Diversity Builds Successful Teams in Tech

By on August 15th, 2017 in Company News, Culture, Industry Insights

The subject of diversity is a hot topic in leading tech companies today. Many of them would have you believe that cultural and gender diversity is an important subject that they actively promote. Frequently, they use diversity statements and marketing materials to advertise the importance of programs geared towards building diverse teams. All too often, these efforts end up being nothing more than empty words on a page.

While it may sound politically correct to support diversity and inclusion efforts, behind the scenes, many tech leaders dispute how important this work truly is. Throughout the years, I’ve been confronted with executives in leading enterprises who have privately denied the importance of diversity. In each of these situations, I’ve prevailed in making tangible changes that have proven the importance of diversity to the success of a company. As a result of these changes, we closed the gender compensation gap with women employees earning 99.8% of the total compensation of men, as well as increasing the population of minorities in leadership positions by 18% in a caucasian dominated environment.

Obtaining buy-in to adopt diversity from leaders who don’t understand it’s importance can be tricky and challenging. In my experience, the lack of buy-in is due to one fundamental issue. Most arguments in favor of diversity are usually based on subjective or social opinions. For example, in the following statement, “Diversity is good for companies because of today’s more accepting societal changes,” the subjectivity is undeniable.

The methodology for implementing changes is grounded in facts, but it is also based on the values of a company. I’ve found that when you use company values as a measuring stick in addition to logic and evidence, arguments in support for diversity are much more compelling. Arguing over whether or not diversity is a good or righteous is simply the wrong question to ask. A better one is, “How is the performance of our company linked to diversity?”

Once you ask this question you can begin to define what both “performance” and “diversity” mean in familiar terms. For example, you can define “performance” as KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) i.e. profitability, and market share etc; and “diversity” – as the blending of multiple characteristics of a company’s talent. After doing this, you can connect characteristics to demographics such as gender, ethnicity, race, age, experience, education, and attitude. Finally, after clearly defining “performance” and “diversity” you can point to many leading case studies that substantiate all the benefits of a heterogeneous workplace.

At TrueAccord, we believe that diversity is not just advantageous, but paramount to our success. We’ve experienced firsthand how this work can strengthen a company, especially in the following areas:

 

Innovation

The diversity of thought and expression will help tech companies develop the courage it takes to move from what is familiar to what is different. When you bring people together with different backgrounds, cultures, and perspectives at the early stages of a company, you can seed the importance of fostering inclusion which promotes new ways of thinking as your company grows. The bottom line here is that diverse teams generate creative ideas that will ultimately drive your company’s results, and a company that harnesses that diversity has a much higher chance of success.

Attracting Top-Talent

The rare opportunity to join a multicultural environment in tech is a key selling point when recruiting top-talent in the Bay Area. As a potential employee, first impressions can make or break your decision to join a team, walking into an office and seeing a diverse work force shows you that the company is committed to diversity. Working at a place that truly values this work is incredibly rewarding. The best talent comes in all shapes, sizes, and colors. Harnessing this talent to accomplish your company’s goals will unleash ideas and solutions that will remove many of the roadblocks for those who only hire the same type and class of individual.

Productivity

Hiring diverse teams increases the range of knowledge and skills within that team, as each individual brings knowledge from past experiences to the table. This breadth of collaborative knowledge can be the secret sauce that gives your company the key advantage in a fast-paced, ever-changing industry like tech.

Concrete steps to increase diversity in your company:

#1 Remove unconscious bias during interviews

The recruitment process must support cultural, age, and gender differences at every stage; it’s important that managers are trained to combat the less spoken about unconscious biases they hold. This will curb the unconscious ability for managers to treat qualified candidates unfairly.

At TrueAccord we counteract the unconscious bias by redacting names and education on resumes which directs the focus to practical skills and accomplishments. Interviews are conducted with diverse panelists who focus on competency based questions, putting less importance on factors such as ethnicity, age, gender or the school someone attended.

#2 Make diversity part of your company culture

We’ve found that placing a strong focus on diversity contributes to higher employee engagement and retention rates. This is extremely important as technical roles typically have higher turnover rates.

#3 Implement a zero-tolerance policy for prejudice and install “Collaboration” as a Core Value.

