The last two years have changed the world in a myriad of ways, one of which is the lingering debt that thousands more consumers are now having to deal with. Unpaid debt or ‘problem debt’ has soared. Pre-pandemic, there were estimated to be just over 1 million UK households facing problem debt. But by mid-2021, Citizens’ Advice estimated that number would have risen to at least 1.5 million.

This increase, coupled with a cultural shift that has occurred since we first entered lockdown, has forced debt collection agencies to reconsider their methods. Digital debt collection is helping to transform the industry, not only for lenders but for borrowers too.

Finding Compassion in Collection

Most people would not automatically link compassion to debt collecting, because, in particular, those with problem debt have often only seen the uncompromising face of an outdated industry. But the sector has recently been through a period of self-reflection.

Firstsource has been working with creditors and collection agencies for over two decades. Throughout this time, we have increasingly found that using compassion, relating to borrowers, finding ways to empathise with them, has been the best way to recover debts. Building a rapport helps borrowers feel appreciated and understood, leading to much higher rates of collection.

One barrier to empathy has been that the number of borrowers has traditionally far outstripped the lenders’ ability to offer this kind of service. It is, in part, this blanket system that has given the industry its current reputation. But the advent of digitised debt collection is poised to change this.

How Debt Collection Digitised

While anyone would be hesitant to focus too much on the positives that have occurred during the pandemic, there are some rays of sunlight that have shone through. For one, consumers have begun to realise the importance of their voices. This has precipitated the aforementioned cultural change, rearranging consumer hierarchy to emphasise the adage: the customer is always right. And now many industries are looking for ways to become more customer-friendly

The debt collection industry has responded by ramping up its digital offerings. Through the use of various modern technologies, debt collectors can offer a more customer-centric service:

  • Machine learning: Digital debt collectors are employing machine learning to create tailored repayment plans for each customer. By understanding each borrower’s habits and unique financial situation, collectors can then find the best route to returns.
  • Personalised correspondence: Customers are offered a range of electronic communication channels through which they can correspond with their collectors. Then, rather than generic messaging, they receive messages with personalised subjects and details about their repayment plan.
  • Automation: These communications are sent to borrowers through automation, reducing costs for collectors and allowing them to focus on finding new ways to further improve the customer experience.

Digitisation has a habit of improving all services, particularly when used as a hybrid service with human interaction, and debt collection is no exception. Many digital debt collectors also offer 24/7 helplines, with phones answered by trained debt collection professionals, for when customers want instant replies from real people.

Why Digital Debt Collection Works

This digitalisation has worked in line with Firstsource’s findings that compassion is one of the best tools debt collectors have. Organisations like Martin Lewis’ Money Saving Expert, Citizens’ Advice, and a range of charities give advice to borrowers. But a pervading feeling from many borrowers that there is shame in being in debt, originating in the power imbalance that exists between debt and borrower, stops many from seeking help.

Each of these applications have started to redress this imbalance, placing more of the power with the traditional underdog in the relationship. By providing unintrusive collections that focus on allowing the customer to decide when, why, and how they are communicated with, collectors help break down the stigma surrounding debt. This is the compassion that Firstsource has been injecting into collections. Empowering borrowers lets them know they are valued and not judged, creating a collection service that is simultaneously more friendly and successful at its primary purpose.

Real Proof Digital Debt Collection Works

These aren’t just pretty words either, the benefits are already translating into real money for organisations that switch to empathetic digital debt collections. The statistics truly prove these methods are wholly more efficient than the traditional approach.

The most tangible way of measuring debt collection success is of course through the money repaid. Clients that have implemented the white-label Firstsource Digital Collection Solution have seen resolution rates climbing by up to 400%, while at the same time collection costs drop by 3-4%. In monetary terms, this has resulted in close to £200,000,000 collected each year.

Delinquency rates are also vastly improved. By providing individualised repayment plans, borrowers are far more easily able to meet the terms. This has led to almost ten million accounts being saved from becoming delinquent each year.

And finally, digital debt collection has also helped boost collectors’ profits by improving productivity. The fully configurable and compliant software easily plugs into their existing stack to begin automated delivery, giving collectors complete control over workflows, processes, and communications. This mitigates compliance and operational risks and reserves employee manpower for more intricate tasks. Employers can use this productivity to scale up their organisations while reducing costs to help for more efficient future budgeting.

Reshaping Our Perception of Debt

For many, there has been little choice but to enter problem debt since the pandemic began. In some cases, whole industries have tumbled, and the fallout has hit everyday people the most. In response, the debt collection industry must take a holistic approach when dealing with borrowers.

Empathy is a powerful tool that has for too long not been properly used by the industry. To reach the growth it strives for, the sector must not be afraid to change, and in this case, that means modernisation. But beyond that, digital debt collection is the best way, not only to improve profit and productivity but to reshape the way society sees debt itself.