COVID-19 has changed the world for all of us. The resulting causation of this pandemic is multi-facetted. When a business closes, it cannot pay its bills affecting its staff, its landlord, its service providers like their telecommunications and insurance bills to name just a few. Those employees and creditors then cannot fulfil their financial obligations and so a multitude of affected people and businesses grows as the funnel broadens.
April was month two of the pandemic and most creditors are not feeling the total effect of delinquency just yet. Many businesses may have more funds today with CARES Act funding, the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and the Healthcare Enhancement Act enabling them to remain current or be able to pay out their balance. However, we will now start to have the COVID-19 debtor, one that would not normally be delinquent if not for this pandemic.
Take a hard look now to prepare
We are anticipating creditors needing assistance to manage their internal A/R processes in coming months. A re-evaluation will need to be conducted of their internal processes by increasing customer contact, work accounts longer before write-off to full collections, allow longer payment terms, etc. All of which may result in the need to engage a BPO 1st party vendor to manage their portfolio prior to 3rd party collection efforts are engaged.
BPO 1st party services should be custom designed based on the client’s portfolio needs with full security measures in place into the client’s system. Programs will include the management for inbound and outbound call center volume, obtaining invoices to their customers, setting up client approved payment plans and settlement options. Emails, at regular intervals and final demand notices, can be a key component to a successful program especially during this pandemic and the difficulty to reach customers via phone. Automatically rolling accounts to 3rd party collections can be incorporated into the process to manage accounts through the pipeline.
Now is not the time to cease communication
Already in 3rd party, we are seeing the difficulty in reaching delinquent businesses. For many, office land lines are the only phone number available and with the business temporarily closed reaching their Accounts Payable staff can be difficult. Not everyone has their office lines transferred while they are working remotely. Now is not the time to cease collection efforts. Creditors need to keep the lines of communication open with their customers. Customer outreach is paramount to take the pulse of the customer’s business and alternatively keeping the customer informed of the client’s pulse.
Talk-offs should be modified to take on a more advisory role with kindness, empathy and understanding.
Collection drops should still start at the top with asking the customer if they are able to pay in full. If that is not possible, gather information about their current business situation (i.e. is their business open, have they had to reduce staff, have they received government funding, did they apply for an SBA loan). Agencies should allow for more flexibility for taking partial payments, payment plans, modifying existing payment plans as needed, calendaring follow-ups longer than usual, etc.). Creditors should consider providing their agencies with more robust settlement parameters to assist their customer in satisfying their account during this unprecedented time.
Creditors should lean on their OCA partners to navigate their evolving receivables portfolio even on a temporary basis. As time progresses, Rae Lockard, ACCESS SVP & COO, predicts “we will probably see matured pandemic customers move to charge off for prime placements October through November. We will most likely see the second wave of placements of pandemic debtors placed January through March 2021 and we will be collecting the pandemic paper through next summer.”
What are we seeing at ACCESS so far?
Our experience thus far has fortunately not yielded a conversation with any customer contracting the illness but they’ve most certainly been impacted. We have had 4 clients direct us to stop collections with one reversing that decision. We have deployed the majority of our staff to work remotely at home for the first time in our history. The mindset of the past has been collectors would not work well remotely has proven incorrect. All staff have been provided with company issued equipment, VPN access, VoIP headphones and dialer campaigns running. We have not missed an incoming call and Zoey, our multi-lingual Virtual Agent, has been busy assisting customers online at www.2mybill.com. We have seen an increase in the number of payments as well as payment amounts with online payments from commercial debtors accounting for 80-84%.
Pam Long is the Vice President of Sales for ACCESS Receivables, located in Hunt Valley, MD. ACCESS offers both 1st & 3rd party receivables management programs and is a nationally licensed, woman-owned, commercial collection agency with a simple culture – Nice People Collect More™. Established with an ongoing mission to offer a new kind of collections approach that utilizes evolving communication technologies and strong people skills, ACCESS maximizes returns while creating an agent/debtor relationship that is redefining the industry. Our technologies including educational websites and Zoey, our Virtual Agent, enable us to reach a population that historical methods will not achieve.
Learn more about ACCESS on this website. To reach Pam Long, her contact information can obtained at https://access-receivables.com/become-a-client/.