Rewarding Telecom Consumers to Entice Payments

Great opportunities for agencies to get into the telecom market remain. The continued growth of telecommunications providers combined with loosely defined regulation in the industry has introduced a noteworthy amount of debt. Fierce competition among providers to retain customers can be costly and will likely lead to a write-off when the customer becomes uncooperative with the provider. Industry competition also makes it easier, and often more economical, for customers to switch providers. For the provider, excellent customer service and availability to the newest offerings in the industry will often result in customer loyalty, even when competing providers are offering lower priced entry packages. In cases like this, customers will pay to keep the service. However, this concept of loyalty doesn’t serve the agency well. Can agencies create something that entices telecom consumers to pay?

The answer is yes – at least in my opinion. An agency-sponsored rewards program can make a big difference. Programs like this are becoming very popular, especially in the telecom space and even before accounts are placed into the collection process. For example, Verizon Wireless has a rewards program labeled “Smart Rewards.” This program rewards customers with points for simply remaining a customer and maintaining an excellent payment history. The points do not expire and can be redeemed for discount shopping on items like apparel, tech gadgets, gift cards, travel and auctions. An agency-sponsored rewards program could share similarities with the Verizon Wireless program, but there must be a different structure because the customer is in collections and based on how agencies operate. Let’s look at how an agency might implement a rewards program and how it can be configured as a technology driven process.

Your Rewards Program

Agencies are well aware consumers come up with all sorts of excuses to stall the collection process. What I am suggesting is a rewards program could make the consumer want to pay. Whether the program accumulates points or offers a one-time prize, it can be configured and managed directly within the collection software. A custom field can be added at the consumer level and displayed directly on the representative screen. The field should be read-only and essentially function as a “ticker.” This way it cannot be manually adjusted by the representative working with the consumer and it is easy to see when an update/new reward/point accumulation event takes place. As the consumer is worked, obvious events like making a payment, scheduling a payment plan, or a settlement can offer maximum rewards. (Events like these should be configured in workflow to automatically apply or update the rewards). There are other events to engage the consumer throughout the collection process as well. I will call these “touching” events. The idea is not only to contact the consumer but keep them engaged until the debt is satisfied. Customer touching events can include each occasion a payment is made on time for the promised amount, providing consent to receive email or text communication, confirming or updating contact information, or responding to a survey from the agency. Ensure the consumer is being rewarded for events like these as well.

Promote the Program

A rewards program is not beneficial if the consumer is not aware of it. On any phone conversation, the representative should be explaining the rewards program to the consumer and informing them of their current “level” or “status” in the program. Other methods of informing the consumer should include a clear indicator on manual or automated letters and updates via email or text. These types of reminders can be programmed in the collection software directly at the workflow level or as a sub-event when specific actions or updates are made on the consumer record.

There can be any number of rewards programs like what I have detailed. What was described are only a few examples of how such a program might be configured. Agency owners know their business and know their consumers. Be creative with your programs and don’t be afraid to experiment. It is also imperative to know when to quit. Some consumers cannot be persuaded so do not attempt to offer anything and everything. Lastly, a rewards program can be named in a variety of ways. The term “rewards” is not necessary. Some agencies may find it beneficial to utilize terms like “loyalty,” “allegiance,” “good standing” and so on. Competition is accelerating at the telco provider level and we can only expect it increase among agencies as well. A rewards program could offer your agency a slight edge on the competition.

This article is also published by Collection Advisor


3 Ways to Improve Conversion of PDF and Image Files

It can be argued that a large percentage of hospitals and medical facilities are using technology decades behind present-day patient and billing management systems. Agency owners are reminded of that debate every month when their new business file is once again delivered in a PDF file or even worse, a scanned image format. The painstaking process of manually entering every account and patient record resumes. Inefficiencies aside, the element of human error is ever-present and the probability of it is very high. It will not take much for someone to mistype a patient account number, procedure code, patient balance or some other critical data element. When asking your client for an electronically formatted final, you are left with a response something like, “we are working on it” or simply “no.” What else can be done?

A simple Internet search will result in a seemingly endless list of options. It’s not likely you will find a solution that works or more importantly, works for your use case. Essentially, the options fall into three different categories, which are listed and detailed below. If you are not lucky enough to stumble upon the perfect solution, consult with your end users and IT staff or vendor to understand the process of getting the data from the unstructured format into the collection software. This type of conversation will help direct you to the most logical path.


The most ideal option is working directly with the PDF or image file to electronically extract the data. This method does not mean the task can be completed without additional software. Rather, it means working with the raw file (source of the data). One positive attribute of the PDF or image file is that is has structure. This is obvious because it most cases, you can see it. The picture is clearly organized into columns and rows, usually with headings and summaries as well. Copy and paste is a common mistake. Any structure that was there is immediately corrupted. This lack of structure makes it tough to make sense of the data and you may have unknowingly lost some data during the transition.


The first option assumes you discovered some out of the box software that accurately reads the image file you are working with. There is a second option very much like the first, but involves a completely custom software application to understand and parse the image file. This is going to require a skilled IT staff or services from an outside vendor. With careful analysis of the image file to identify regular patterns, splits, and trends, technologies such as Java or Python can be used to identify and accurately extract the data fields into a more structured and workable format. Many custom developed applications will output to HTML or XML. This is often easier than trying to move data directly from the image file to Excel or CSV. This output of the data becomes the new source for further processing or for electronically loading into your collection software.