Saying that diversity is part of our identity is a promise we take seriously. We take a zero-tolerance approach towards any negative actions or beliefs related to personal identity.

We also made a commitment to not just accept, but to celebrate our differences. To make this real we have implemented a Diversity Committee with rotating members who regularly serve as a resource to our working community by providing education, information, referrals, advocacy, coordination and support for specific diversity-related events and activities throughout the company.

TrueAccord Culture 

One of the main challenges of managing diversity is the demographic changes in populations. The constantly changing demographic profile of the broader population means that organizations need to develop strategies that will meet the needs and desires of the communities they work within. At TrueAccord, we service all types of people in debt across the US. Our mission is to help consumers in debt by offering options and trust as an alternative to blame and conflict, and it has proven incredibly successful. And because we have a diverse population of employees that reflects the diversity of people we serve, we continue to experience tremendous growth. As of August 2017, we have an almost equal gender divide with 53.85% male and 46.15% female population. Our combined multicultural population consists of 60.29% staff compared to 39.71% caucasian employees. Compared to national leading industry surveys 28% female vs 72% male populations in proprietary software, 25% female vs 75% male populations in Information Technology, we are changing the perception of what populations tech companies employ.

 

While we’ve had and will continue to experience growing pains associated with our significant gains in revenue, we work to overcome obstacles by practicing full transparency when looking back on our mistakes. This type of transparency starts at a grassroots level. We’ve learned that creating feedback loops and cascade meetings works in a culture that incorporates inclusive behaviors. These behaviors extend to performance evaluations, training, and when remediating problems.

By building inclusive communication practices, encouraging differences in opinion, and not tolerating negative attitudes, we continue to increase the diversity of our teams as we scale and grow. Not only are we reinventing an 80-year-old industry through technology and values, we are also redefining what populations in tech companies can do when they are composed of people from different backgrounds, ages, and perspectives.

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.

Code Driven Compliance is the Future for Debt Collection

By on July 17th, 2017 in Compliance, Industry Insights, Machine Learning

Debt collection is a highly litigated activity. Compliance personnel and systems budgets are crowding out other investments. It’s appropriate: debt collectors and creditors are often hit by class action lawsuits and government action, leading to huge fines and settlements. Reducing risk is their primary priority. When examined closely, though, the traditional debt collection model attracts numerous compliance issues. The legacy approach is being replaced by  machine learning and digital first systems. These code-controlled systems offer predictable, scalable, and auditable operations that, coupled with best in class user experience, significantly reduce the risk of litigation and regulatory action.

The traditional model invites regulatory scrutiny and lawsuits

Collectors often cite compliance concerns as impediment to adopting new technologies. Lawyers are concerned about TCPA exposure from text messaging, consent requirements for emails, and FDCPA violations when using social media. These concerns are unfounded: text messages can be safely delivered if consent and revocation are properly documented, the CFPB saw no need for consent to email (as reflected by a growing body of opinions, as well as its 2016 rule outline), and social media can be used with restraint. While dragging their feet on evaluating new technologies, compliance departments embrace and perpetuate much bigger risks: the prevalent use of human labor, over reliance on phone calls, and the outdated, fragmented interfaces used by collectors.

Humans are the weakest link in the compliance chain

Traditional wisdom says that only people collect from people. That claim is demonstrably false. People are subject to biases and acting emotionally when interacting with debtors – which is why machine learning based systems collect better than humans. People may be tired, angry, or distracted. They can be baited into violating the FDCPA by a ill-meaning debtor. The prevalent commission-based compensation model, a broken and outdated model for collections, puts them in odds with debtors whenever they interact. Human beings just cannot do error-free work, no matter how trained or experienced they are.

Keeping appropriate staffing levels is another challenge for collection teams. Large market participants report 75-100% annual turnover rates (per the CFPB’s operational survey), requiring constant hiring of collection staff. Training and overseeing these new people is a daunting task, especially with the ever changing case law and legislative landscape in the collection space. Providing an efficient and fully compliant collection experience while relying on new and untrained collectors is almost impossible.

