When it comes to New Year’s resolutions, improving personal finances isn’t anything new. But as we look ahead to 2023, we see more and more Americans adding serious financial goals to their list. A recent Ascent survey found 66% of Americans plan on making a financial resolution.
And your business should be paying attention to the New Year goals of consumers: it’s the ideal time to support your customers to pay off debt (one of the most common financial resolutions for 2023) by meeting them where they are—with the right message, right channel, and right time.
Let’s take a look at why now is one of the best times to start engaging with consumers in a more flexible way to recover more in 2023.
Financial Resolutions Rise, Along with Delinquency Rates
As we mentioned above, financial resolutions aren’t new, but the number of Americans making them is rising (which might have something to do with rising delinquency rates). For 2022, it is estimated that more than 92 million Americans made financial new year’s resolutions, compared to only 60 million who reported making a financial resolution in 2021. And surveys found that 41% of respondents expressed a strong desire to prioritize paying down debt in 2022—a trend that will continue into 2023 for good reason.
For six consecutive months there have been increases in the 30+ days past due delinquency rates, with those accounts showing a 3.28% increase month over month in October, according to Experian’s November Ascend Market Insights. Looking ahead, TransUnion predicts delinquency rates could rise to 2.6% at the end of 2023 from 2.1% by year-end, which would represent a 20.3% year-over-year increase in delinquent accounts if the projections prove accurate.
Regardless of consumers’ personal financial goals, these delinquency rates and predicted trends are a sign that if you’re not already tailoring your collections communications to today’s consumer preferences, then a better engagement strategy needs to be your organization’s resolution for 2023.
New Year, New You, New Collection Strategy
Meeting consumer preferences is about more than just boosting your bottom line (although that is a bonus)—showing empathy as delinquencies continue to rise can help retain customers even during their often stressful experience of being in debt. An early December survey from U.S. News & World Report shows that 81.6% of Americans who have credit card debt are experiencing anywhere from a little to a lot of anxiety about it. Among respondents to the Ascent survey who plan to make financial New Year’s resolutions for 2023, only 20% are optimistic about keeping them, with 63% predicting it’ll be too expensive to do so.
Help your customers keep their resolutions by making it easier for them to engage on their own terms with the right message through the right channel at the right time, and recover more in 2023.
Let’s look at how to do it:
Right Message As all these recent surveys have shown, consumers are literally telling us that they want to pay down debt in the new year. But treating them in a one-size-fits-all approach can fall flat when trying to engage an individual, especially when it comes to sensitive financial situations or delinquent accounts. In fact, 72% of consumers say they only engage with personalized communications, so don’t miss the opportunity to communicate in a way that resonates with them. Learn more in our Buyer’s Guide to Digitally Engage Your Past-Due Customers here»
Right Channel Engage with consumers through their preferred channels, whether it’s by email, SMS, or traditional calling. Research shows that 46% of consumers already expect to communicate through preferred channels. By using advanced machine learning (like TrueAccord’s patented decision engine, HeartBeat), your business can identify the ideal way to reach the customer and pivot in realtime based on reactions or engagements. Learn more about how to Elevate Your Collection Strategy with Machine Learning and HeartBeat here»
Right Time Minimize unnecessary communication efforts and reach consumers at a productive time—which can be easier said than done if your business is still relying solely on call-and-collect methods. To meet compliance regulations, the FDCPA prohibits communication through any channel at known inconvenient times for consumers, presumed to be inconvenient between 8AM to 9PM, but often customers choose to pay their bills and resolve their accounts outside the presumptively inconvenient hours as long as they can access online account portals that allow them to see account information and take actions to resolve their account. Learn more about it in our State of Compliance & Collections report here»
When most people think of debt collection, the word “empathy” rarely comes to mind. As a mission-driven company, we at TrueAccord, are trying to change that. We know life happens and financial anxiety has become more common than ever—especially when it comes to dealing with debt. By understanding and anticipating a customer’s needs, TrueAccord takes an empathetic approach which enables us to tailor our message and help the consumer’s journey back to financial health. With this in mind, it’s crucial for us to understand how a consumer might feel when they fall into debt.
