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Results reveal success for virtual negotiation in collections space

It should come as no surprise that the process of trying to collect on past-due accounts has been evolving. We’ve seen the migration from traditional mail and outbound calls, to offering an electronic payment portal, to digital collections and virtual negotiators.

Being able to get consumers who have past-due debt on the phone to discuss payments is almost impossible. In fact, a recent informal survey divulged a success rate of a 15% contact rate to be considered the best by several first-party collectors; most reported contact rates in the 8%-range. One can only imagine what it must be like for collection agencies and debt buyers.

Perhaps, inviting the consumer to establish a non-threatening dialog with an online system can be a better approach?  Now that collectors have had time to test virtual collections, we’ve collected some data points.

Conversion rates, revisits, and time of day

  • An analysis of several clients found that on average 52% of consumers that visit a digital site will proceed to a payment schedule if the right offer is made.
  • 21% of the visits were outside the core hours of 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., an indication that consumers were taking advantage of the flexibility of reaching out at any time of the day or night to explore their payment and settlement options. The traditional business hours don’t always work.

Here is where it really gets interesting, and invites a clear comparison to the traditional phone calls that collectors make trying to get the consumer to commit to a payment  plan on the line.

  • Of the consumers that committed to a payment plan, only 56% did it in a single visit. The remaining 44% that committed to payments did so mostly later that day, or on a subsequent day. This strongly suggests they either took time to check their financial status, or perhaps asked a friend or family to help with the payment. In other words, rather than refusing to agree to an instantaneous agreement pressured by a collector, the consumer took time to reflect and decide what was the best course of action to settle the amount due.
  • On a similar note, the attrition rate of “Promises to Pay” were 24% lower using online digital solutions versus the traditional collector phone call. This would be consistent with more time to agree to a payment plan that could be met, rather than weakly agreeing to a collector phone call just to get the collector off the phone.

Another possible reason for a lower attrition rate may be that a well-defined digital collection solution can send out reminders to consumers via email or text in advance of the next scheduled payment, so that the consumer can be reminded to have the funds available when the next payment hits their account.

For accounts where settlement offers are part of the mix, a higher percentage of balances is being resolved versus the collection floor. In fact, the average payment improvement is 12% over what collectors tend to get on the collections floor. The reason for this significant change is unclear, but the suspicion is that a digital collection solution will negotiate stronger than a collector, who is often moving to the bottom of an acceptable range too soon.

What’s next?

Further assessing the consumer’s needs and capabilities during the negotiation session will undoubtedly be a theme going forward. Logical next steps will include a “behind-the-scenes” look at the consumer’s entire credit picture to help the creditor craft an optimal settlement amount that both the consumer can meet, and at the same time optimizes recovery.

Potential impact to credit scores will also come into the picture.  Depending on where the consumer and his past-due debt is in the credit lifecycle, being able to reasonably forecast the negative impact of a missed payment can act as an additional argument for making a past-due or delinquent payment now.

As more financial institutions test this new virtual approach, we anticipate customer satisfaction and resolutions will continue to climb.