Phone calls are a dying communication method

Consumer preference is shifting away from phone calls, but phone call compliance would have been difficult even if that wasn’t the case. Calls are a compliance liability due to their frequency, their real-time nature, and the overall regulatory sentiment towards them.

Collection calls must be frequent to reach consumers. On days when an agent works an account, they may attempt to contact the consumer 4-6 times, often as frequently as 10 times per day. Consumers aren’t picking up the phone, so agents need to make more call attempts to try and reach them.   While most states, and the FDCPA, don’t limit call frequency, high frequency of calls often leads to complaints and lawsuits alleging harassment. Collector take this huge risk because calling is the only tool they understand.

Collection calls are also real-time. No matter how elaborate call scripts are and how experienced collectors may be, it is impossible to completely control the development of any individual call. Voice analytics software is limited, unable to identify most baiting and escalation issues. Real time monitoring of all calls by supervisors is financially implausible. Collection agencies are forced to settle for the best training possible, clear escalation paths for collectors whose calls go badly, and hoping for the best. Realistically, when making a large volume of calls, every day will have some potential violation.

Finally, regulation has been working against phone calls for the past few years. The FCC’s ruling limiting the use of ATDS has been devastating, and expecting it to be completely undone by the new commissioner is a pipe dream – government is not debt collectors’ friend. States like West Virginia and Massachusetts have enacted call frequency limitations, and the CFPB’s new rule outline includes a 6-times-per-week limit on call attempts. All signs point to a future where phone calls cannot plausibly be the main channel for collecting debt with any semblance of compliance.

Code driven compliance is here, and it’s a big step forward

Code driven compliance gives us complete control on what actions can be triggered by our system. It’s one of the components in Heartbeat, our machine learning-based, digital first collection platform. Heartbeat is a leap forward in debt collection, and its compliance advantages are many: from better user experience to perfect auditability.

Best in class user experience in debt collection is a compliance advantage

Many if not most of debt collection lawsuits hang on a technicality. A word is arguably missing or written in a debatable way. It’s unclear whether 8 calls or 9 calls constitute harassment. Often, consumers don’t resort to lawyers because they know for a fact they have been wronged – it is often not clear that they have been – but because their experience with the collector has been bad enough to push them to seek defence or retribution. Great user experience is therefore not only a way to improve the creditor’s brand perception and returns, but also a way to reduce the rate of complaints and lawsuits. TrueAccord’s Heartbeat system attempts to contact consumers an average of 3 times per week, compared to 4-6 times a day for traditional agencies. That, paired with best in class web and mobile experience and a helpful customer service department, significantly reduces consumers’ desire to sue for, or complain about, ambiguous technicalities.

Consumers get a consolidated account page showing all their options

Since more than 90% of Heartbeat’s interactions with the consumer do not involve a human collector, human beings are only needed for a fraction of the work. TrueAccord is able to hire skilled workers and pay them a living wage, with no commission component. Knowing that they will earn a good salary working for a technology startup reduces any incentive our team members would have had to fight with or harass consumers. That, in turn, contributes to great user experience and reduces compliance risk.

Pre-approved content and an integrated system eliminate human error

Human error is the biggest challenge for compliance departments. Collectors today need to navigate multiple systems to call, negotiate with, and collect payments from consumers. Updating the results of a call is often a complex process, requiring yet another system. Many requests to unsubscribe numbers, cease and desist communications, or simply to provide debt verification are lost and lead to complaints. This fragmented process is extremely tedious and time consuming, and inherently flawed. Letting collectors write their own emails and text messages is too much risk – something that will surely lead to violations on a daily basis.

TrueAccord’s content approval console

Heartbeat takes a code controlled approach to communications. Every outgoing communication is pre-written, then reviewed and pre-approved by TrueAccord’s legal team. Every email, text, web page and letter have to pass TrueAccord’s content guidelines driven by law, policy and procedures, including required disclosures and forbidding certain words and phrases in subject lines, or in the body of communications. Our clients’ legal and content team are also involved in commenting on our procedures as well as specific content items, to make sure we fit each company’s risk tolerance. Heartbeat will only send text messages to numbers that it knows it has express consent to text, and that have gone through an ownership check within a defined time period. Even when collectors respond to inbound consumer emails, they use pre-written replies that then direct Heartbeat how to proceed in serving the consumer. The decision to proactively communicate is strictly based on Heartbeat logic, not on collector whims; collectors cannot decide to contact consumers whenever they see fit.