Understanding and Engaging with the Customer
Life happens and so do delinquencies. So far, most fintechs have been good at focusing on customer experience by investing in user research and making sure that their products resonate with their target audience. However, a customer’s situation can change at the drop of a hat and with it their financial status, priorities, and motivations. When a customer, whom you thought you knew well, has an account that goes delinquent, they essentially become a stranger. Now a whole new approach is required in order to engage with this consumer.
In order to adopt the right approach to engage a delinquent account, the first thing we have to figure out is who the customer is. What are their needs? What problems do they have? Do they have special circumstances? Not only is every customer different, but every interaction you may have with that customer could be different depending on what life situation they find themselves in. So it is very important to have a broad communication strategy and be ready to meet the customer when and where they are ready to engage. This means don’t limit communication channels and have options that consumers can explore, evaluate, and select on their own time.
Leveraging Digital-First Channels
Most consumers prefer using digital channels over talking on the phone with research showing 94% of unidentified calls going unanswered. Digital channels allow people to choose when to respond without being put on the spot.
But starting a digital-first approach is not easy—it’s not just about sending emails or SMS messages to consumers. At TrueAccord we try to find the right communication channel to use for a specific consumer. We might start with a combination of email and SMS but once we get more engagement with one or the other, we’ll primarily focus on using the channel the customer engaged in.
We make sure that they’re aware of their debt and their options from obtaining more information, disputing, or evaluating payment plans all through a portal where the consumer is in control..
For consumers who do choose to set up a payment plan, we work to make sure that they have everything they need to be successful in their plan – whether that means changing the plan, the payment date, or amount, we monitor and provide content so that the consumer can effectively stay in control of their plan through successful completion – putting the consumer back in control of their own financial health while at the same time recovering for the creditor.
Using Data for a Personalized, Empathetic Experience
To truly engage consumers a successful digital strategy should go beyond a simple campaign that pushes out emails to all of your consumers at the same time every week or every other week with a generic message. Not only do you have to overcome the inboxing challenge to avoid spam filters, you need to deliver the communication at the optimal time for the consumer to open the message. And you have to have the right message, a personalized message that causes the consumer to act – to communicate back to you their intentions related to the account (dispute, full payment, payment plan, hardship, etc.).
But how do you personalize?
This is where it’s vital to leverage an understanding of your consumers. This can be done with experimentation in A/B testing consumer research, and machine learning. A/B testing and consumer research help identify what resonates with consumers and what does not. Machine learning allows personalization at scale. At TrueAccord, we rely on machine learning to continuously improve our models. We can see what digital channels, timing, and messaging each individual consumer responds best to and tailor those specific preferences to the individual journey for each consumer. We also make sure that compliance is included from the start as it needs to be regulated throughout.
For example, the best payment option is different for everyone. We provide a lot of flexibility, but we also know that showing them that flexibility up front, something that they can actually afford, will engage the customer to take the next step. Depending on the size and the age of the debt, we may show a couple of payment plans that we believe will be the most attractive to that customer along with the option to build their own payment plan. Once a customer sets up their payment plan, we send reminders when payment is due. We also have models that predict if a consumer is likely to break their payment plan based on past behavior and offer options to help keep them on track, like pushing the payment if they’re unable to pay on that date (because we understand that life happens, just like delinquencies). And as they make their payments, we celebrate their progress with them and acknowledge that they are making an effort to improve their financial situation!
TrueAccord has worked with over 20 million consumers and sends over one million communications per day. For each of those communications, we’re making decisions on what to send, how to send it, and when to send it all in accordance with the legal and regulatory compliance obligations. We then use that data to continuously optimize and improve our communication method for each consumer. We’ve learned that if you’re building for the downtimes, it’s critical to realize that debt collection is a part of a consumer financial service. While our creditors are our clients, if we do what is right for the consumer (our clients’ customers), they are more likely to pay back to those creditors. A better consumer experience leads to better outcomes for all.
By incorporating an empathetic approach to debt collections, TrueAccord is able to collect more money while helping consumers with their financial situation.
