Introducing Account Dashboard To Enable Flexibility and Control for Consumers

By on October 4th, 2017 in Debt Collection, Product and Technology, Testing, User Experience

We are very excited to announce the release of a new feature in the TrueAccord Collections Platform, the Account Dashboard.  The dashboard gives a consumer a comprehensive view of their individual account, enabling consumers to manage their account in real-time, including view balance, payment plans, disputes, and access to financial resources.  This is going to significantly improve consumer experience by giving consumers more control and flexibility to manage their account and their financial obligations in a flexible way, according to their needs.

Our product and data science teams are always looking at ways to improve user experience and engagement by A/B testing new ideas and collecting user feedback.  Our machine learning platform is powered by a decision engine that draws upon millions of previous interactions to deliver digital, personalized experiences for each consumer. Sometimes, the result is a change in contact strategy for a specific set of accounts, but often we also see an impact on the way we design our user experience. This is one of these times.

A time for shifting paradigms

When we started TrueAccord, we were focused on creating a variety of contact strategies and the flexibility to deliver personalized consumer experiences and gather data that we could learn from and make actionable over time. So, we created a wide variety of offers and developed many landing pages with different value propositions, each of which was promoting a particular “offer”, as well as ways to attract consumers to look at those offers and act on them.  While it was simple for our team to create many pages and A/B test offers, we began to realize we were providing an “e-commerce” experience to consumers.

The “e-commerce” experience created a one-way relationship between TrueAccord and the consumer that responded in a limited way to changing consumer habits such as the use of digital technology to self-serve and a desire for individualized products and services. As consumers started getting familiar with the TrueAccord brand and our algorithms became more accurate, it was obvious that an ongoing relationship model better serves the consumer and yields better results, because consumers appreciate the transparency and feeling of control over their financial health.  Counterintuitively, they were starting to trust us, the collection agency. We also started to get feedback from our engagement team that consumers wanted to take advantage of offers they had previously received via email, but now couldn’t easily access. They were starting to think about TrueAccord like any account-based financial services firm they interact with.

We had to take a step back and ask a few key questions:

  • What was the market demanding from us?
  • What was our vision for the TrueAccord consumer experience?
  • Was the experience we were providing reflective of our vision and market needs?  

We realized that our first goal for the product was achieved: consumers don’t think about us as “the bad guys who chase me”. They think of us as a service provider that helps them with a part of their financial lives, and they want more: more engagement, more context, more options.  Consumers wanted the ability to login and view an account page, make payments, adjustments, etc. Part of TrueAccord’s mission is to become a platform for empowering financial health, through digital, data-driven, personalized experiences. So, a redesign was in order.

Creating a consumer-focused collection experience

It sounds counter-intuitive when it shouldn’t. Debt collection is an activity focused on recouping money that consumers owe but didn’t pay, but it can just as much be focused on helping consumers pay the money they owe. In fact, most consumers want to pay but are unable to for a variety of reasons. Creating a consumer-focused experience means providing a seamless, targeted, customized interface that is easy to manage and works with their day to day needs.

The Dashboard allows TrueAccord to show a consumer their available offers and options, while consumers, through their actions and feedback, let TrueAccord know what is or isn’t useful or helpful. It is truly a big step up in realizing our original vision for the product: introduce a system that puts consumers at the helm, in control of their lives and finances, and on the path to financial health.

Mobile

In some cases, more than 70% of traffic to TrueAccord’s web app is from mobile devices. We needed to make sure our new interface is easily accessible and navigable via mobile devices. The new dashboard interface is better optimized for mobile to meet consumer preferences. Consumers can access their account information at any time, from anywhere, giving them a reliable way to stay up to date with their account and to contact us if they have any questions or concerns.

