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1 ISSN and ASSET & RISK REVIEW VOLUME 34 NUMBER 8 & Calling Time on Compliance Spreadsheet Overload Quantifying the Behaviour of Stock Correlations Under Market Stress Forget Price, Focus on the Customer Experience Retention versus Recruitment Global Business Impact Score Effective Print Management creditcontrol.co.uk

2 The Customer-friendly Face of Collections Daniel Melo Biography Daniel Melo Principal Consultant FICO EMEA Daniel Melo is a principal consultant in FICO EMEA, based in Madrid. He has more than 20 years of experience in credit, collections and risk management for large financial institutions in Europe and the Americas. His expertise spans all aspects of the credit lifecycle, working on analytics and scorecard development, strategy and change management, and direct operational management. Daniel has worked extensively solving client problems during volatile economic periods, particularly in credit risk management and debt collection, and in emerging markets. Daniel blogs on the FICO Banking Analytics Blog Keywords Banks, Banking, Collections, Customer service Paper type Opinion Abstract With banking scandals regularly making headlines and economic recovery slow at best, it comes as no surprise that customer loyalty and satisfaction are at rock-bottom levels for banks in many regions. Last year, the FSA registered the highest number of complaints against financial firms since reporting began in 2006, and 1.2 million UK based account holders switched their current accounts, which is an increase of 600,000 from In a FICO and Efma s survey, 54% of European credit risk professionals said that customers are more likely than before to complain to a regulator. In this article, the author explains how companies that build relationships with customers will be in a stronger position if these customers become delinquent, and why they are more likely to retain clients. Today s best practices recognize the role of collections as a customer-centric service, and build from a good foundation to attain profitable ongoing customer relationship management. Introduction Customer loyalty and satisfaction are at rock-bottom levels for banks in many regions as banking scandals continue to make headlines. Switching banks was fairly rare in the past, but now it seems that customers have reached the point where the inconvenience of changing to an alternative bank is worth the effort. In 2012, 1.2 million UK based account holders switched their current accounts, which is an increase of 600,000 from In the new European Credit Risk Survey carried out by FICO and the European Financial Marketing Association Credit Control 109

3 (Efma), almost half of bankers who responded believe that customers are now more likely than before to vote with their feet by switching their savings or current account to a different bank. Even more worryingly, people aren t just walking the walk, they are talking the talk and it s not complimentary. Last year, the FSA registered the highest number of complaints against financial firms since reporting began in Recent figures from the UK s Financial Ombudsman Service show no signs of improvement, with consumer complaints rising by 179% in the first quarter of this financial year. In the FICO and Efma s survey, 54% of European credit risk professionals said that customers are more likely than before to complain to a regulator. With the proliferation of peer lending, payday loans, and crowd-funding sources, today s borrowers have more options than ever before when it comes to getting credit. As traditional lenders focus on capital management and remain riskaverse, over half of bankers believe their customers are now more likely to use alternate sources of credit. All of this is putting pressure on the collections department, and collections agencies. With more customers becoming delinquent and entering collections, anyone trying to recover debt may represent a last-chance effort to retain a customer. But collections departments are not graded on friendliness, they are paid to perform. So what can collectors do to improve collections results, whilst focusing on the customer and their needs? Contacting customers before they go bad As obvious as it sounds, companies that build relationships with customers while the going is good are better placed to collect if those customers run into trouble later. Some card issuers in the UK are already beginning to make precollections contact with customers, which can help cardholders avoid running up troublesome debt levels. This approach seems to be working well as reflected in the results of FICO s most recent quarterly UK cards data, the percentage of cards that are overlimit hit a two-year low. This positive performance of course reflects other factors too. First, many people have an erratic cash flow, and need their cards more than ever, so they are being careful to avoid overextending themselves or risking fees. Second, despite the reductions in credit limits a few years ago, cardholders appear to have high enough limits that they can avoid going over the limit. The new breed of debtor The economic crisis of the past few years has created a new breed of debtor. In FICO s research, these people have sometimes been dubbed fallen angels people who used to pay their bills on time but lost their jobs or had other financial hardship that made them fall behind in their payments. For example, in 110 Credit Control