Delivering communications to your customers has always been a compliance challenge with the plethora of laws, regulations, court decisions, and regulatory guidance in the debt collection space. Today with more communication channels available and regular communication from debt collection regulators—via consent orders, compliance bulletins, supervisory highlights, and even press releases—your compliance management systems and design must be flexible and easy to update.
To get expert insights on the newest compliance issues and opportunities that need to be front of mind when sending digital communications to effectively engage your customers, Associate General Counsel Lauren Valenzuela and Director of User Experience Shannon Brown teamed up to discuss the Future of Collections & Compliance in TrueAccord’s latest webinar.
Below are some of the key takeaways from their discussion, plus attendee poll results on top compliance questions.
*This blog is not legal advice. Legal advice must be tailored to the particular facts and circumstances of each unique matter.
The Current State of Compliance
Lauren Valenzuela [LV]: Needless to say, over the last 10 years the CFPB has fundamentally changed how we think about and approach compliance. That has really influenced our industry and how we think about communications in debt collection.
LV: Over the last decade the CFPB has taught us that compliance is an evolving thing. It’s not something that you can set and forget. It is something that is dynamic and that must constantly evolve and mature in order to be effective, because our environment is constantly changing.
Attendee Poll Question: What is the biggest compliance issue you face when trying to engage with your customers?
Changing Consumer Preferences for Collection Communications
LV: The CFPB recently published a blog and shared that it is a “mobile first” agency, meaning that most people who visit its website are using mobile devices or smartphones. Here at TrueAccord, what does our information show about mobile usage?
Shannon Brown [SB]: Consumer mobile use has skyrocketed. In 2016, about a quarter of our consumers were using their phones to read emails and visit our website—and that number has increased to consistently above 80%. We’ve put a lot of effort into making sure our emails and website are responsive to make sure we’re meeting the needs of our consumers who are overwhelmingly on mobile. We’ve made sure our pages are able to load faster for consumers that have less stable cell connections and really made sure our interactive elements are big and optimized for tapping with a finger instead of clicking with a mouse. As far as communications, our consumer research has really shown that most consumers don’t answer the phone and want to be contacted through digital channels—they want a multi-channel experience.
LV: So we’re seeing consumers increase use in mobile phones. Even the Bureau has seen that, and we’re seeing banks increase their use of digital technologies to communicate and facilitate transactions and engage with their consumers as well.
What’s the Role of the Legal Team in Your Collections Strategy?
LV: There needs to be a partnership between compliance and pretty much all core functions, and especially at a fintech company like TrueAccord where our technology and our digital communications platform are the center of what we do to help consumers. It’s really neat to see compliance interwoven, and I think that’s reflective of its compliance management system and company culture.
Compliance Management System Evolution
LV: Ten years ago, many collection agencies were likely in the undisciplined stage, where there was some type of compliance ongoing, but it didn’t have much structure—processes may be undocumented, potential exposure to vulnerabilities that expose themselves on lawsuits, for example.
The next iteration is reactive, meaning there is development of some policies and procedures, controls are identified, and the company is responding to issues and incidents reactively.
The next level is calculative. At this level, leadership is actively engaging the organization in compliance, risk assessment processes are maturing, corrective action plans are being developed and executed to remediate deficiencies.
This next level is proactive, meaning employees are trained and following clear policies and procedures, and such procedures have built in intentional redundancies. The organization is being proactive in identifying and responding to issues and incidents and is self-identifying deficiencies and essentially executing on comprehensive corrective action plans.
Generative means that there’s continuous improvement towards challenging goals, which are driven by data analysis. There’s critical evaluation of policies and procedures and controls, and risk is integrated in operations. Issues and incidents resolutions are driven by stakeholders and really enhanced controls.
Attendee Poll Question: Which category does your Compliance Management System (CMS) fall under today?
LV: So no matter where you’re at within your compliance management system and no matter what maturity level, the important thing to remember is that you don’t have to stay there—you can evolve. We can’t stress this enough. Compliance is an evolving and dynamic thing, and should be constantly evolving to stay effective in whatever environment it is in.