Payment Plans

One of TrueAccord’s most popular payment options is our payment plans. 84% of consumers with debt balances over $300 choose to pay via a payment plan. Unfortunately, a large number of consumers set up plans but drop off before completely paying off their debt. Sometimes it’s because the payment plan amounts are too high, or dates don’t correspond well with the consumers pay days when they have money to pay. By developing a relationship with the consumer, TrueAccord is able to mitigate difficulties and provide solutions to help them get back on track.

Our goal is to be a platform for financial health that empowers consumers to get out of debt by giving them the control and flexibility of paying off their debt in a way that works for them.  This feature is a huge step in that direction.

Yelp Partners with TrueAccord to Deliver Digital Collections and Streamline Data Loop for Customer Engagement

By on September 28th, 2017 in Company News, Debt Collection, Industry Insights, User Experience

Highlights:

“TrueAccord saved our collections team tons of time, the integration with their system was fast and easy, without needing to do tedious, manual tasks.”

“Our company goal is to grow a large, loyal and happy customer base. TrueAccord’s digital collections process supports our goals by extending a great user experience to the collections process.”

“Digital, personalized collections are driving high engagement rate.”

“With TrueAccord we have timely data into customer standing.”

Challenge:

Yelp was founded in 2004 and is now one of the largest platforms to connect people with great local businesses. Traditional agencies required a lot of man-hours and manual processes.  Yelp faced several challenges with the traditional agencies; first, they required a manual process to transfer debt accounts, which was both time-consuming and tedious, requiring lots of forms and faxes being sent, lacking automation and data tracking functionality that Yelp required for business success.  Second, the agencies were employing traditional collections tactics that did not adhere to Yelp’s values.

 Why TrueAccord:

Yelp was looking for a collections agency that would increase recovery rates and help the collections team save time by automating the account transfer process as well as deliver great consumer experiences to support their brand and customer satisfaction. They needed a data-driven collections process that would streamline the visibility into consumer account status, so they could better serve their customers and run their business.

“TrueAccord’s digital collections process was a natural fit for Yelp,” says Parker Asche, Senior Collections Analyst. Yelp’s customers are used to digital interaction, and TrueAccord’s consumer-centric, digital collections process was an extension of our business practices.

Benefits:

“TrueAccord saved our collections team tons of time, the integration with their system is fast and easy, without needing to do tedious, manual tasks.” TrueAccord makes it easy for Yelp to continuously feed new account data into the system, without burdening their collections team with paperwork, saving the team time to focus on business objectives.  The quick transfer and collections process helps their business to continuously keep their customers engaged.

Consumer preferences are changing, and they demand a modern approach to communications. TrueAccord enabled Yelp to reach their customers via a communication method they prefer and engage with, and empower them with the ability to self-service themselves. Yelp is using TrueAccord to deliver engaging digital user experiences for their customers.

About Yelp:

Yelp Inc. (NYSE: YELP) connects people with great local businesses. Yelp was founded in San Francisco in July 2004. Since then, Yelp communities have taken root in major metros across 32 countries. By the end of Q2 2017, Yelpers had written approximately 135 million rich, local reviews, making Yelp the leading local guide for real word-of-mouth on everything from boutiques and mechanics to restaurants and dentists. Approximately 28 million unique devices* accessed Yelp via the Yelp app, approximately 74 million unique visitors visited Yelp via mobile web** and approximately 83 million unique visitors visited Yelp via desktop*** on a monthly average basis during the Q2 2017. For more information, please visit http://www.yelp.com or send an email to press@yelp.com.

* Calculated as the number of unique devices accessing the app on a monthly average basis over a given three-month period, according to internal Yelp logs.
** Calculated as the number of “users,” as measured by Google Analytics, accessing Yelp via mobile website on a monthly average basis over a given three-month period.
*** Calculated as the number of “users,” as measured by Google Analytics, accessing Yelp via desktop computer on an average monthly basis over a given three-month period.

