4 ways collections can help consumers in a recession

By on April 1st, 2020 in Industry Insights

Consumer debt in the United States continues to climb into the tens of trillions of dollars, and as unemployment numbers continue to rise consumers are expected to continue to pay for essential services such as rent and utilities, companies are likely to see an exponential rise in delinquencies. All of these things together can cause financial spirals, especially for those already struggling to pay their bills.

In the midst of troubling economic downturn, it is the debt collection industry’s responsibility to remain a financial service and not create more damaging burdens. Here are four things you and your company can do to continue collecting and maintain customer relationships and loyalty even through challenging economic hardships.

Acknowledge the challenge

Communication is key. Your consumers have to know that they are seen and heard. Your mission has to help consumers navigate the challenges they’re facing.

Visitors to TrueAccord’s consumer website immediately see a banner drawing direct attention to the economic crisis. The banner links to a page with resources for those impacted (and available to those who are not impacted by COVID19) helping to answer the most frequently asked questions related to those with upcoming payments and in settlement plans. 

Provide non-collection related communications

Send communications that do not imply the existence of a debt. Do not mention any account, the balance due, or a demand for payment. Instead, provide other resources that can help anyone during this pandemic, like work from home opportunities, childcare assistance programs, and local resources for those in financial distress, including area food pantries and safe shelters. By providing tools that can aid consumers in need of help, you can be a guiding force for overcoming their financial burdens. 

Individuals in debt often need these resources year-round, not just in the middle of a crisis. These can include tools such as budgeting resources, debt payment calendars, or links to job boards for companies still hiring.

You may also consider sharing less direct financial resources such as educational tools that may be especially helpful to individuals seeking to improve their situation and parents hoping to address their family’s needs.

Extend payment plan lengths

One step that creditors can take that is simple but impactful and can help to alleviate financial concerns is to extend the length of consumers’ payment plans. Agreeing to longer payment plans gives consumers more time to pay, creating lower monthly payment rates, and leaving more dollars they can allocate to more immediate needs. 

Machine-learning and artificial intelligence can help to guide meaningful payment plan offerings. Read more about how new technologies are shaping digital debt collection.

Another step allows consumers to defer a payment. For many consumers in settlement arrangements, deferral may provide the assistance they need while not resulting in the loss of the settlement offer. In fact, North Carolina recognized this and passed this emergency law to make sure all consumers in the state have this option for the next 30 days.

Give consumers the power to manage their debts themselves

Implementing digital collections tools into your business can empower and educate consumers. Online portals and payment systems offer thousands of consumers the ease of access that they require of other financial institutions. 

Ideally, digital tools should extend beyond just payment options and should include opportunities for consumers to:

  • Make adjustments to the length and amount of their payment plans
  • Skip or defer a payment without losing a settlement
  • Dispute all or a portion of their debt
  • Apply for hardship pauses
  • Enter bankruptcy information

All without needing to speak to an agent.

The best debt collection practices should prioritize consumers’ needs and enable them to control their finances. It’s critically important to provide consumers with flexibility and the ability to customize when and how they pay.

Many in debt have tight budgets, live paycheck to paycheck, and sometimes are forced to choose between basic needs and paying bills. Leading the collections industry with compassion and empathy for those in need can make a lasting impact on consumers and creditors alike. 

Want to learn more about what we’re doing at TrueAccord and how we can help your consumers? Get in touch with us!

How can you help protect New Yorkers from aggressive collections?

By on March 17th, 2020 in User Experience

The collections industry continues to expand its digital footprint as growing consumer preference for digital channels combines with stricter regulations on call volume and call rates. Digital communications are standard today, but a key law passed in 2014 by the New York State Department of Financial Services of New York limits third-party collectors’ abilities to connect with consumers via email. 

We’ve seen the impact that digital communications can have on people’s lives, and you can help your fellow New Yorkers by sending the governor and your local official an email using the template at the end of this article!

The law (23 NYCRR 1)

Many existing collections laws are rooted in the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) from 1977, long before emailing, text messaging, and direct voicemail technologies existed. In an age of growing prefernece for digital communication, New York’s 2015 law—§ 1.6 of 23 NYCRR 1—states that collectors may only contact consumers via email if they have:

  1. Voluntarily provided an electronic mail account to the debt collector which the consumer has affirmed is not an electronic mail account furnished or owned by the consumer’s employer; and
  2. Consented in writing to receive electronic mail correspondence from the debt collector in reference to a specific debt. A consumer’s electronic signature constitutes written consent under this section. 

Shortly after the law took effect the New York Department of Financial Services compiled a list of answers to frequently asked questions. You can review them here.

These laws were put in place to protect consumers from collectors excessively emailing them, but consumers are not required to opt-in for debt collectors trying to call them on the phone. In the State of Collections 2019 report published by TransUnion and Aite Group, one collections industry leader said that “right-party contact has fallen off a cliff,” and for many debt collectors, this means that their existing call-based strategy is suddenly becoming unviable. 

On the other hand, we’ve found that consumers provide their email address opting into electronic communications with their creditors. In fact, 95% of accounts placed with TrueAccord come with an email address provided with the placement file. Of those we reach with our digital-first strategy, 65% of them open at least one email, and 35% click at least one link to begin the process of repayment.