The fact that TrueAccord has a well-oiled compliance management system allows us to study that climate and then figure out how to translate it and make tangible improvements in our consumers’ experience. That’s something we encourage everyone to do: think about the consumer experience and the environment you’re collecting in, because it looks remarkably different than it did five years ago for example, and we should all be evolving.
The Product Perspective
LV: How has the CFPB influenced how we develop our products here at TrueAccord?
SB: Compliance has been built into our product development life cycle. Besides frequent meetings with our compliance team for feedback and approvals throughout the life cycle, we’ve designed and built our product so we can be nimble in responding to regulatory changes, which we know happen a lot.
LV: There are numerous federal, state, and local laws. Can you give some insight into how we at TrueAccord keep up with all of that?
SB: One of the ways we efficiently keep up with the requirements is through our code-driven approach.
But what does that mean practically? It means, for example, that for any phone call coming in, our agent knows exactly what disclosures need to be given to that consumer via our system, and then gives them an opportunity to log it. It means that any email that goes out has all the necessary disclosures appended, such as out of statute disclosures, state disclosures, et cetera, and these are all kept in our code base. Not only does it take the guesswork out of the equation for our agents and our content team that’s sending communication, it reduces human error. It also means that anytime anything needs to be updated, for example, a wording in a disclosure or when a new disclosure needs to be added, we can do it in one place instead of across a variety of templates and areas of the website. We can do it in one place and then that change propagates throughout the system. This helps us to react to changes really quickly.
Our compliance team is involved in every aspect of the process. They start as educators for the whole product team—we’re all aware of regulatory considerations and know where and when we need to ask for feedback and approvals from our compliance team. So they aren’t just making sure that agents are acting compliantly, but that the product team has that knowledge as well.
And as a product team, we have this wonderful research function that’s constantly talking to consumers and trying to understand their needs and asking for feedback, which we share with our compliance team so that they can go and advocate for consumers when they are talking with regulators and legislators
Future Forecast: Where is Compliance Heading in the Collections Industry?
LV: The next iteration of compliance can be seen in some of the recent CFPB and FTC activity. Last year in 2021 for example, the CFPB published a new section of its supervision and examination manual, specifically an information technology focused compliance management review section. The Bureau is looking at any type of technologies that you may employ, like machine learning models, algorithms, or analytics.
If you’re using any kind of algorithms or machine learning to help inform any aspect of your collection strategy—or if any of your service providers are using any type of algorithms or machine learning to help provide a service to you—you must pay attention to this section of the manual because it’s incredibly informative. We’re seeing the CFPB and the FTC addressing companies’ use of data and technology, wanting to make sure that companies have proper governance and oversight of it.
All of this recent activity shows how compliance within any company, more than ever before, must really take a cross functional approach to its work in order to keep up with the evolving environment. The compliance function should not be siloed. It really needs to be in partnership with all different disciplines and functions within the organization. We’re seeing right here and now and into the future, your information technology professionals, your information security professionals, your product professionals, your engineers, your data scientists, anybody who looks, touches, thinks about data and technology should all be working with compliance
Attendee Poll Question: Which of the following are you most interested in for the future of compliance and collections?
Three Key Takeaways
LV: Compliance is more than a department, it’s more than a program, it’s more than a system. It should be part of an organization’s cultural DNA. So when you think about compliance, wherever you are within an organization, think about how you can make it part of your organization’s DNA.
SB: Concentrate on building your tools to be nimble to the regulatory changes. Things like the design systems and the component libraries that allow you to make those changes quickly and easily, and make sure that they’re made everywhere across the system so you don’t have those older disclosures hanging out somewhere that someone forgot to change. Build your tools so you can make changes in one place efficiently.
LV: As our environments get more sophisticated around us, compliance professionals need to collaborate cross functionally more and more with other disciplines within a company to be effective and stay ahead of the evolution.The more the industry uses data and technology, we have a responsibility to make sure that it is being used in accordance with the law and best practices.