4 the troubled Eurozone, we have seen grandparents fall behind on their grocery cards, having lived their whole life on the right side of payments. These debtors behave differently, and they are challenging collectors to behave differently as well. For example, before 2008 it took around six years for a seriously overdue consumer to get back to good payment behaviour. For the new breed of debtor, that time is more likely to be eight or nine months. Why the difference? Because the new breed do not accept that financial hardship is their fate. They are highly motivated to get good again, and that starts with getting re-employed. This affects the hardship procedures employed in collections. Some firms would charge off a debt at six months. With the new breed, writing them off as a bad debtor means you will lose them as a customer, while hanging in there a little longer may pay off when they get a new job and start paying off their debts. However, the new breed of debtor can also be more difficult to work with. They don t know how to be debtors. They don t know how to pay off a large, overdue debt. Needless to say, they don t want to get calls or letters from collections agencies but rather than face the music, they may be even more inclined to ignore collectors out of frustration and embarrassment. This is why less-intrusive contact methods using mobile communications, as well as self-service online payment plans, are such a good idea. Unlike the past generation of debt-savvy delinquents, the new breed of debtors need a gentle touch. Banks aren t the only firms that have to find new ways to deal with this type of delinquent customer: insurance firms, telecommunications providers, retailers and even government agencies to say nothing of the third-party collection agencies servicing these debts have to adapt and learn to communicate effectively with this different type of debtor. New to the game Looking to other markets, we see other delinquency trends emerging. For example, people who have never experienced taking on any credit. Whilst it is rare to meet this type of borrower in the UK, they are not rare in markets where credit access is new, such as in Russia. FICO and Russia s National Bureau of Credit Histories (NBKI) have recently announced that Russian borrowers credit repayment delinquencies rose in July 2013, continuing the climb that started in early This means that the FICO Credit Health Index, which measures Russia s overall credit health based on the percentage of consumer loans and credit cards reported to NBKI that are delinquent by more than 60 days, is now at the lowest level since January What s happening here? Both NBKI and FICO s experts in Russia believe that risk management by the banks is as strong as ever. The problem, they say, is Credit Control 111

5 with new borrowers. As NBKI s CEO points out, the number of consumers in the NBKI database grew by 28 percent last year, to more than 60 million. One of the challenges in any market experiencing rapid credit growth is getting new borrowers to understand how to manage their credit. As lenders grant more unsecured consumer loans and credit cards, which are the highest-risk credit products, delinquency rates are rising. This credit expansion is good for the Russian economy, but the higher delinquency rates demand a more disciplined approach to risk management on the part of banks, so they can ensure the health and sustainability of their bottom lines. Personal loans and credit cards are at the bottom of Russian borrowers payment hierarchy, which means that they need extra scrutiny from risk managers. This calls for segmentation of the customer base by vintage, and studying performance carefully. If it is true that new borrowers have repayment issues, it is vital to keep in close contact with them, send more reminders, and look for opportunities to provide credit education. The last thing you want is for the nation s credit growth to prosper at the expense of your profitability. Resolving delinquencies in a flexible manner Changing attitudes toward debt are combining with a rising spirit of consumer empowerment to affect customer expectations for delinquency resolution. Consumers are also turning to third-party debt management companies to intervene with creditors and negotiate individual voluntary agreements (IVAs). If more companies engaged in ongoing dialogs with their customers, conveying the message that they are flexible and responsive, there might be less demand for such intervention, and more speedy and cost-effective delinquency resolution. Moreover, the way that customers are treated when their accounts are delinquent may affect their loyalty later on, and, therefore, the creditor s ability to retain future good customers. Today s best practices recognize the role of collections as a customer service, and they build from a foundation of stronger ongoing customer relationship management. Whatever your current collections processes and particular challenges, you can move towards the new best practices incrementally, achieving measurable gains that multiply with each improvement made. 112 Credit Control

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