After contacting consumers, the system monitors their response. Consumers can easily opt out of communications, by replying to a text message or by clicking a link in every email that lets them easily unsubscribe from future email communications. Every email and every payment page contain a link that lets consumers ask for debt verification via a few simple online steps instead of a cumbersome and mail-based process. Every interaction is designed to give consumers an opportunity to ask for more information or limit communications to their preferred channel. Though easy to dismiss as an invitation for abuse, these options increase consumer engagement and result in overall better collections – while significantly reducing complaints about continued communications and missing documentation. These two categories have consistently been the top reasons for filing CFPB disputes ever since its dispute portal was made public.

The compliance firewall: enforcing compliance at scale

Human collectors are expected to remember dozens, maybe hundreds of compliance laws and regulations as well as creditor-imposed rules. It’s an impossible task, greatly simplified by Heartbeat’s Compliance Firewall. Since it controls all contact decisions by code, Heartbeat can enforce its compliance policy at scale on every interaction without needing to train human collectors. Contact timing or frequency, matching content to the right stage in a consumer’s process or preventing the use of unsubscribed contact methods, even making sure that a consumer doesn’t get a payment offer that the creditor didn’t approve – all are controlled by the Compliance Checker. Any attempted action outside of its well defined policy is dropped. Since it’s code controlled, it cannot forget to check the time and call a consumer after 9pm or before 8am.

The Compliance Firewall also allows updates to policies and procedures. Every new update can be implemented with accuracy within days, once the appropriate code is written. By taking judgement away from the collector and subjecting all contact decisions to a data-based, code-controlled system, Heartbeat makes the optimal decision for consumer experience and driving payments, without harassing the consumer or violating the myriad of restrictions that govern debt collection.

The easiest system to audit

Compliance requires tight monitoring, and creditors audit a large sample of collection activities by their vendors. With so many voice calls, even if they are all recorded, complete and accurate audits are impossible. Auditors need to sample cases and hope to find the right patterns, or employ a large and expensive team for sufficient coverage. Heartbeat eliminates almost 95% of phone calls (typically attempting to reach the consumer 3-5 times over a 90 day period), instead focusing on written communication. Back and forth written interactions are easier to capture, store, and search. The system also saves consumers’ browsing pattern on the website and their interactions with the content they receive. It’s easy to track consumer behavior and how the system responded to it, as well as why it made a specific decision. Code controlled compliance means that decisions are easy to replicate and trace back in case they’re questioned.

A readout from TrueAccord’s event-based audit trail

TrueAccord’s system also has an audit interface for creditor audits. Compliance staff can easily search for accounts and review all collection activity – including recorded calls, emails, and every other contact. It’s a much easier approach to compliance and controls than an unwieldy excel file or PDFs dropped in an FTP folder. TrueAccord’s data retention and tracking of consumer behavior provide a fuller snapshot of Heartbeat’s collection decisions and how consumers reacted to them.

Code driven compliance is the future

We examined the inherent risks in traditional collection activities and how sticking to the phone as the leading collection tool in a call center environment creates more risks than rewards. Then, we dove into how code controlled compliance offers predictable, pre-approved, and consistent collection strategies that are easy to audit and understand. The coming years will see more and more creditors and collectors move to these machine learning based systems, as they demonstrate dominance in returns and compliance. It’s time for risk averse compliance departments to realize that they are putting businesses at risk by sticking to their phone-based roots, and look beyond tradition. A whole world of mature, stable and trustworthy technologies awaits.

The Results Are In:TrueAccord Consumer Satisfaction Survey

By on July 17th, 2017 in Company News, Industry Insights, Product and Technology

Today, 80 million consumers are in debt. They are often not treated well by collectors, and subjected to harassment, intimidation and an overall bad user experience that does not encourage or empower resolution. According to a recent CFPB survey 1 in 4 consumers felt threatened by collectors, 3 in 4 consumers reported that a collector did not honor a request to cease contact, over ⅓ reported being contacted at inconvenient times, and 40% of consumers reported they were contacted 4+ times per week. These results are quite disheartening, and demonstrate that the traditional debt collection agencies have not adopted user centric practices and behaviors, nor have they integrated technology into the process to adapt to changing consumer needs. They are stuck making large volumes of phone calls to uninterested consumers who end up complaining.

