Stimulus check payments surge over tax season trends

By on May 14th, 2020 in Industry Insights

Consumer debt in the US is climbing rapidly. A 1.1% growth to $14.3 trillion in Q1 of 2020 places the total debt higher than its previous peak of $12.68 trillion in Q3 of 2008. This growth may not be directly tied to the pandemic, but it does represent a large problem as a recession looms. Our teams have the ability to see some patterns and trends that arise in our repayment plans and consumer payment habits amidst these changes. Business partners span several verticals, and our data represents a broad spectrum of consumers in debt. 

A (not so) unexpected trend

In a typical year, like many other collection agencies, we see the highest volume of debt repayment when consumers use any tax return to pay down existing debt—February to the beginning of April. This year, however, an unexpected spike in late April and May dwarfed our Year Over Year trend thanks to the CARES Act stimulus checks. 

To put this into perspective, Americans received the first major wave of CARES checks on April 15, 2020. On that day, debt repayment volumes were 22% higher than on February 26, 2020, the first-day that tax refunds were disbursed by the IRS.

The higher volume of payment plans created and money spent were matched by an exponential increase in inbound consumer engagement, both over the phone and through our online portal. TrueAccord wasn’t alone in this trend either. Consumers flooded major debt collection agencies, who saw 2.5 times the inbound call volume and 2 times online traffic compared with a regular April day. TrueAccord’s CEO, Ohad Samet, had this to add:

We are actually not surprised by this. Borrowers that we work with are in a state of financial uncertainty most of the time, so crises like this are unfortunately not far from the norm for them. A sudden inflow of cash like a tax refund or a stimulus check is an opportunity to get on more sound financial footing by paying off debt. 

When they do have money, they go to brands they feel an emotional connection to, and TrueAccord has spent years building a reputation as a trusted partner for consumers in debt. That’s why we’re seeing an unusual surge.

The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the global economy in unprecedented ways, but there is still some data that helps us understand what consumer spending habits can be expected in a recession. Maintaining communication with consumers affected by the pandemic and helping them to navigate this complex financial crisis is a necessary process.

Options empower consumers to pay when they can

Several states like Nevada and Massachusetts are restricting debt collection practices in an effort to stop collection calls during a time of potential sickness or unemployment.  However, as Samet mentioned, debt collectors regularly encounter consumers who are going through hardships that often lead to their indebtedness.

During times of financial stress, it is equally important that we provide consumers options and tools to manage their accounts as they see fit and when they are able based on their personal situation. As evidenced by the sheer volume of payments submitted in our system after consumers received their stimulus checks, consumers desire to pay down their debts when they have the financial ability to do so. 

There are many resources available for consumers that are experiencing hardships, and we want to empower consumers in debt to get back on their feet.  Kelly Knepper-Stephens, VP Legal & Compliance, explains:

As a collection agency, we can help by providing consumers with the ability to self-serve using tools that offer flexible options including non-payment options, such as options to dispute, apply for hardship, stop phone calls, or unsubscribe to emails. Consumers appreciate the opportunity to make all these decisions when they have the time and ability to do so, which is why it is critical to be able to provide consumers with 24-hour self-service options.  

Empowering the consumer with these choices and with the ability to communicate in the manner they prefer (which may or may not be over the telephone) can bring relief about existing obligations during a stressful time. A lack of options can feel restricting and stressful, and our data supports the power of choice.

Want to see how a digital platform can improve your consumer engagement? Reach out to us for more information!

What consumer repayment trends can we expect from a recession?

By on April 23rd, 2020 in Industry Insights

Financial institutions around the world are seeing massive changes to the way consumers are engaging with their finances. The COVID-19 pandemic and the growing recession are also changing the way that consumers are engaging with their debts.

During the 2008 financial crisis, we actually saw that “charge-off rates for subprime consumers increased only moderately relative to pre-crash levels” according to a white paper recently published by 2nd Order Solutions and Boston Consulting Group.1

The recent historic and exponential rise in unemployment rates and the rapid onset of an economic recession, however, also means that there isn’t a precedent for precise predictions. Thankfully, based on current trends and existing data, we can see some patterns beginning to emerge.

Based on a survey conducted by Bankrate, roughly 25% of Americans expect to put their stimulus checks toward paying off a debt, and 50% plan to use their checks to pay monthly bills. TrueAccord’s consumer payment trends support this information. Our teams saw a 120% increase in contact rates as the government deposited consumers’ stimulus checks, and even amidst the crisis, we are seeing a change in the way consumers are approaching their payments.

We’re seeing a shift in consumer preferences toward long-term payment plans, rather than one-time payments. While only 30% of payments made in April 2019 were from payment plans, a year later, we now see a near-even 50% split between plan creation and single payments.