When debts go unpaid, some creditors and collectors turn to legal action, and New York is suffering a resurgence of lawsuits since the passage of the 2015 debt collection law. In fact, 2017 saw a 61% increase in debt collection suits according to the New York State Unified Court System. In other states across the country, TrueAccord has seen dramatic growth in consumer debt repayment using email and other digital channels as the primary mode of communication. 

At TrueAccord up to 96% of accounts are resolved without speaking to an agent and nearly one-third of users prefer to manage their accounts outside of the “presumptively convenient” hours (8 am to 9 pm) legally outlined by the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act.

Consumers understand the ease of this digital management system and regularly share their positive experiences with a digital-oriented collection strategy. Here are a few:

  1. I liked that the email system was used rather than phone calls. I found it easy to use, and it helped me to gather information, figure out a plan, and get the bill paid. It was a small balance, but during this time, it seemed bigger to me. Thank you for your service.
  2. This was the best way for me to take care of my outstanding debts since I’m always on the road. Thank you for taking your time with me and not blowing up my phone!
  3. TrueAccord has been friendly and helpful, and your systems are always up and running for me to use. You should be proud!

The power of digital communication

Digital channels give people the power to access and manage their debts on their own time without having to work directly with call-center agents. Moreover, it provides greater consumer protection by providing a paper trail of debt communications, unlike aggressive phone calls that consumers most likely wouldn’t be able to record. The more hassle-free options that folks have to pay, the more likely they are to get out of debt and avoid aggressive call-and-collect agencies.

We want to encourage New Yorkers to make their preferences for easily accessible digital channels to be heard. Pay off your debts on your time, not on an emotionally charged phone call or in a courtroom. 

Reach out to Governor Cuomo by clicking here with the template below and make your voice heard. Once you’ve sent your email, share this information using #CollectWithoutCalls and let the governor’s office know that digital is easier for everyone!

Email template

The following text may be used as a template for reaching Governor Cuomo or other elected officials in your state. Please replace any content in the parentheses with your own information.

Subject: RE: 23 NYCRR 1

Dear Governor Cuomo,

My name is (your first and last name) and I am a (family member/service provider/advocate/community member) who resides in your district.

I feel that 23 NYCRR 1 concerning debt collection by third-party debt collectors and debt buyers places an undue burden on consumers in debt. It limits the ease and efficacy of digital communications and gives priority to intrusive and aggressive call-and-collect agencies. I prefer to use email and the internet to manage my own finances, and permitting 3rd-party collectors to email me directly (if / when) I am in debt gives me the ability to manage my accounts on my own time rather than at the collector’s discretion.

Please read here for more information about consumer preferences and see the movement on social media. #CollectWithoutCalls

Sincerely,

(Your name)

(Your city)

How do you effectively contact consumers in debt?

By on January 14th, 2020 in User Experience

According to the State of Collection 2019 report published by TransUnion and the Aite Group, “the challenge at the top of thought leaders’ minds [is] the increasing difficulty of connecting with consumers in a world where robocalls and scams run rampant.”

Consumers today are less and less likely to answer a call from a phone number that they do not recognize (only about 47% of calls are answered if the number isn’t saved), and the industry has to adjust if it wants to keep its head above water. 

One industry leader included in the survey said that “right-party contact has fallen off a cliff,” and for many debt collectors, the future feels bleak. In fact, three-quarters of those surveyed by TransUnion believe that upcoming regulatory changes from the CFPB will be difficult for them to implement into their business. 

This can all feel like a death knell for collections and recovery, but there is hope! Industry thought leaders believe that new communication channels and methods hold the future for the industry, and companies that are beginning the adoption process have already seen promising results!

A collection revolution

To get ahead of the curve, collection firms “are trying to understand people better and get the right data,” reports a third-party collections leader. Revolutions begin when the people rise up, or in this case, when they stop picking up. Looking at customer communication preferences, the world has largely gone digital, but “few [collections industry] respondents report their initial contact is attempted via email (3%).” 

So what are the new channels driving collections forward? How do you communicate with consumers more effectively as the age of call and collect fades? The importance of digital forms of communication can’t be overstated. 61% of agencies surveyed are already using email to communicate in some form with another 22% looking to add it to their strategy in the next two years. SMS & text messaging only has a 16% adoption rate with another 53% interested in further expanding. 

While there is power in alternative forms of communication, at the end of the day whether you’re using email, text, direct drop voicemails, or messages tucked inside candy wrappers to communicate with customers, the tool is only as effective as its ability to reach the consumer at the right place and the right time.

Moving into a digital future

With the start of a new decade, it makes more sense than ever before to shift toward a digital collection strategy to properly contact consumers in debt. One of the most difficult hurdles of integrating a digital approach for collections isn’t simply starting to send emails or text messages, it is integrating these digital channels at scale for hundreds to thousands of consumers.

This means that the solution to effectively contacting consumers as collections continues to evolve comes from a combination of understanding performance data, navigating the complexities of email deliverability, and learning to recognize and adapt to consumer preferences.

It’s no wonder that so many companies feel unprepared for the coming changes at a systemic level. Getting started and preparing for change with the right collector today can mean your collections strategy continues to grow for years to come.

Ready to go digital? Let our team know!