When we set out to survey our consumers about their experience with TrueAccord we weren’t quite sure what to expect, or if they would even respond. On one hand, we believe our data driven, consumer centric, digital first experience is reinventing the debt collection process and will replace legacy agencies, and consumer will appreciate that. On the other, we are still talking about debt collection, and most likely a lot of these consumers have experienced multiple negative collections experience and have low expectations of the process. They aren’t likely to recommend a debt collector, and as we’ve seen above, are highly likely to have had a bad experience.

Overall satisfaction

What we found was both exciting and inspiring, 80% of respondents were satisfied with their experience with TrueAccord. It’s an unprecedented number in an industry that, for decades, only attracted negative attention. TrueAccord is building a product and brand focused on delivering great user experiences and helping consumers rebuild financial health, and consumers are reacting to that. Traditional agencies’ behaviors have been impacting liquidation, hurting brand reputation and causing a lot of compliance risk. Yet they haven’t changed their ways. We show that working differently is possible – and will yield better results.  

Tone

81% of consumers stated that the tone and personalized offers in our messages were appropriate for their individual needs. Our content is personalized, and tailored to empower and motivate consumers to want to pay off the debt, combined with the ability to offer a wide selection of custom payment plans. Consumers’ needs are served and they are treated like customers. Our clients understand that debt collection is part of a natural consumer life cycle;at one point or another, most of us will encounter debt collectors, but unfortunately traditional agencies lack the technology and best practices to deliver good user experiences, leaving consumers feeling frustrated, angry and wronged. This does not have to be the case.

User experience

80% of our users had an overall positive experience with TrueAccord and recognized TrueAccord as different and better than other agencies. A large proportion of the other 20% resolved their debt by disputing it, so even though they may not feel great about their experience, they were able to dispute and discharge a debt electronically and with minimum hassle. It’s exciting to see that consumers see our brand the way we see ourselves, as innovators focused on great user experiences. We believe helping people get out of debt has positive impact for everyone involved, even (and sometimes more so) if getting out of debt means it can’t be collected.

What consumers had to say:

You were easy to work with and the payment plan worked for me. Even when I had to make a small change, it was no problem. I’m glad to have the debt behind me. I appreciate the email correspondence as opposed to numerous phone calls.”

“They worked with me and I needed that.”

“It is always a pleasant experience dealing with True Accord.”

“Wish you could handle all my debts.”

“I love the fact that TrueAccord was kind and polite! I wanted to pay my debt but needed a plan that wouldn’t leave me over spent or struggling every month. TrueAccord was happy to accept the payment plan I requested. Thank you!”

“TrueAccord provided me a way to be true to my word.”

“The agents are all very friendly and accommodating. It doesn’t feel like you are dealing with a collection agency.”

“The best collection agency ever!”

 

Default Rates Are Going Up As Bad Collection Practices Continue to Ignore Debtors

By on June 28th, 2017 in Compliance, Industry Insights
TrueAccord Blog

The US economy has taken a turn for the better in the past year. Unemployment has plummeted, the Federal Reserve is raising rates, and the stock market is soaring. However, for the past two quarters, several issuers reported an increase in charge off rates. While banks may be changing their underwriting standards to encourage growth, there is another contributing factor: a fundamental shift in the way consumers live and work, one that the credit card industry has failed to adjust to.

2008-2009 was a turning point for the US economy. Millions of jobs were lost across all industries, without much hope of recovery. College grads joined a crippled job market, and felt like they needed to “hustle” and find alternative means to sustain themselves. Uber, founded in 2009, created an opportunity as standard-bearer of the gig economy and many others have followed suit. At the same time, social media became prevalent as Facebook went international in 2007. These processes created  new consumers – the millennial cohort. Millennials are on the move, working several unsteady jobs, managing their own time and relying heavily on social media and digital communications. They use traditional financial solutions like credit cards, but the dominance of mobile and digital in their life is driving their preferences for communications and interactions with people and businesses. However, if they default, they are effectively sent back to the stone age, where in time to a world that knows nothing about them, and does little to service them effectively. When a system that “always worked” faces a new type of consumer behavior, it breaks – and leads to increased defaults and losses.