What is your core business? It probably isn’t chasing down delinquent accounts—and it shouldn’t be. Attention, resources, and bandwidth should be dedicated to what drives revenue and pushes your company’s goals forward.
But delinquencies are a reality for any business that handles payments. And when a customer misses a payment on the due date, you shouldn’t let their delinquency slide for too long, otherwise before you know it, that delinquent account will eventually get charged off and considered a loss.
While charge offs aren’t completely unavoidable, ineffective recovery efforts on those defaulted, post-charge off accounts (typically handled by a third-party partner) are completely avoidable. Effective pre-charge off (also known as first-party) collection efforts are just as important as well. For today’s consumers, that means engaging with them in more innovative ways outside the traditional call-and-collect methods and moving into a more digital approach.
But without a consumer-centric strategy for both pre- and post-charge off accounts, digital outreach can stumble just as easily as an inexperienced call center rep on their first day—ineffective or even damaging to customer relations.
So what do effective strategies look like for first-party and for third-party debt collection? Let’s first take a look at the nuances to consider between first-party and third-party collections.
First-Party vs Third-Party Collections—What’s the Difference?
First-Party First-party refers to using the creditor’s brand in customer communications. The focus is on remediation of newly delinquent accounts and getting the customer back on track. The communications address the part of the loan that is late, which is often not the whole amount, and refer the customers back to the creditor’s call center, payment portal, or online account system.
Third-Party Third-party refers to outsourcing collections through a third-party partner on the entire balance of the account. At this point, many creditors believe the customer relationship has been lost—but this does not have to be the case with the right digital strategy!
First or Third—Customer Engagement is Key to a Homerun in Collections For both first- and third-party collections, success hangs on reaching each customer with the right message, through the right channel at the right time. This can be no small feat for smaller in-house teams attempting to recoup pre-charge off debts. And how can you trust that your third-party partner is actually engaging with customers in the best way possible?
So Who’s on First and Who’s on Third for Your Debt Collection?
It may seem like a silly question: who is on top of your first-party, early delinquency collection communications? Many companies assume that they must handle pre-charge off collection efforts completely by themselves or by outsourcing with a first-party company, but there are communication alternatives such as TrueAccord’s Retain. Retain is the client-branded pre-charge off digital engagement product, directing customers back to you enabling your customers to choose the right time, place and channel to contact you. Improve your cash flow, reducing losses and allowing you to spend more time and energy on core business objectives.
While third-party, post-charge off collections may feel more “out of sight, out of mind” than first-party since organizations outsource to third-party vendors, it’s still crucial to have a comprehensive digital communication strategy that aligns with individual business standards. TrueAccord goes above and beyond with Recover, our late-stage collection solution that proves digital-first delivers: 96% of consumers who resolve with Recover do so using only self-serve digital tools.
TrueAccord’s mission to help organizations recover more (from happier consumers) is comprehensive for both first-party, pre-charge off and third-party, post-charge off, whether using one or both intelligent digital-first solutions together.
With more than 20 million consumer accounts serviced through intelligent, digital-first collections products, results show better repayment and happier customers than “call to collect” agencies
LENEXA, Kan., July 12, 2022 — TrueAccord Corp, a debt collection company using machine learning-powered digital recovery solutions, today announced that it has served more than 20 million customers in debt with a digital-first experience. TrueAccord’s customer-centric approach and commitment to creating a positive consumer experience is reflected in its 4.7 Google customer satisfaction rating, customer feedback, and an A+ rating with the Better Business Bureau.
TrueAccord’s collection solutions harness machine learning and digital-first communications to deliver a personalized, consumer-friendly experience for those in debt. As is the nature of machine learning, the system dynamically analyzes and refines the approach used for each customer based on their interactions combined with years of previous engagement data in order to deliver the most effective communication treatment. The patented system, HeartBeat, which is now 20 million customer engagement interactions strong since its 2013 inception, continues to optimize with each new customer interaction.
