Webinar Recap: TrueAccord Discusses the Future of Digital Debt Collections

By on October 29th, 2020 in Webinars

During times of change, it’s more critical than ever for companies to embrace an innovation strategy to continuously deliver on changing customer needs.

This has long been a guiding principle for technology startups. But it hasn’t always been a common practice in the debt collections space, where incumbents have historically lagged in adopting new approaches.

That was one of the takeaways of a recent webinar we hosted with Laura Marino (Chief Product Officer), Roger Lai (Director of Product), and Tim Yu (Product Manager). These three product leaders made the case for why, now more than ever, debt collections providers must function like high-tech startups in order to thrive.

Read on to get an overview of the key insights shared, or check out the full recording of the webinar here.

The Innovation “Flywheel”
Laura began by introducing TrueAccord’s philosophy of innovation. She observed that tech companies rarely wait for inspiration (like the next big flash of genius around a new feature or service) to strike. Rather, they use a repeatable, data-driven methodology to ensure that they’re always exploring new opportunities.

TrueAccord organizes its efforts using an innovation “flywheel”: a repeatable cycle that ensures continuous improvement. At any given time, the product team is engaged in one of these steps across a portfolio of different features and initiatives:

Define the problem: Analyze data to identify an area for improvement
Generate a hypothesis: Conduct user research to generate ideas for how to solve the problem
Test the hypothesis: Implement a controlled, randomized experiment to test the idea
Go live: Roll out the winning idea or improvement
Monitor and optimize: Continue to track performance and identify opportunities for improvement

At TrueAccord, the flywheel is designed to work alongside our built-in compliance system designed to meet and exceed the requirements of debt collection laws and regulation.

Three Ways TrueAccord is Propelling the Industry Forward
The flywheel isn’t just a theoretical model. Particularly over the past few months—a time of unprecedented change in consumer behavior and needs—it’s a tool that has helped the team rapidly deliver new features to market.

To demonstrate how the flywheel is used in practice, the TrueAccord product team walked through a series of case studies that demonstrated the value of an innovation methodology:

The Takeaway
The future of digital debt collections is one of superior results for creditors enabled through relevant, personalized, and empowering experiences at scale for consumers.

Forging that future requires a true innovation strategy: one that blends data analytics, deep consumer empathy, industry expertise, and continuous focus on compliance. TrueAccord has long been fortunate to be on the frontier of the possible, creating new ways to add value for both consumers and creditors.

Ultimately, the debt collections companies that embrace the “constant innovation” mindset of a tech startup are the ones best positioned to lead the industry forward.

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Make sure to check out the full recording of the webinar for more insights on the future of debt collections, or schedule a demo with our team to see our products in action.

TrueAccord discusses COVID-19 and collections

By on August 24th, 2020 in Industry Insights, Webinars

The COVID-19 crisis has ushered in an era of extreme uncertainty. As the country begins to slowly recover, the collections industry will face serious challenges. To help make sense of it all, we hosted a webinar with TrueAccord CEO Sheila Monroe and VP Customer Success Mega Rankin to discuss the impact COVID-19 has had on collections and what it means for the months ahead.

Read on to learn how COVID-19 impacted companies and consumers, how digital debt collection adapted, and what to prepare for in the coming months. You can also watch the full webinar here.

The COVID-19 Impact

The spread of COVID-19 ushered in a wave of unprecedented health and economic uncertainty that rapidly changed daily life across the country. These changes affected almost every aspect of daily life, including finances. 

This uncertainty caused a disruption to tax season, typically a time when consumers pay off their debts at a higher rate than usual. As businesses across the country closed, there was a dropoff in consumer engagement with their debt (anything from opening an email, looking at plan options, calling into a call center, etc.), as well as payments. 

However, the coronavirus-caused recession turned out to be different from every other recession we’ve experienced. While unemployment skyrocketed to record levels in April, individuals actually saw an increase in personal income on average due to stimulus checks and increased unemployment benefits. With stay at home orders in place, spending on things like travel, entertainment, and dining decreased, which led to a record high personal savings rate. 

Many consumers took this opportunity to clear their financial slate. In addition to a higher level of engagement with debt, there was a substantial increase in lump sum payments in late April and early May.  

Of course, the impact of the virus was not consistent across all consumers. For this reason, flexibility was key during this time. We saw many consumers modify their plans to fit their new financial situation in late March and early April. And those consumers who did create new payment arrangements opted for longer plans with lower payments. Consumer choice is always a crucial part of any debt collection communications, but all the more so during a time of unprecedented uncertainty. Luckily, 90% of webinar attendees allowed consumers to modify their plans in some way. 