Consumers expect a better user experience – even in collections

As digital, always connected users, millennials expect their bank – or the bank’s collection vendor – to fit their lifestyle and preferences. Unfortunately, the debt collection and recovery industry hasn’t changed in decades. There has been little investment in moving away from phone calls and letters to a more digital and technology driven process,  that can deliver a better user experience for those in debt.

Contact through digital channels is table stakes for the digital consumer. Many have never  visited a bank branch and most will not answer a call from an unidentified number, or respond to a letter. According to Accenture’s “Banking Customer 2020”, 58% of consumers use their mobile device when seeking support from their bank, 53% report going to their online banking center at least once per year to sort an issue; 78% report doing so to make a payment. More than half of the population has adopted  digital channels to manage their lives, and will not respond to cold calls and letters in nondescript white envelopes. Call center-based collection approaches fail to get these consumers on the phone, and debts make their way to charge off without any meaningful engagement from the consumer.

Once contacted, millennials expect clear communications. The common disclosures used in debt collection, for example, feel onerous and obscure – causing them to disengage (the CFPB recognized that and is planning a survey regarding disclosures). The dispute process, asking for more information about their debt, is onerous and slow. Consumers need, and deserve, communication that drives them to action rather than intimidates and coerces them. Collectors are pressured to cold call and create instant rapport with unwilling debtors – and they are failing this task in growing numbers.

Finally, consumers need flexible payment options that fit their work schedules. As Robert Reich notes, while 1099 workers may make slightly higher hourly salary when working, their hours are irregular and difficult to schedule. This means irregular paychecks that can vary in size and resulting disposable income. A consumer might be able to pay $100 this pay period, $150 next time and only $50 the following one. Traditional approaches fail to adjust to these realities, focusing on steady payment plans that these consumers cannot always keep up with.

Machine Learning Based Liquidation Looks Different – and That’s a Good Thing

By on June 26th, 2017 in Industry Insights, Machine Learning, Product and Technology
TrueAccord Blog

TrueAccord serves major issuers, debt buyers and lenders across the US. We compete with traditional collection agencies and beat them: TrueAccord collects more than 1.5 times the competition in a typical 90 day placement period. We use a machine learning based system, HeartBeat, that replaces the traditional call-heavy model with digital first communications that compliment consumer behavior and mode of communication, but that makes our liquidation curves look different from traditional agencies.

Traditional liquidation curves

Traditional liquidation curves typically shoot up in the first 30-45 days, followed by a plateau around 60-80 day, with a possible bump towards the end of the placement window. This pattern is driven by several factors.

Routine: agents receive fresh accounts and are eager to call them. They fire up dialers and quickly reach consumers who can either pay or be lightly pressured to pay. After a few weeks of calls, agents are tired of calling the same consumers. They heard what they think are excuses, have driven all the easy payments they could drive, and are ready for new accounts. “Old” accounts, as old as 30 days, get a worse treatment. Collection managers know this, and try to trick collectors into thinking they got fresh accounts by pulling the accounts out from the system and re-entering them. This rarely works. Collectors lose focus and with it, performance.

Net present value: settlements are better than payment plans for collectors – they mean more money now, versus a payment plan that may fail, and require reminders and additional work by the collector. Collectors opt for more settlements earlier, if they can get the consumer on the line. Under the pressure of a call, the consumer may commit to a payment plan. In this case the collector prefers as high a monthly payment as possible, since they assume the payment plan will fail early. The consumers, struggling with irregular cash flow and a large payment they shouldn’t have committed to, fail payment plans at a staggering rate: as much as 50% of payment plans fail.

Remorse: consumers who agree to settlements or plans often feel remorse after getting off the call, and tend to charge back on payments they made. Chargeback rates in the debt collection industry are so high (rates as high as 2% are not rare), that most payment providers won’t work with collection companies.