Evolving technology meeting consumer needs

Another trend outlined by Boston Consulting Group’s whitepaper highlights the role of technology amidst a recession. 

“[Financial institutions] with a more sophisticated approach to communication fared better than their peers during the crisis. Multi-channel strategies spanning phone, SMS, and email, underpinned by predictive analytics and integrated data acquisition, are commonly seen at these financial institutions.”

TrueAccord’s digital-first collections strategy is showing us first-hand the power of enabling consumers to manage their own finances, at their own pace, even in a crisis. 

Wnat to learn more about how we’re reaching consumers? Get in touch with our team today!

Citations

  1. Boston Consulting Group, 2nd Order Solutions (2020) Winning in the Next Era of Collections: Preparing collections for a recession

5 tips for building scalable email infrastructure

By on February 6th, 2020 in Product and Technology

Using email as a channel for consumer communication seems like a simple way to dive into the digital revolution, but internet service providers (ISPs) actively develop tools to combat spam and abuse.

You may have the best intentions, but these service providers want to help consumers feel like they are protected which means blacklisting and filtering out junk mail. Unfortunately, emails sent by the untrained email sender can veer dangerously close to junk. 

This can make breaking into emailing consumers difficult, but it makes sending emails by the thousands (and millions) impossible without building email infrastructure that is sustainable and scalable. Establishing that infrastructure begins with recognizing the challenges you might face and then considering how to best confront them.

Why scaling email infrastructure is difficult

Email communication is heavily regulated by automated filters and systems in a way that more manual forms of communication aren’t. Cell service providers, for example, do not have nearly as much control over the volume or quality of calls that their customers receive. 

ISPs have dedicated engineers that design algorithms to keep their users happy, engaged, and protected from malicious senders, and an inbox packed with spam mail makes for a poor user experience. These algorithms are not perfect, and when they are designed, they lean on the side of being more restrictive than less which can lead to some misunderstanding. They may accidentally filter out an email from a legitimate sender that, according to their understanding of what is deemed safe, seems suspicious.

To make matters more complicated, each ISP has unique criteria that serve as the basis of their filtering rules. An email that is flagged as spam by Google could land safely in a Yahoo Mail inbox and vice versa. These rules are also constantly changing and updating to fight back against more advanced scammers making it impossible to create a one-and-done solution to properly sending emails at a massive scale.

Here are just a few things that spam filters analyze that you’ll need to consider:

  • Content: What do your emails say? Do you have any suspicious attachments or links?
  • Design: How do your emails look?
  • Sending time: Did your email arrive at 4pm or 4am?
  • Sending volume: How many of these emails did you send out at once?
  • Sending frequency: How often are you trying to email people?
  • Consumer engagement: Is anyone actually opening/clicking your emails?

Working to get all of these answers (and more) right is essential or you might find your email domain permanently blacklisted from one or all of the ISPs that you’re sending to. So what can you do to build a scalable infrastructure and work within these restraints?

How to successfully send email at scale

As we mentioned above, there isn’t necessarily a single, perfect solution for overcoming the innumerable hurdles to large-scale emailing. It takes dedicated and focused strategy to improve your long term inbox placement rates. Here are a few tips that our team keeps in mind as we continue to grow.

Create valuable content

The first step to making sure your emails are well-received by both users and ISP filters alike is creating the right content. Well-designed UX and carefully curated text are important, but it’s equally important that you steer clear of some phrases and keywords and trigger red flags.

Here’s a list of some spam trigger words that you might want to avoid!

Having a dedicated content team gives you the flexibility to create more personalized and more human messages that have a better chance at reaching your intended audience!

Talk to experts

We know we’ve been thorough, but fully understanding the challenges of sending email at scale isn’t something we can teach you in a few hundred words. TrueAccord has a full team of email deliverability experts on staff that can provide industry specific knowledge and know the ins-and-outs of different ISPs’ requirements. 

They also regularly audit our deliverability rates so that we can iterate on our processes and improve and help segment our domains and IP addresses as we grow.

Segment domains and IP addresses

Thankfully, our email experts can help explain what that last bit means. Segmenting your domains simply means building different domains that you can email consumers from. For example, some of your emails may come from emails@companyA.com and others may come from emails@help.companyA.com. The same goes for segmenting IP addresses; you may send some of your emails from your main office and others from your satellite office.

This process can help to limit the risk to your brand’s reputation with ISPs as you are less likely to take a big hit if only one of your many email addresses makes a mistake (e.g. bouncing frequently, receiving a lot of spam complaints, having many of its emails remain unopened). 