How digital-first debt collection adapted

As consumers shifted their behaviors to match a new reality, businesses were also facing some serious challenges. Specifically, companies needed to shift to a work-from-home environment. For most debt collection agencies, this was the very first time they considered having the majority (if not all) agents working from home. Many companies struggled to make that shift, especially around taking payments in a compliant manner. That means that at the same time as consumers actively wanted to pay off their debts, many of them were not able to reach an agent to do so. 

As a digital-first debt collection agency, TrueAccord was able to rapidly adapt to best serve both our clients and consumers. Our cloud-based environment allowed us to seamlessly and safely shift our workforce to work-from-home, while our automated collections platform and self-serve payment portal, which allows us to carry agent workloads that are more than 50 times our competitors, ensured that consumers could self-serve payments, plan adjustments, and disputes while consumers who needed to talk to an agent were able to do so. 

Additionally, as consumer behaviors shifted, our machine learning-driven outreach was able to adapt to these new patterns to ensure the best customer experience. And as always, our digital communications and self-service tools enabled consumers to engage with their debts when it was most convenient for them. This was especially crucial as consumers were also shifting to working from home, often with spouses and children in the same spaces. With packed schedules, the ability to explore payment options on their own time, even outside of FDCPA hours, was key.

What’s next?

While no one can be certain of what’s next, businesses must plan for multiple possible scenarios to best meet consumer needs. There are many factors to consider that will impact the future of the U.S. economy, including the unemployment rate, any possible additional government stimulus, vaccine development progress, individual states reopening and closing, schools reopening, and major employers going out of business. 

While the exact timeline for recovery may not be known, according to a FiveThirtyEight survey, 73% of economists believe there will be a reverse radical recovery, meaning after a sharp decline, there will be a sharp partial rebound followed by a slow recovery. Similarly, the Fed is predicting that unemployment will remain in the double digits through at least the end of the year. Perhaps for this reason, the audience’s two biggest concerns for the next 12 months were lower liquidation rates due to high unemployment and pre-charge off delinquency rising. 

That means that we can expect a few things to happen. It’s likely that there will be rising delinquencies through the end of the year, as a recent survey by the CFPB showed that 52% of households couldn’t cover expenses for more than two months after a loss of income. Additionally, as forbearance programs and hardship programs wind down, and government assistance becomes less regular, we can expect to see higher levels of charge off, and see generally lower levels of collectability while the economy slowly recovers. 


To learn more about how these changes are affecting the industry, watch the full webinar.

TrueAccord discusses adapting to work-from-home

By on May 21st, 2020 in Company News, Industry Insights, Webinars

TrueAccord’s Director of Service Operations, Cassie Cox, and our General Counsel & Chief Compliance Officer, Tim Collins, hosted a webinar on May 13th, 2020 to talk through collections continuity in light of the COVID-19 crisis. The team discussed adjusting to regulatory changes, how to effectively manage a work-from-home approach in collections, and what the future of the industry may look like. 

How are federal and state regulations changing?

Federal-level regulatory updates

The pandemic has prompted the US federal government to examine how it can work to aid Americans in need. Following the CARES Act, the House has proposed a new, $3 trillion relief package, and we are likely to see other potential stimulus packages discussed as the Senate proposes their own stimulus plan. Major industry organizations like insideARM and the ACA International are watching these unfold closely, as should we all. 

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s activity has not slowed during the pandemic, and they are on track to meet their examination goals this year. Remote auditing processes are in place and buzzing. They may not be in your offices, but the CFPB’s teams are still actively working to ensure the industry remains compliant.

State-level regulatory updates

Several states, including Massachusetts and New Jersey, are pursuing legislation that directly impacts the ability of collectors to reach consumers. Massachusetts’ Attorney General recently enacted an emergency law that outright banned collections efforts.

This was fought by the ACA, and the law was declared too broad and in violation of First Amendment rights, but the changing playing field does not end there. New Jersey has worked to pass similar legislation which has now been narrowed to primarily impact medical debt collection practices. 

There will also likely be a heightened focus on state budgets and an increase in understanding how to bolster state economies. 

As of this writing, forty-seven US states are either reopening or partially reopening by lifting shelter-in-place orders. Twenty of these state legislatures are now back in session and may begin to make other changes that collectors should keep an eye on. There will also likely be a heightened focus on state budgets and an increase in understanding how to bolster state economies. 

