charged off” and considered a loss by the creditor, and sometimes a partnership with a debt collection agency begins.

This is the model for a large number of businesses, but collections can begin sooner and account balances can be resolved more quickly to the benefit of everyone. So why aren’t more businesses seeking to collect in the pre-charge off world? Here are three major challenges that make managing early-stage (aka pre-charge off) collections more difficult to collect than post-charge off balances.

What is the difference between pre- and post-charge off debt?

In order to understand the difficulties that come with pre-charge off collections, we first have to understand the clear differences between pre- and post- from the creditors’ point of view.

Pre-charge off

As mentioned above, pre-charge off or early-stage debt can include overdue payments, previous payment minimums, late payment fees, and interest. These payments had specific due dates and specific amounts due on those dates which the consumer did not meet.

Consumers that are not able to meet these minimum monthly payments or similar terms are subject to potentially having their line of credit limited, additional interest and fees, negative entries on their credit report, and losing access to the credit altogether. Once a late payment extends beyond a certain window of time (typically six months from the date of delinquency) the account is “charged off.”

Post-charge off

Post-charge off (also known as late-stage collections) is comprised of the total account balance plus any interest and fees accrued after the customer stopped making payments throughout the pre-charge off period. Late-stage payment plans can provide a bit more flexibility in their payment terms.

This is in part because the creditor is unsure as to whether or not they can recover any of the missing payments and because the delinquency has already been added to the consumer’s credit report during the pre-charge-off stage. As long as the consumer sets up a payment plan, a business has little need to pursue further action such as filing a lawsuit.

Some of these differences highlight the challenges posed to companies and debt collection agencies looking to collect early stage payments. 

Minimizing roll rates

The key metric in the early stage collections space is the roll rate of your accounts. Roll rates measure the percentage of accounts that shift from one bucket to the next, typically in 30-day increments (e.g. payments that are 60 days overdue could shift to the 90 days overdue bucket and increase the rate). 

In the post-charge off space, where collection volume is a leading indicator of recovery, it can be easier to judge the efficiency and performance of collections efforts. Pre-charge off work requires faster action because accounts can quickly roll from bucket to bucket. 

The urgency of due dates

Part of the challenge of reducing roll rates is rooted in the more urgent nature of early-stage collections. Accounts that have reached late-stage collections have been overdue for 180 days or more and have already been reported on a consumer’s credit report. 

Pre-charged off accounts can involve collecting payments on accounts 1 or 2 days past due. The longer these accounts go unpaid, the longer they harm the creditor’s bottom line and the longer they can accrue interest, late fees, and negative credit reporting for consumers. An urgency exists for the creditor to remind a consumer of the missed payment obligation and understand if a consumer is experiencing a financial hardship and for the consumer to avoid further delinquency or even default.

Increased call volume

Traditional call-to-collect debt collection agencies that work in the post-charge off world already work to meet enormous contact demands. While digital debt collection agencies and tools can help to dramatically reduce the need for agent-driven call centers, pre-charge off collections requires additional support that benefits from a digital strategy. 

Due to the urgency of early-stage collections needs and the compounding nature of late fees and growing interest, a larger percentage of consumers reach out to discuss possibility of waiving late fees or receiving some one-time relief from their assistance. In order to meet the increased demand for these communications agencies must prepare to scale their teams and systems appropriately and manage rapidly expanding consumer needs.

To eyes outside of the collections industry, collecting debts may appear to be uniform, but adapting to work with both pre- and post-charge off debts takes substantial changes to a company or agency’s infrastructure. Partnering with a company with an established history of effective scalability and growth can smooth the transition and help your business grow.

Interested in learning more about how you can build an early-stage collections strategy? Talk to our team today!

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!