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The psychology of debt collection: A new approach

Sep 08, 2014 Philip Burgess

The psychology of debt collection: A new approach

Despite the fact that these stereotypes are unwarranted, debt collection agents are often viewed as shady characters quick to harass or pull a scam on unwitting consumers. That couldn't be further from the truth, but these professionals tend to be vilified in the mainstream media, so many individuals get a negative impression.

In fact, though it's true that some bad apples have theoretically soured the reputation of the whole bunch, legitimate recovery firms are constantly looking for ways to amend this. A number of corporations are trying to essentially "kill 'em with kindness," while others are going a step further by looking into the psychology of dealing with debt collectors.

Going about collections in a new way

Although an article featured recently in Wired Magazine had a number of harsh, untrue and borderline slanderous things to say about debt collection professionals, it did point out that some companies are trying to approach recovery in a new way. Namely, entrepreneur Ohad Samet's business, TrueAccord, is paying more attention to the nuances of handling delinquent accounts.

The startup is employing tactics like behavioral engineering and machine learning to humanize collections and allow collectors to have more personal relationships with debtors. Professionals will use algorithms to identify a number of demographic factors - age, location, responses to certain stimuli, etc - which will then yield different approaches to repayment, the magazine explained.

The ultimate intent, Wired brusquely stated, is to "collect debts not with brute force and intimidation, but with psychology and consumer friendly technology."

The old guard leading the charge
Not every recovery firm has access to psychological tools while connecting with consumers. That doesn't mean that these businesses aren't trying, however. As Yahoo Finance asserted, many of the more seasoned firms in the industry, sick of the stigma that comes alongside being a debt collector, are trying to take more friendly, personal approaches.

The source explained that negative stereotypes aren't the only drivers for change, however - revenue has fallen sector-wide in the last few years, and regulators are looking at debt collectors with a much larger magnifying glass than ever before. The industry ranks second on the list of most common consumer complaints by sector to the Federal Trade Commission, the news provider detailed.

"We need to be ahead of the curve on compliance and ahead of the curve on how we treat people," Association of Credit and Collection Professionals International President Richard Doane told Yahoo. "Customer service is such a big thing for our industry right now."

Across the board, collections firms are training workers to engage debtors more and be willing to brainstorm with them to find repayment plans that work for all parties.