In certain locales, field collections have long been an essential part of recouping debit. But everything needs to evolve eventually. As customers and collectors alike become more accustomed to the ease and convenience that modern mobile devices have brought to their lives, all methods of collections should take advantage.
The solution to optimising debt collections is already being utilised by many financial institutions - a combination of mobile devices and routing algorithms to plan routes and communicate in real-time with debtors. It’s a subtle disruption that could make the process that much easier for young and old financial institutions alike.
There is a degree of infamy attached to field collections in many Southeast Asian and Middle Eastern countries. There are many cultural implications to consider, and many an instance of corruption and unscrupulous tactics.
In the Middle East, debt collection is more complicated than anywhere else in the world (with Saudi Arabia and the UAE topping the charts for tough debt collection). This is down to several factors, such as antiquated payment terms, outdated court practices and needlessly complicated insolvency regulations.
The Asia-Pacific (APAC) region is almost as complicated, with countries such as Malaysia and even the comparatively developed Singapore experiencing heavy and complicated debts (the former’s household debt currently accounts for 82.1% of the country's Nominal GDP and the average household debt in the latter is around $57,000 per capita). However, banks here are a little further ahead of their Middle Eastern counterparts when it comes to tech.
Digital transformation has completely changed the debt collections game. It has done this by effectively reinventing the debt landscape - increasing the accuracy of credit risks (thereby preventing defaults), introducing customised payment plans and enabling cost-effective debt recovery, all whilst improving customer connectivity.
But one area that has been left behind in some regions is field collections - the men on the ground, as it were. Tech solutions and AI are already helping many banks with general debt collections with bespoke software and apps, so maybe it’s time for a disruption in the field collections sector?
In regions where debt collection is notoriously difficult, field collections are still common. This is because there is less infrastructure to work from and it can be the only way for banks to make sure that debts are being reliably paid.
Field collections have a rather sour reputation in many Southeast Asian and Middle Eastern countries and many still rely on more ‘traditional’ and often rather hostile methods. Indeed, in Vietnam as recently as 2014, 90% of enterprises employed gangsters to enforce debt collection and in Indonesia Indonesia, one employee of Citibank was arrested for actually murdering a customer. Even in the more ‘westernised’ Singapore, field agents have been known to utilise threatening tactics.
There is often a significant cost associated with traditional field collections and much of this cost comes down to wasted funds - agents sent to collect from hopeless delinquent debtors, call centres stocked with workers employed to answer questions that could be answered in a split-second by an AI. Then there’s the grandest folly of all - human error. It’s also a process with a great deal of emotional baggage, particularly in regions where debt is still seen as a source of great cultural shame.
Something needed to change. Digitisation, automation and AI its the obvious solution as it means not only making the whole process appear more approachable but gives some autonomy back to the collections agents. Field collection apps can streamline the collection experience and give collectors on the ground all of the tools they need to plan ‘smart routes’ based on likelihood of collection, distance between customers and more.
The best apps are those that don’t replace certain processes, but those that effectively make needlessly convoluted processes obsolete and manage to collect multiple services into one convenient UI. This is particularly important in an industry such as debt collections, where information is constantly being traded back and forth between clients and customers and real-time access to that information is a must.
The EXUS Field Collections (EFCS) solution has been created from the ground-up to offer a complete solution for collectors on the ground that takes care of every step of the process, resulting in a fully optimised experience. The whole debt cycle (journey) of every customer is mapped out within the app and days are planned out via a list of tasks. These tasks are sorted using an intelligent algorithm that examines the distance, time, bucket and debt amount, then uses this information to create an optimised plan.
Not only is the app configured to work in both online and offline modes (particularly valuable in countries such as Malaysia where 4G speed is among the slowest in the world) but it also can also be synced with the complete EXUS Financial Services package. It also cuts down on operational costs and on paperwork. And the more transactional paperwork we can cut down, the better for everyone.
Ultimately, streamlining the process will save time and money for the lender, but it’s the customer that will truly benefit and for a sector striving to maintain a level of customer-centricity, this should be seen as a blessing for debt collectors.
For customers, the ability to manage their own accounts and receive real-time information regarding their account balances and previous actions, means they are that much more likely to stay on top of their debts. The technology also allows for greater transparency between collector and customer, as upon collection, the customer will receive an instant SMS or email receipt, avoiding any potential discrepancies or cases of fraud in the future.
Any successful field collection is ultimately about one thing and one thing only - how much money is being collected and how quick that collection is. The EFS is a web-based, multi-lingual piece of incredibly powerful software that also includes the flexible standalone EFCS module for field collections agents.
The ability to adapt strategies on the fly via a literal drag and drop interface and have everything shared in real-time amongst all agents on the ground is an invaluable service which has saved collectors and banks alike countless hours. The advances in geo-tagging also mean that every action an agent makes will be tracked in real-time, so supervisors will know not only when, but where every transaction has taken place. This creates a level of transparency that means agents can always be offered support or be held accountable for their actions.
The job of a field collections agent is, underneath it all, the job of a problem solver. By condensing operations into one centralised app, it will make it that much easier and convenient for agents to solve those problems and make collections for debtors to pay. It’s all about optimising a process that doesn’t have to be as complicated or as terrifying as we’ve perhaps been led to believe.
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