Industry Expert Says: Phone Calls Are Dying

By on September 12th, 2017 in Compliance, Debt Collection, Industry Insights, Machine Learning

Yesterday, in an article on InsideARM.com, Tim Bauer, the President of InsideARM, described a somber state of affairs:

The TCPA and the 2015 FCC Rules interpreting the act have effectively eliminated the use of technology to efficiently call cell phones. Land line usage is dropping like an anchor. The CFPB is on the brink of announcing proposed debt collection rules that are likely to reduce the number of call attempts that can be made. Now, add this latest call blocking technology and the industry is challenged again.

This is a strong statement from a prominent thought leader in the debt collection industry. Mr. Bauer pointed out many efforts by different regulatory agencies and how they impact call centers: “anecdotal reports of right party connects down by 15-30%”, as the FCC includes debt collection calls as an “unwanted call” category in it’s “robocall” blocking initiatives.

At TrueAccord, we agree. The industry has been seeing tremendous pressure on its ability to call consumers efficiently, not only because of regulatory pressure – this pressure is driven by consumer preference, and the fact that consumers often opt to not pick up the phone, not to mention opening a letter. As strong advocates for technology in debt collection, with our CEO now part of the CFPB’s Consumer Advisory Board, we will continue to support forward thinkers such as Mr. Bauer and others who call for the use of new technologies in debt collection. It is the consumer friendly, smart, and efficient approach for the 21st century, and we strongly encourage our peers in this industry to begin adopting and utilizing these channels in preparation for the CFPB’s expected Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, expected later this year.

Debt Collection 101: Where to Begin

By on August 7th, 2017 in Debt Collection, Industry Insights

The heydays of 2015 are over, and investors are looking at business operations and growth before opening up their checkbook for the next round of funding. They are pushing for better margins and cash flow. In the past, you focused on top line growth and knew that there’s another round coming. You can’t do that anymore.

You talk to your CFO and it’s obvious that chargebacks and late payments are a bigger line item than you’d want them to be. You don’t need to be a lender for that. You could have chargebacks from people who regret their purchase (but somehow forget to return the item). Some are on post-paid plans but their cards expire. Some use your product, incur penalties, and never pay them. Simply writing off the debt is not an option.  

Why not do collections in-house? You may decide to try an in-house collections department. Your customer service people aren’t too excited about the new tasks, so they make a few calls and send an email, but no one responds. Those that do pick up the phone are sometimes aggressive and your agents can’t handle them. You realize that collections and customer service are not complimentary job functions and need to be separated. You try to hire a collections professional and are shocked by the cultural mismatch. This isn’t going to work. You’re not going to invest a lot upfront in the hopes of recovering 2% of what’s owed to you.

You decide to work with an outside collection agency. These folks don’t speak your language. They don’t even know what an API is. They outsource their collection activity to Guatemala because that’s how they can make 6 calls per day per customer, cheap. They become defensive when you mention your customers don’t like being called and prefer digital channels like email and text. You want them to care about your brand and customers but their agents make commissions on every dollar collected and if they can’t make their numbers, they get booted. You see where this is going. It’s not going to work.

Here’s the thing: debt collection is part of the business lifecycle, and when implemented correctly, can help you get paid while maintaining your brand and customer engagement. It’s possible to collect and keep your customers satisfied. Collections can use digital channels and a self-service system that gives people the payment flexibility they need, improves your chances of recovery, and reduces the time it takes them to commit to a payment. We’ve seen collection rates as high as 27% for eCommerce companies, because many of your customers who fall behind want to pay. They just needed to be treated correctly – in the same targeted, data driven, UX-first approach that you use for the rest of your product. That’s what we spend a lot of time building.

The Debt Collection Rule is Coming in 2017 – Here’s What to Expect

By on August 7th, 2017 in Compliance, Debt Collection, Industry Insights

The CFPB just announced its 2017 rulemaking agenda. In its message, the CFPB states that it has “decided to issue a proposed rule later in 2017 concerning debt collectors’ communications practices and consumer disclosures.” InsideARM puts the date at September of this year. This is great news for consumers, creditors – and even collectors.