This process is intricate and methodical. Creating ten new domains can’t solve deliverability problems because brand new domains also lack authority. If an ISP’s filters see that a brand new email address is sending out 100,000 emails, it’s likely that it’ll be swept to the side. Which brings us to our next point!

Take it slow

Scaling your program too quickly is heavily penalized even among senders with high engagements. Many well-established companies that want to build a large scale email strategy with their existing customer base make this mistake, and sometimes there isn’t a way to fix it. Placing strict limits on email volume growth can help ensure that ISPs don’t flag your domain.

Track your data

Set your benchmarks, track your performance, and make changes as you go. Data is the life blood of a scalable email program. As you’ve seen, there’s a lot to keep track of, and if any segments of your strategy spring a leak, the ship might sink. 

By frequently and carefully monitoring performance—from open and click rates to inboxing rates to bounce rates—you can maintain a full view of your email strategy and make improvements as you build. 

No one has the power to flip a switch and send millions of emails per month without risk, but if you build slowly, you can lay the foundation for a successful email strategy. If you have any questions, let us know in the comments below! 

TrueAccord sends 40x more emails and has up to 70% higher inboxing rates than other collection agencies. Chat with our team today to learn more about what that means for you!

Tracking Performance Data With Digital Debt Collection

By on October 21st, 2019 in Product and Technology

Call centers are notorious for reaching hundreds, if not thousands, of consumers several times per week (and even several times per day!). The debt collection industry is plagued by the perception that collectors are relentless and uncaring, which makes resolving debts even more challenging. Digital debt collection strategies aim to alleviate the stress of incessant calling for consumers, and also provide unique, powerful solutions for creditors.

Collection metrics

Digital-first debt collection strategies provide creditors the ability to track and aggregate more objective performance metrics that help strengthen their collections strategy. Qualitative metrics from traditional call centers are still subject to the endlessly variable human element of a phone call. 

When outreach is entirely automated, it becomes easy to A/B test simple changes (new subject lines, different greetings, etc.) and determine which are the most effective. But how do we define effectiveness? At the end of the process, an effective collections strategy is one that leads customers to make a payment. 

There are a few key metrics that call centers use to drive customers to this end goal that can be easily supplemented or overtaken by digital collection strategies.

Calls per account and calls per agent

Traditional collection agencies, like any other sales call center system, track the total amount of calls made to each customer and by each agent on the team. When individual agents are responsible for contacting customers, they have to hit an outreach quota. This quota reflects directly back on the calls per account, or how many times an individual customer has been contacted. 

As agents are required to call customers and collect on accounts, the calls per account may increase to a point where customers feel overwhelmed and over-contacted (which can even lead to symptoms of anxiety and depression). At the same time, if countless calls are being made, and an account is not paying, there is a clear gap in effectiveness. 

One of the advantages of a digital debt collection strategy is that agencies can reach customers with relevant messaging at times that work for them. This can include hours in which call centers are no longer legally allowed to reach a customer—before 8am or after 9pm. With these legal limitations in place and the need for agents to meet quotes, traditional collections strategies encourage an artificial inflation of outreach numbers that may not be positive.

Hit rates, percentage of outbound calls resulting in promise to pay (PTP), and call quality 

Call volume is not the end-all-be-all of call center metrics though. Simply tracking output numbers isn’t enough when engagement is the key metric. Hit rate is defined as the total number of calls divided by number of those calls that are answered by customers. While this number can be helpful in narrowing which calls were more successful than others, it cannot reach the same level of detail as a full digital strategy.

In the case of a phone call, there are limited options once the phone has been dialed:

  • The customer does not answer
  • The customer answers but ends the call before promising payment
  • The customer promises to pay

Trying to understand what leads to a successful payment on a call is then dependent on the agent’s perspective. Digital debt collection conducted through machine learning is able to communicate using personalized and consistent content. Hit rate, PTP, and call quality analysis can then be expanded on, and performance can be measured by:

  • Email Deliverability
  • Email open rates
  • Link click rates
  • Website engagement (Including clicking on further links, filling out forms, viewing specific webpages, and more)
  • Online payments

These data points can help pinpoint where in the process a customer was lost, improve the next attempt at outreach with that data in mind, and eventually guide the account to a payment. With more data and longer periods of time, machine learning processes only continue to improve.

Updating your collections strategy 

TrueAccord takes our digital strategy a step further by looking beyond simply using digital channels and focuses on the power of machine learning to continuously improve our collections performance. We’ve come to understand that creating an effective, empathetic collections experience actually comes from creating a more analytical and AI-driven process.

With better visibility into performance, more granular data points, and more accurate reporting available than ever before, digital debt collection strategies strengthen the power of any collections team.