One major change that seems to be for the better is the newfound flexibility for collection agencies and other companies to allow employees to work from home. This behavior is being echoed by Rhode Island’s new “stay healthy” order which has started the reopening process but is strongly encouraging employees to work from home when possible. Collections is beginning to adapt to the changing need, and TrueAccord was able to adapt quickly.

How is collections operations changing?

Maintaining control and information security in a work-from-home environment

TrueAccord’s team began to prepare for potential risk to our operations in early March by reviewing and updating our practices, policies, and procedures to make sure all of our teams could effectively work from home. 

Here are some of the standards we established as we transitioned 80% of our agents to work from home full-time:

  1. Replicate an effective office space
    1. Agents must have a private area in their home and commit to working their shift uninterrupted.
    2. Agents must have a minimum internet speed of 50Mb/s in order to maintain high sound quality on calls.
  2. Enhance work from home agent information security
    1. Agents do not take payments over the phone. All payments are received via IVR or guided through our secure payment portal.
    2. Agents are not permitted to have cell phones near their workplace.
    3. Agents are monitored by their supervisors via webcam with at least two random checks throughout the day. 
    4. Calls are randomly monitored by supervisors to ensure continued commitment to exceptional customer service and quality.

These were only made possible by bringing on new technologies and building processes before we dove in headfirst. We also made sure that all of our agents fully understood these new practices in advance, and they signed off on the policies ahead of time. The 20% of our team members that are still in-office (at safe distances) continue to meet the same standards as the other agents. 

Our contact centers directly support our omni-channel approach to the industry. Here’s information on three other channels we use to reach consumers.

The remaining 20% either opted to not work from home due to a lack of interest or they were not permitted due to their homes not meeting security requirements (e.g. not having a private space, not having a fast enough internet speed, etc.). 

Managing agent performance standards remotely

Call centers are filled with high-energy individuals that are driven by their wins. Maintaining the same hum and energy of an office space without sharing the same space is difficult, and we’ve taken steps to keep our agents excited about their work.

Meet (virtually) Face to face 

A robust virtual management system has been put in place to keep building our team’s connectivity. The webcams we provided to our agents not only help with security monitoring but also increase our ability to build team morale. All of our agents are dialed into (and muted on) a Google Hangout or Zoom meeting throughout the day so that at any point they can turn and see their teammates working hard. 

This practice has also extended to our new management strategy. All of our contact center team meetings are required to be on camera so that we get face time with each other. These meetings include small group meetings, individual coaching sessions, and any other 1:1 meetings as well. 

Encourage conversation

Look for opportunities to create additional team touchpoints. Our current structure includes:

  • Weekly coaching sessions
  • Weekly team meetings
  • Random, weekly 15-minute huddles

We also have a wide range of Slack channels in place for sharing anything from anecdotes to best practices. In an office environment, it’s easy for folks to look over their shoulder and share tips and tricks, and those conversations drive positive change. Slack (and other work chat tools) also provide ways to circulate urgent updates with ease.

Keep the excitement up

We’ve increased our budget for intra-day chachkes, small giveaways, and rewards. Our in-office management style was largely visual: performance trend boards, goal setting boards, and team-based competitions were huge drivers for us. Now, we’re turning to setting up more contests. In this environment, a $10 gift card can get almost as much traction as a $50 card. It’s the thrill of the win, not necessarily the prize itself. Keep the energy up!

Monitor issues closely

The first two weeks of the work-from-home experiment were an amazing honeymoon period. There were three, consecutive days of perfect attendance in our contact center. Typical efficiency metrics like production volume per hour and average handle time have remained consistent. Keeping the same levels of performance is another story entirely, and close performance management is critical to making work-from-home, well, work.

We continue to track month to date metrics and just as closely monitor individual daily performance. Though many of our agents had no issue moving to a home environment, just as with any contact center, the bottom 10% of our group semi-frequently underperforms. It’s more essential now to keep a careful eye on red flags and correct underlying issues immediately. 

The biggest concern was properly tracking things like call or work avoidance or time card manipulation. Thankfully, with all of our systems are aligned and our supervisors actively checking on their teams, the only instance we found was caught immediately. 

Terminating a remote employee

Unfortunately, this is a necessary part of any operations manager’s role. In a work-from-home world, we still want to make it as direct an experience as possible. The full investigation, conclusion, and termination conversation should all be conducted via video conference.

Beyond the human aspect of termination, there are data and security considerations that should be tested ahead of time. Your team should understand how and when data should be cleared from a remote employee’s computer, and systems should be in place for the employee to either drop off or otherwise return their gear. Remember to accommodate for the possibility of lost assets. Some folks, even under contract, may not return your stuff.