The rule is expected to focus on collector communication practices. Judging by the CFPB’s 2016 outline, that includes clarifications on the use of social media and emails for collections, as well as a cap on weekly contact attempts per account.

Emails and social media are consumers’ preferred channels for communication, even with debt collectors. We expect this rule to open the flood gates on responsible, consumer-centric, and scalable collection practices that will benefit everyone involved. We’ve written extensively on how machine learning based, digital first systems collect better than traditional solutions, and we expect these clarifications to greatly aid in giving consumers what they want.

Contact caps continue the trend of limiting the use of phone calls as means to communicate with consumers in the debt collection process. As we wrote before, the biggest challenge to the debt collection industry is that phone calls are becoming irrelevant. The CFPB is continuing the regulatory trends following consumer preference, and while it’s opening up new communication channels, it’s severely limiting phone calls. We expect this trend to worsen.

This rule is a boon for the collection industry. While it may be challenged by those who focus on getting the most profit out of old school technologies, those in the industry who embrace technology and want to help consumers can’t help but appreciate the trend. The regulator is paving the way towards better user experience, better cost adjusted technologies, and an ability to actually help consumers at scale. Industries like e-commerce, tech and fintech have been very focused on consumer experiences and cannot afford to subject their customers to traditional agency behavior.  And major banks and lenders realize that this revolution is coming, and many of them have already engaged in transforming their vendor network and internal operations to be future facing. This rule is another great step on that path.

Response to the FCC Notice of Inquiry (NOI)

By on July 31st, 2017 in Compliance, Debt Collection, Industry Insights

The FCC recently released a Notice Of Inquiry (NOI) on the topic of on-call authentication, and the debt collection industry is again up in arms about its past, rather than embracing its future. Collectors are having a hard time authenticating consumers’ identity on phone calls, and that leads to a lower number of productive conversations. In a detailed article on InsideARM, Stephanie Eidelman correctly states that “While [the proposal] is not aimed specifically at debt collection, the problem is significant in the industry. The next trick would be to assist in helping the consumer authenticate their identity to a legitimate collector, in a way that eliminates the need to share personal information.” Dear collectors, there are wonderful authentication solutions available to you. Put down that headset, turn off your dialer, and turn your attention to the online world.

Consumer preference is changing. 97% of business calls go unanswered, according to Neustar. Phone calls are real-time interactions, imposing on the consumer’s time and attention. Once consumers pick up, they start from deep suspicion towards the person on the other side, who now has to earn their trust while asking for personal information. It’s a stressful situation, especially for someone paid a commission for collected dollars. Often this devolves into a heated exchange between a stressed consumer and an equally stressed collector. Calls aren’t only bad for reaching consumers; they are bad for engaging them in a meaningful exchange, too.

Emails and digital communication channels provide a superior customer experience. Emails and social media apps are password protected, simplifying the authentication process. If you require added security, many established companies offer real time authentication solutions that keep the consumer engaged with your system. It is easy to quantify and improve the experience to keep consumers engaged, reviewing their options, until they find one that fits. Consumers can choose to engage in times that work for them, rather than times when collectors are available to take their call. As a result, using digital channels significantly cannibalizes the phone channel: on average, TrueAccord makes 5 call attempts to each account over a 90 day placement period, compared with up to 6-10 attempts per day in call center based operations, and still collects better with lower complaint rates.

Calls pose multiple challenges – from operational ones to legal ones. They are costly and complicated. The FCC’s ATDS ruling is disastrous and further limits the efficacy of phone calls. Yet collectors choose to focus on fighting phone-related regulation instead of finding new ways to communicate with consumers. It is starting to look as though some prefer a contact method that consumers think of as harassing and intrusive, because moving to digital communications is simply outside of their comfort zone.

Using phone in a digital world. A Data Science story.

