What is Collections Servicing?

Collections and arrears servicing are terms often used in the context of financial management and lending. They relate to processes that involve managing overdue payments, defaults, and delinquent accounts.

What's the difference between collections and arrears?

1. Collections: Collections refers to the process of recovering payments that are due but have not been received by the due date. This process involves contacting customers or borrowers who have outstanding debts to remind them of their obligations and to facilitate the repayment of the owed amount. The collection process can include various stages, from gentle reminders to more assertive actions if the debt remains unpaid.

According to Investopedia:

"Collections refer to the procedures used by creditors to recover amounts that are past due on loans. The overall goal of collections is to minimize the amount of outstanding debt owed to a creditor."

2. Arrears Servicing: Arrears servicing specifically deals with the management and resolution of accounts that are in arrears, which means they are behind schedule in making their payments. Arrears servicing involves strategies and actions aimed at bringing accounts up to date and preventing them from becoming more delinquent.

In the context of mortgage loans, for example, arrears servicing might involve working with borrowers who have fallen behind on their mortgage payments to develop a repayment plan or exploring options to modify the loan terms to make it more manageable for the borrower.

The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) provides guidelines and regulations related to arrears servicing and treating customers fairly in financial dealings:

"Firms must have appropriate and effective arrangements in place for arrears handling, including clear and appropriate policies and procedures, and communicate these effectively to customers."

Source: FCA Handbook - Arrears Handling

Both collections and arrears servicing involve managing delinquent accounts and working towards resolving outstanding debts, but arrears servicing often focuses on a more proactive approach to prevent further delinquency and to assist customers in overcoming financial difficulties.

What are the key advantages to outsourcing your collections and arrears servicing?

Outsourcing collections and arrears services can offer several benefits, such as cost savings, specialized expertise, and improved focus on core business activities.

Expertise and resources: Collections and arrears servicing require specific expertise, tools, and resources. Outsourcing allows companies to tap into the knowledge and experience of specialised firms that focus solely on debt recovery. These firms have established processes, technologies, and skilled agents dedicated to maximising collection efforts.

  1. Cost optimisation: Setting up an in-house collection and arrears servicing department can be costly. Companies need to invest in hiring, training, technology, and infrastructure. Outsourcing shifts these costs to a third-party vendor, which can often provide these services at a lower cost due to economies of scale and specialisation.
  2. Focus on core activities: Outsourcing non-core functions like collection and arrears servicing allows companies to concentrate on their core business activities. By delegating these tasks to experts, companies can allocate more resources to activities that directly contribute to their growth and competitive advantage.
  3. Scalability: The volume of collections can fluctuate over time. Outsourcing provides the flexibility to scale collection efforts up or down as needed, without the constraints of maintaining a fixed in-house team.
  4. Legal and regulatory compliance: Collection practices are subject to various laws, rules and regulations. Outsourcing to firms that specialise in debt recovery ensures compliance with these rules, reducing the risk of legal issues or reputational damage.
  5. Global reach: Outsourcing collection services can provide access to a wider geographic reach. This is particularly advantageous for companies with international customers, as outsourced providers may have the infrastructure and expertise to navigate diverse markets and cultures.
  6. Advanced technology: Outsourcing partners often leverage advanced technologies for data analysis, predictive modelling, automated communication and self-service platforms. These technologies can improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the collection process.
  7. Objective approach: An outsourced partner can take a more impartial approach to collections, which can help maintain customer relationships. When companies pursue collections internally, emotions and personal relationships can sometimes cloud decision-making.
  8. Risk mitigation: Outsourcing can help mitigate risks associated with collections, as the vendor assumes a portion of the risk involved in recovering debts. This can include issues such as fraud prevention and dealing with difficult or potentially litigious customers.
  9. Performance metrics: Outsourcing arrangements often come with clear performance metrics and accountability. Companies can measure the effectiveness of their collection efforts based on predefined key performance indicators (KPIs).

What are the key disadvantages to outsourcing your collections and arrears servicing?

  1. Loss of control: When you outsource collection and arrears services, you're handing over control of an important aspect of your business to a third-party provider. This can result in less control over the strategies, processes, and communication methods used in the collection process.
  2. Quality and consistency: Maintaining consistent quality in customer interactions and adhering to your company's values and standards might be challenging when outsourced agents are interacting with your customers. Variations in service quality and customer experience could occur.
  3. Data security and privacy concerns: Collection and arrears services involve sensitive customer information. Outsourcing these services can raise concerns about data security and privacy breaches. It's crucial to ensure that the outsourcing provider has robust security measures in place to protect customer data.
  4. Communication challenges: Effective communication is essential in collections, especially when dealing with customers who are in arrears. Language barriers or cultural differences between your company and the outsourcing provider's team could lead to miscommunication and misunderstandings.
  5. Reputation risk: The way your customers are treated during the collections process can significantly impact your company's reputation. If the outsourced provider doesn't handle interactions with professionalism and sensitivity, it could tarnish your brand's image.
  6. Lack of flexibility: Outsourcing arrangements often come with predefined processes and procedures. This lack of flexibility might not align with the unique needs of your business or the changing nature of your customer relationships.
  7. Dependency on external provider: Relying on an external provider for an essential business function can make you dependent on their performance. If the provider faces financial difficulties, operational issues, or goes out of business, your collections process could be disrupted.
  8. Hidden costs: While outsourcing can seem cost-effective on the surface, there may be hidden costs involved, such as setup fees, training expenses, or additional charges for specific services that were not initially discussed.
  9. Loss of customer relationships: The collections process can also be an opportunity to work closely with customers to resolve issues and maintain relationships. Outsourcing might lead to a disconnect between your company and customers in arrears, potentially resulting in lost business opportunities.
  10. Regulatory and legal compliance: Depending on your industry and location, there may be specific regulations and legal requirements governing debt collection practices. Outsourced providers must adhere to these regulations, and any non-compliance issues could result in legal and financial consequences for your company.
  11. Transition challenges: Transferring collection and arrears services to an external provider requires a smooth transition /hand off process. If not managed properly, the transition could result in disruptions, errors, or delays that impact your operations and customer satisfaction.

How can you mitigate the risks of outsourcing your collections and arrears servicing?

  1. Identify and assess: Identify and assess the risks associated with outsourcing collections and arrears servicing.
  2. Conduct due diligence: Conduct due diligence on the third-party service provider before outsourcing.
  3. Establish a clear contract: Establish a clear and comprehensive contract with the service provider that outlines the scope of work, performance expectations, and risk management responsibilities.
  4. Monitor performance: Set Service Level Agrrements (SLAs) and monitor the service provider’s performance regularly to ensure compliance with the contract and regulatory requirements.
  5. Ensure adequate resources: Ensure that the service provider has adequate personnel, financial and technical resources to manage the risks associated with collections and arrears servicing.
  6. Provide adequate training: Provide adequate training to the service provider’s to ensure they have the necessary skills and knowledge to manage collections and arrears servicing.
  7. Governance: Establish a robust governance framework to oversee the outsourcing arrangement.
  8. Ongoing communication: Ensure regular communication with the service provider to ensure that any issues are identified and addressed in a timely manner.
  9. Review progress: Conduct regular reviews of the outsourcing arrangement to ensure that it remains effective and efficient.
  10. Contingency planning and redundancy: Have a contingency plan in place to manage any disruptions to the outsourcing arrangement, be it additional in house or temporary resource.
Young male and female couple in home looking at a laptop screen in concentration

Collections and Arrears servicing from Target