02 Nov 2017 | Posted In Thought leadership

Mitch Armstrong is Director of Sales & Marketing at Telrock Systems, a global technology provider of solutions for digital customer engagement throughout the credit lifecycle. He will be delivering part of the fintech demos session at the MALG Conference on 27 November 2017 as well as exhibiting and demonstrating Telrock’s customer engagement platforms as part of the interactive fintech exhibition. Here, he shares his insights on how the use of technology can free up quality time for customer engagement across lending, money advice, and debt collection.

Since industrialisation, there has been a ‘fear of automation’ from people who ‘manually’ do the jobs that new technologies promise to make more efficient. But delivering money advice or debt collection services digitally is not about ‘replacing’ people, it is about enhancing the role of the people dealing directly with customers.

The fact of the matter is that, in 2017, the money advice sector is facing a ‘capacity crisis’ with advisers unable to existing and potential future growing demand for advice, and advice organisations unable to recruit enough people into attractive enough, well paid enough money adviser roles.

At the same time, creditors, debt collection agencies, and money advisers are under increasing pressure to offer customers a more convenient, user-friendly, mutually beneficial service, dealing with sensitive cases carefully but creating efficiencies where possible. And, of course, meeting ever more demanding regulatory standards.

So, on the one hand, there is a need to deal with quantity of demand, while on the other hand there is a need to offer quality, in-depth engagement with those who need it most. The only way to deliver this is by embracing new technologies – and we must debunk the misconception that accelerating automation dislocates human interaction and puts distance between service providers and their customers. The reality is that the efficiencies bestowed by technology free up precious time to build rapport, improve relationships and allow the personal touch to flourish.

Effective communication and dialogue are the most important factors in financial services, especially collections and money advice. And here, technology is the servant, not the master – providing instant interaction and giving customers more control and access to advice, education and support.

Today’s fintech is creating an ecosystem that truly puts people at the heart of everything via improved, instant and varied digital communications channels. These allow customers to talk to real people whenever they like and use anonymous self-serve platforms when it suits them better.

The journey to where we are now mirrors Telrock’s evolution. Starting out ten years ago, by encouraging and enabling text conversations between individuals and finance organisations, we now provide public and private sector organisations worldwide with invaluable customer engagement tools throughout the consumer credit lifecycle.

Among these are fraud prevention solutions, customer self-serve portals for arrears management and payments. With providers and customers able to collaborate and talk one-to-one, in real time, they commonly foster a relationship that cannot be achieved with collection letters, impersonal call centres, or email threads. It enables each side to better assess the other and their aims and objectives – as well as more readily detect debt problems and solve them together.

Rather than grappling with a faceless organisation at glacial speed, customers get a sense of care and empathy from an individual lender’s representative. As such, borrowers are more willing to discuss their situation frankly – as well as any debt issues they have, or anticipate – while their account manager is better placed to identify vulnerability, then act on it quickly.

And if issues can be ironed out rapidly and easily – or prevented in the first place – it makes for reduced overheads, better resolutions, enhanced brand image, and higher customer approval ratings.

Replacing protracted traditional exchanges – such as snail mail, high volume contact centres or webforms – with personal conversations, slashes time spent on customer communications. This allows money advisers and debt collectors to help more borrowers while improving dramatically the service that each enjoys. And time saved can be deployed to bring more support to vulnerable borrowers – so often sorely in need of a sympathetic ear and unhurried sound advice.

Meanwhile, open finance platforms prompt lenders to offer customers competitive rates and products, as they can freely browse and select the terms and features that best suit their specific needs and circumstances.

Automation complements the human element, rather than replacing it. Technology can quickly inform, alert and remind, but informed professionals will always be needed to manage situations and make the best decisions.