A brief collections workflow history lesson

Published: March 31, 2009 by Jeff Bernstein

Have you ever wondered how your current collections workflow process evolved to its current state? To start at the beginning, let’s rewind to medieval England …

The Tallyman
The earliest known collections system was essentially a door-to-door program, as there were no modern day devices to make the process more efficient. The system of record at that time was typically a hardwood stick with carved notches representing loans and payments between a lender and borrower. This door-to-door collector was known as the Tallyman, which referred to the collection of tally sticks he carried to document financial transactions.

The beginning of modern times
As technology evolved, telephones and letters became the collections managementtools of choice, with a personal visit being a last resort action. The process where a collector managed the repayment strategy and relationships for his assigned customers was still in practice. Collections operations were typically in decentralized branches and small teams of skilled collectors were able to effectively manage this “cradle-to-grave” approach.

When expense management became a priority, the migration to larger, centralized operations became an industry trend. Many companies found it difficult to hire large teams of highly-skilled collectors in their geographic regions and the bucket system was born. The concept was simple and effective — let the less experienced staff work the accounts that are the easiest to collect and focus the experienced collectors on the more difficult cases. Advanced collections tools such as automatic dialers arrived on the market to increase efficiency and were shortly followed by decision engines used to support behavioral scoring and segmentation strategies.

Current trends in collections include the migration towards a risk-based segmentation and strategy approach. Cutting edge tools and collection managementsoftware, designed to address today’s collections business objectives, are hitting the market and challenging the traditional bucket approach most of us are used to. As the economic conditions of the past few years deteriorated, many organizations began shifting their spending focus towards the collections department and this, in turn, has inspired investment and innovation from software, analytics and data vendors. New collections scores were recently unveiled that yield predictiveness that has never been seen and collections data products have become significantly more sophisticated. Modern technology is also empowering collections managers to control the destiny of their business units by freeing them from the constraints of over-burdened IT departments and inflexible systems. There is also an emerging trend to consider the collective power of multiple products working in tandem. Collections experts are finding that the benefit of the complete solution equals much more than just the sum of the parts.

Once we all migrate to the next level and employ today’s modern marvels to make our businesses more productive and efficient, what’s next? It’s highly probable that tomorrow’s collections workflow will consider the entire relationship and profit potential of a customer before a collections action is executed. Additionally, the value in considering the entire credit and risk picture associated with a customer will be better understood and we will learn when each of the holistic view options is most appropriate. There are a number of roadblocks in the way today, including disparate systems and databases and siloed business units with goals and objectives that are not aligned. Will we eventually get there? The business leaders with long-range vision certainly will … just as some unknown visionary had the initiative to embrace emerging technology and abandon his tally sticks.

For more information and to read the Decision Analytics newsletter that features one of my previous blogs,"Nextgeneration collections systems", click here.