What is coming next?

Changes in the office

The COVID-19 pandemic prompted a lot of changes to the way companies operate in general. While it continues to unfold, we are likely to see more change. That said “Right now, maintaining [business continuity] means not changing anything,” said Cox. 

As shelter-in-place rules begin to lift, and we see some employees return to their offices, we will see physical changes:

  • New desk layouts
  • A possible return to cubicles or dividers and a shift away from open-plan offices
  • New air filtration standards for enclosed spaces

Changes in the industry

While the US economy recovers, we expect to see a massive wave of customers that are unable to pay their bills. Unemployment rates will continue to drive payments from slightly overdue to collections, and debt collection agencies and internal recovery teams are likely to struggle to meet the account volume. 

“Collections has long been driven by human capital,” said Collins in discussing the need for contact center agents. “Technology will have to step in and fill a new, higher demand.” He went on to add that alongside the increase in volume, we expect a change in collections mentality. In order to overcome the disparity between payment deadlines and consumers unable to meet them, there will be a rise in customizable payment plans, hardship plans, and digital, self-service tools.

Crises drive rapid evolution and change. Many business practices and technologies that were slowly gaining traction in a pre-COVID-19 world are now fast-tracked. Working from home is a must at the moment, and the collections industry has to embrace that. Moving forward, we’re likely to see new innovators that are reinventing an aging industry, and it’s time for collections to adapt. 

TrueAccord Q&A with Ohad Samet

By on May 15th, 2020 in Product and Technology, Webinars

The age of digital communication has led to a dramatic shift in the way companies do business and in the way that people communicate generally. The collections industry is not exempt from this change. On April 22, TrueAccord’s CEO, Ohad Samet, spoke on how TrueAccord is pioneering a radical transformation for consumers and collectors alike, especially in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. This is a summary of the webinar. 

Stop by our YouTube channel if you’d rather watch or listen to an abridged version!

COVID-19 & challenges to the call center model

Attempting to reach consumers in debt is becoming increasingly challenging. Reaching these same consumers during a rapidly evolving recession, when tens of millions of people in the US are filing for unemployment, is only making it more difficult. Beyond this, social distancing practices are limiting the ability of traditional call-and-collect based agencies. 

There has been some progress made on improving work-from-home opportunities in collections, but 78% of TrueAccord’s clients are experiencing severe disruption of their 1st- and 3rd-party call center operations. This includes some collections partners shutting down entirely.

High agent turnover rates are a common issue for collections agencies due to the difficult nature of the work. Agencies typically expect turnover rates of more than 70%, and these numbers are climbing in the midst of the pandemic. All of these factors have largely left the collections industry in a holding pattern as we wait and see what changes may come, but what else can we do today to make change?

Finding the solution today

TrueAccord is focused on building sustainable, consumer experience-focused collections systems and tools. Our machine learning algorithm, Heartbeat, is a patented, scalable, tool that personalizes the collections experience with empathy-driven content for consumers. The multi-armed bandit algorithm learns from customer interaction and optimizes based on these behaviors. 

Multi-armed bandit algorithms go beyond traditional decision trees or A/B testing. They optimize and learn as they grow! 

What’s the difference between machine learning optimization and demographic segmentation?

Demographic segmentation is dividing a group of individuals based on demographic information such as age, gender, race, marital status, etc. when deploying a process or function. Machine learning optimization is teaching a computer model to evaluate the choices individuals make to improve a process or function. For example, in the credit and collections space, debt collectors typically approach customers during tax season to discuss using any tax refund to pay existing debts.

Our Heartbeat system learned that consumers do not like these suggestions—consumers who received content without the phrase “tax refund” paid their debt during tax season (likely with their tax refund) more than those consumers who received content with the words “tax refund.”

Samet explained, millions of consumers have completed payments and established payment plans using TrueAccord’s platform (through Heartbeat). The options employed by Heartbeat are based on its historical data learned through continued experimentation without access to an individual’s demographic information. Based on the millions of users that came before them, we can depend on Heartbeat to function as a complete virtual agent with built-in years of experience.  

Customizable communication offers a personalized experience

While email is TrueAccord’s primary communication channel, Heartbeat is a multi-channel solution that includes but is not limited to, SMS (with consent), push notifications (with an opt-in), and a self-serve interactive platform. Other digital services segment channels to test with different audiences, or may specialize in one, requiring creditors to work with separate vendors. TrueAccord uses a multi-channel approach to reach consumers how they prefer.