The initial bump in liquidation is often enough to beat other phone based agencies. Since all agencies use the same methods, a slight advantage in selecting the right accounts to call first can get an agency ahead of its unsophisticated peers.

The TrueAccord liquidation curve

In contrast to the traditional curve, TrueAccord’s liquidation curve is somewhat linear. It often starts lower than the traditional agency, but continues to rise through the placement period until it crosses and exceeds its competitors. That inflection point can happen as late as day 80 (before the algorithms have been tuned, early in a pilot) and as early as day 15 (once the algorithms have learned how to handle a new product). The difference is driven by several factors.

Data driven treatment at scale: TrueAccord’s system is machine learning based and digital first. Since it starts with an email, it can initiate contact with all consumers easily, without having to call them often – and consumers are much more likely to respond to digital communications than to a phone call: while Right Party Contact rates often hover around 4-5%, email open rates on TrueAccord’s platform reach 65-70% and click through rates reach 30-35%. Once it sends its first email, it uses real time tracking of consumer responses to tailor its next steps. The system relies on hundreds of millions of historic contact attempts to optimize its contact strategy. If the consumer doesn’t reply, the system can automatically switch between channels (from email to text, call, letter, and so on) to reach the consumer. It also uses data to figure out what time of the day to contact the consumer that will yield the best response rates, call centers are limited to just making phone calls, which often consumers ignore because they are busy or just don’t pick up calls from unknown numbers. Since a machine doesn’t get bored, it continues contact attempts (3 a week on average) until it is told to stop. Targeted, consistent communications at scale mean that more consumers will interact with our system compared to a call center.

Optimizing for liquidation: a data driven system can use historical data to understand what best fits consumer needs and leads to better liquidation. It doesn’t need to push for early settlements because its automation lets it serve each consumer according to their needs – making custom tailored plans viable. Consumers get easier payment terms that fit their needs, and end up paying more. We convinced several of our clients to move from a default payment plan length of 6 months to 12 months. Contrary to call center based intuition, these longer plans get more consumers to sign up and don’t cannibalize settlements, in turn leading to an increase in liquidation. The machine learning system can service these plans at scale and reduce failure rates: TrueAccord payment plans complete as much as 89% of the time (as low as 11% breakage). By the time payment plans for traditional collectors fail their second payment, TrueAccord’s liquidation rates start soaring.

Best in class user experience: consumers don’t like phone calls or letters. They prefer 24/7, personalized, easy to use services – and collections aren’t any different. Using our system they can customize and sign up for settlements, payment plans, or ask for debt verification. Having access to their account information, and a sense of control over payment options, consumers don’t feel pressured or remorseful after paying. TrueAccord’s chargeback rates are next to not existent.

Bottom line

Machine learning based debt collection is different in many ways that benefit creditors and consumers. Our liquidation curve tells the story of how our system behaves differently than call center based collections – serving consumers at scale, using their preferred communication channel, and while tailoring payment solutions that work for them.

Personalized Digital Experiences Drive Engagement and Liquidity for Consumers

By on June 15th, 2017 in Industry Insights
TrueAccord Blog

Debt collection has existed for as long as consumers have been taking loans. For the past few decades, collectors have been building call center businesses – hundreds and thousands of calling agents, using automated dialers to contact indebted consumers, compensated with commission once they reach their collection goals. Consumers are often harassed by overzealous collectors looking to meet their goals, calling as much as 6 times per day. It’s a stressful environment focused on one thing – get the money or get out.

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Fintech Companies Are Learning to Work with Regulators

By on April 24th, 2017 in Compliance, Industry Insights
TrueAccord Blog

This article, written by our In House Counsel Adam Gottlieb, first appeared in the RMA Insights Magazine

The word “startup” conjures images of stereotypical open offices, complete with ping pong tables, standing desks, and people in hoodies feverishly hammering at keyboards. Startups are often associated with high risk, scrappiness, and the ability to break things and move fast–all a stark contrast to the bureaucratic and highly-regulated environment that most debt buyers and collectors operate in. Yet, as startups begin venturing into the area of financial technology, they have had to adjust to new operating principles and new stakeholders, with the government chief among them.

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