“Machine learning is only as good as its data sources, and with more than 20 million accounts’ worth of engagement data that informs the HeartBeat system, we’re confident that the experiences being delivered are as streamlined and as aligned to consumer preferences as possible,” said Mark Ravanesi, CEO of TrueAccord Corp. “As a mission-driven company, we prioritize creating better experiences for consumers in debt, and based on our high customer satisfaction and repayment rates, it looks like we’re making significant progress.”
Powered by TrueAccord’s industry-leading tech stack, the product suite includes Retain, a client-branded early-stage consumer engagement platform for managing pre-charge off debt, and Recover, a full-service debt collection solution. Key benefits of both products include a simple, intuitive and effortless-to-use digital platform leading to great user experience, constant A/B testing and optimization to reduce friction and boost conversion rate, infinite scalability, and second-to-none channel deliverability.
While holding customer experience as a priority, TrueAccord products continue to prove more effective than competitors, as evidenced by client case studies showing 25-35% better performance on accounts using Recover when compared to those placed with traditional agencies, and recovering $17 million in delinquent bills with a 44% paid in full rate using Retain.
TrueAccord is the intelligent, digital-first collection and recovery company that leaders across industries trust to drive breakthrough results while delivering a superior consumer experience. TrueAccord pioneered the industry’s only adaptive intelligence: a patented machine learning engine, powered by engagement data from over 20 million consumer journeys, that dynamically personalizes every facet of the consumer experience – from channel to message to plan type and more – in real-time. Combined with code-based compliance and a self-serve digital experience, TrueAccord delivers liquidation and recovery rates 50-80% higher than industry benchmarks. The TrueAccord product suite includes Retain, an early-stage recovery solution, and Recover, a full-service debt collection platform.
Historically, debt collectors have been depicted as hostile, intimidating or downright rude – and over the years they’ve confirmed those stereotypes through aggressive phone calling and deceptive tactics. But to what success and at what cost? We know there’s a better way. The idea of compassionate, considerate consumer communication is behind TrueAccord’s approach to debt recovery and drives our innovation, and based on what we’ve seen, we believe there’s a lesson to be learned for others in the debt collection space.
In collaboration with OnePoll, TrueAccord recently surveyed consumers about their financial regrets and found that 63% of respondents had some amount of money in collections. While 88% of respondents didn’t have any past experience with accounts in debt collection to report, the 12% that did weren’t so lucky, and their experiences were pretty awful. We don’t like to hear about consumers being treated badly and reading these consumer comments brings to light the problem we’re trying to solve.
So what are consumers’ complaints about their experiences with debt collectors? Here are just a few:
“A million phone calls a day.”
“I was disgraced in a public place.”
“Relentless and rude, judgemental and uncaring.”
“Terrible experience, they were perfectly nasty.”
“They are mean and evil and clever and make you feel terrible about yourself.”
“They get angry when I don’t have the money to pay back in time.”
We’re here to flip the script. At TrueAccord, we don’t call consumers to collect past due debts, and we certainly don’t threaten or harass. By using a digital-first communication approach and friendly, humane messages, we actually connect with consumers and they feel empowered and motivated to pay.
Don’t believe us? Here’s some real-life customer feedback from people TrueAccord has helped out of debt:
“Thank you for your patience and understanding!”
“Love the email communication and the ability to pay online.”
“I actually looked forward to making payments because I felt there was a sense of mutual respect between myself and TrueAccord. It felt good to take care of a lingering debt.”
“Thank you for your kindness, patience and professionalism in the wake of hardship.”
“It is amazing to be able to feel good about paying your bills. You helped me all the way. No pressure.”
“My experience with TrueAccord was seamless. Truth be told, it’s the first time I’ve ever enjoyed time spent with a debt collection company!”
So far the kindness approach has worked for TrueAccord – with more than 16 million customers served, we pride ourselves on our 4.7 on Google reviews, A+ rating with the BBB, and overwhelmingly positive customer feedback, not to mention our industry-leading recovery results. We’re proving that when you treat consumers with respect and kindness you can actually achieve better results for your business and customers.
Interested in finding out more about how outbound calling for debt collection is a thing of the past, our approach to digital-first debt collection and how it can work for your business? Check out “Outbound Calling Doesn’t Work, Here’s What Does” for more.
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