In fact, more than 95% of users on our platform resolve their accounts without ever communicating directly with an agent. 80% of the consumers that do reach out to our team are able to resolve their accounts via email. Our dedicated team of agents is available to speak on the phone, but our digital tools allow each agent to service more than 80,000 accounts (and that number continues to grow). Some agencies are gradually scaling digital strategies, they still account for less than 30% of their overall operations.

In fact, more than 95% of users on our platform resolve their accounts without ever communicating directly with an agent.

While Heartbeat operates as the frontline of our digital strategy, TrueAccord’s phone number is always readily available. We firmly believe in using only one phone number, (866) 611-2731. This creates brand familiarity, drives engagement, and is consumer friendly. 97% of consumers ignore calls from unknown numbers because many companies buy phone numbers in all area codes. Their goal is to appear as if they are calling from the same area code as the consumer.

TrueAccord does not want to trick the consumer into answering an unknown call.  We want to make it easy for consumers to search for our number online, do their own research about TrueAccord, and respond on their time. When consumers do reach out to our team, TrueAccord agents are trained to focus on customer care and on helping consumers to build the right financial plan to meet their needs. 

Combining this approach to customer care with our machine learning algorithms allow us to expand our offerings to include new tools like a detailed self-service portal for payment plan adjustments. Consumers can customize payment plans that work for them, and this has led to a spike in plan creation and higher successful plan completion rates. 

This includes payments related to sudden surges in income like stimulus checks. Here’s what our data shows us.

TrueAccord doesn’t want to pressure consumers to make payment amounts they cannot afford and make deadlines they can’t meet. Instead, we enable the consumer to fully personalize the repayment experience into a plan that meets the consumer’s ability and time frame. “We sell the experience of being debt free.” Samet says.

A different approach to collections

Traditional call-and-collect agencies are built on foundations similar to telemarketing: high agent turnover rates result from low-base, high-commission pay rates. These collectors are incentivized to collect and meet call minimums and payment quotas that lead to a rapid rise in complaints toward the end of pay periods as deadlines loom. 

Machine learning algorithms don’t have the same stresses. The bounds of payment plans are defined by clients in advance. Heartbeat leans on historical customer data, consumer engagement behavior, and chooses content to inform consumers about the stress free experience of repaying debt using customizable on-line repayment tools. If the customer has any questions, they can always check in with our team by phone or email!

Changing the industry

TrueAccord’s changes are continuing beyond our technology. Our leadership team works directly with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) to understand evolving best practices and remain at the forefront of regulatory change. Members of our legal team also work with the Receivables Management Association (RMAi), the Consumer Relation Consortium, and Association of Credit and Collection Professionals ACA International boards to keep up with trends in collections. 

We submitted our own comments to the CFPB’s Notice of Proposed Rulemaking. You can read the full letter here!

These experiences all point in a similar direction: legislators want to see fewer phone calls, more reliance on technology, and more consumer choice in the collections space. Building compliance adherence into TrueAccord’s system drives brings these changes together in one place.

How does TrueAccord fit into existing collections strategies?

TrueAccord is able to service at any stage in the debt cycle (early, late, warehoused, etc.), across segments, with competitive results. Our platform is built to accommodate your team’s needs, and we recognize that not every collections agency works perfectly in every segment. 

We can easily increase or decrease the use of specific channels and optimize in whichever segments you see fit. While larger placement volumes provide more data and by extension clearer automated decision making, we fit into your strategy at any stage. 

Pre-charge off

The same tech that supports TrueAccord’s post-charge-off product also offers new advantages and easy onboarding within a few short weeks for early stage delinquencies. Heartbeat can  supplement your existing call center strategy. We’re also equipped to provide different levels of service in different phases. 

This can be a small change to your normal business practices: uploading a traditional “dialer file” to our system. We can email payment reminder content driving your customers to your existing teams, tools, and webpages, while maintaining your branding. This can also involve full outsourcing  through the use of our online self-service individualized payment portal as well as use of digital channels to drive engagement. 

The next steps

We continue to scale and develop new tools for consumers to self-identify their current financial needs and provide new ways to work with them to adjust payment plans. We know that demanding payments isn’t nearly as effective as empowering consumers, and finding the right middle ground helps all parties involved. 

Getting started with TrueAccord is easy with inbound file receipt or APIs and standardized, out-of-the-box reporting. It can be as simple as a .CSV upload to our secure dashboard or as complex as a long-term integration period designed to align our systems, policies, and procedures to your own.

Ready to join the future of debt collection? Do you still have questions about how TrueAccord can help your team? Get in touch with us today!