By on March 16th, 2017 in Data Science, Debt Collection, Machine Learning, Product and Technology
TrueAccord Blog

Contributors: Vladimir Iglovikov, Sophie Benbenek, and Richard Yeung

It is Wednesday afternoon and the Data Science team at TrueAccord is arguing vociferously. The white board is covered in unintelligible hand writing and fancy looking diagrams. We’re in the middle of a heated debate about something the collections industry has had a fairly developed playbook on for decades: how to use the phone for collections.

Why are we so passionately discussing something so basic? As it turns out, phone is a deceptively deep topic when you are re-inventing recoveries and placing phone in the context of a multi-channel strategy.


 

Solving Attribution of Impact

The complexity of phone within a multi-channel strategy is revealed when you ask a simple question: “What was the impact of this phone call to Bob?”

In a world with only one channel, this question is easy. We call a thousand people and measure what percentage of them pay. But in a multi-channel setting where these people are also getting emails, SMS and letters, there is an attribution problem. If Bob pays after the phone call, we do not know if he would have paid without the phone call.

To complicate matters further, our experiments have shown that phone has two components of impact:

  1. The direct effect — the payments that happen on the call.
  2. The halo effect — the remaining impact of phone; for example seeing a missed call from us and going back to an email from us to click and pay.

To solve the attribution problem and capture both components of impact, we define the concept of incremental benefit as:


 

Intuitively, the incremental benefit of a phone call is the additional expected value from that customer due to the phone call. For example, assume Bob has a 5% chance of paying his $100 debt. If we know that by calling him, the probability of him paying increases to 7%, then the incremental benefit is $2 (100 * (0.07 – 0.05)).

 

How we calculate incremental benefit

Consider the incremental benefit equation in the last section. It requires us to predict the probability of Bob paying for each scenario where we call him and do not call him.

Hence we created models that predict the probability of a customer paying. These models take as inputs everything we know about the customer, including:

  • Debt features: debt amount, days since charge-off, client, prior agencies worked, etc
  • Behavioral features: entire email history, entire pageview history, interactions with agents, phone history, etc
  • Temporal features: time of the day, day of the week, day of the month, etc

The output of the model is the probability of payment by the customer given all of this information. We then have the same model output two predictions: probability of payment with the current event history, and probability of payment if we add one more outbound phone call to the event history.

Back to our example of Bob, the model would output the probabilities of 7% and 5% chance of paying with and without an additional phone call respectively.

This diagram is a simplification that omits many variables and the actual architecture of our models

 

Optimal Call Allocation

The last step of the problem is choosing who to call, and when. The topic of timing optimization deserves its own write-up, so we will close with discussing who we call.

Without loss of generality, assume that we would only ever call a customer once. The diagram below has the percentage of customers called on the x-axis. And the y-axis is in dollars with 2 curves:

  • Incremental Benefit — this curve shows the marginal incremental benefit of calling the customer with the next highest IB
  • Avg cost — this horizontal curve shows the average cost of an outbound call

 

There are two very interesting points to discuss:

  • Profit max — calling everyone to the left of the intersection of incremental benefit and avg cost is the allocation that maximizes profit. Every one of these calls brings in more revenue than cost.
  • Conversion max — notice that incremental benefit dips below zero. This is especially true when you remove the assumption that we only call each customer once. The point that maximizes conversion for the client is to call everyone to the left of where incremental benefit intersects with zero.

Our default strategy is to call all customers to the left of the profit maximizing intercept. Interestingly, an intuitive investigation of the types of customers selected reveals customers at two extremes: we end up calling both very high value customers that have shown a lot of intent to pay (e.g. dropped off from signup after selecting a payment plan) and customers where email has been ineffectual (e.g. keeps opening emails with no clicks or no email opens.)

 

Conclusion

The world has become increasingly digital, and a multi-channel strategy is the right response. Bringing the traditional tool of phone, as just one channel within this strategy, forced us to rethink a lot of assumptions and see where the problem led us. We began by replacing the traditional “propensity to pay” phone metric with incremental benefit, found ways to predict this value, and implemented a phone allocation strategy that maximizes profits for the business.