A more extreme option involves utilizing features of next generation tools which may otherwise be of no use to you. (If these tools are of use to you, it is likely in another division of the business so if you are part of a large organization, check with other departments because they may have something you can utilize.) Big Data technology, like Hadoop, is designed for extremely large datasets and robust environments, uncommon in most agencies, but may have features for reducing image files to understand and extract the data fields. Similarly, some Business Intelligence (BI) tools have features for reading PDF or image file sources, identifying the structure, and accurately extracting the data. For example, one of the latest releases of Tableau contains such features. If you opt for this route, there is a good chance you will find some other cool features and potential use cases for the Big Data or BI technology.

Finding a way to electronically manage PDF and image files is critical. It greatly improves operational efficiency and reduces the risk of human error. An element I haven’t even touched on involves culture and the work environment. In probably all cases, those performing the manual work to key new account and patient information into the system are likely not doing the work they were hired to do and are not doing work that is more rewarding, both personally and for the company. I hope you make it a priority to create an exciting and more productive environment through the elimination of manual processes.

* This article is also published by Collection Advisor


Does Business Intelligence Matter?

Most agencies have data scattered amid many different systems. The standard setup likely includes some combination of the collection software, a sales or CRM system, an accounting system, a payment portal, a client access website and a reporting factory. The technology for accessing data across many systems has grown tremendously in recent years. Business intelligence (BI) is everywhere right now, yet many agencies are not interested or they are somewhat interested but not enough to jump in. I have witnessed agencies lose clients solely due to lacking BI. I have also witnessed agencies win clients, they had no business signing, only because they displayed top-tier BI with excellent reporting and dashboarding.

It is not difficult to get started with BI and if your company is not doing anything, you are missing out on some quick productivity gains. Top performing companies are 5% more productive and 6% more profitable with data-driven business intelligence.

It is imperative to note that I am specifically referencing datadriven BI. This is where you want to be as a company because self-reliance is achieved and insight into the real business performance and trends is quickly accessible. The truth is only 8% of companies are benefiting from data-driven BI. The rest are making critical business decisions using opinion-based BI. This is the traditional method of BI where the same critical business decisions are made using outdated data, uncompromising reports, or nothing other than how you believe the business is performing.

Great, so how can the regular credit card collection agency move from opinion-based BI to data-driven BI?

The excellent news is that you already have the data! The rest is primarily intangible. The one tangible piece includes the introduction of BI technology and data standardization. There are hundreds of BI tools available. For many of them, it is merely a matter of due diligence in selecting a tool to move forward with because a hosted or cloud instance is almost always an option. Some BI tools I like and have seen a lot of are Tableau, Microsoft Power BI and IBM Cognos.

Obtaining a new BI tool does not have to, and probably should not, include standing up a new environment with servers, firewalls, switches, and so on. During the BI technology due diligence process, you should be thinking about data standardization as well. Data standardization is the art of getting all your data, regardless of systems or where the data originates, into an accessible and workable format. In the case of BI, it usually means achieving integration with all data sources and capturing all or most of the business critical data in a central repository, such as a data warehouse.

The intangibles for adopting BI are arguably more important than the tangibles. Even with the best BI technology and data standards in place, a successful adoption of BI must include a change in people and the way people think about data. The conventional experience involves a request for a report, usually a ticket is created, the ticket is assigned to IT, and IT builds the report. This takes both time and resources. Even when the report gets in the hands of the requestor, there is often a question about the data or a change to the way the data is presented. The request, ticketing and IT process repeats.

This experience is unpleasant for all involved because the business is not getting what they need, IT does not understand what the business wants and the speed for delivery on each iteration is too slow. The experience improves with a greater collaboration between business and IT. This naturally occurs when the two groups spend more time together going over requirements and presentation options. But what if the two groups were both working in the BI toolset? Let’s advance to BI and analytics that may be significant for agencies. Ask yourself the following sample questions to direct your thought process.

  • In which state or geographic region is my agency the most successful?
  • How much better am I compared to the next most successful state or region?
  • Based on my historical numbers, can I forecast the next three months? Six months? Year?
  • What is my level of certainty with those forecast numbers?

Now consider your staff, clients, and partners.
• Does my staff have the tools they need to answer the same four questions above?

  • If my clients or partners saw my current BI and reporting process, they would think ________.

There are endless thought processes that can help you introduce a better BI practice at your agency. You must break through traditional thinking to be successful. Agencies that promote self-reliance and empower users at all levels by giving them access to work with the data will be successful moving from an opinion-based organization to a data-driven organization.

* This article is also published by Collection Advisor


3 Ways to Wow Governments (And Everyone) With Your Tech

In 2010, the framework for massive technology updates in healthcare was set in motion. It started with the introduction of the health insurance marketplace for the public sector. This resulted in hospitals, medical facilities, insurance companies, claims processors and third-party agencies racing to upgrade systems and technology for patient-account management, privacy and data security, compatibility, and simply to keep up with the changing trends. For the agencies servicing healthcare accounts, technology updates and upgrades were necessary to stand out and to survive as a provider of receivables management services.

Now, in 2017 and stepping out of the healthcare vertical, are we about to see another massive technology update impacting third-party agencies? For those in the government space, the answer is probably yes. Without launching a political debate, there is uncertainty surrounding what is taking place and will take place with the federal government as well as with state and local governments. Nonetheless, technology advancement and increasing IT budgets appear to be a priority. A report from Forrester Research published on govtech.com forecasts that IT spending at the state and local levels will overtake IT spending at the federal level as soon as this year and then continuing into 2018.1 More specifically, the report details that the largest investment will be in cloud-based software and solutions.

Technological advances are nothing new but there does appear to be an evolving understanding that a fundamental change is underway. Innovation is essential. Younger generations rely heavily on mobile devices and therefore are always “connected.” The device market is growing and changing rapidly. There is an expectation that technology in other markets is keeping up. Increased IT spending at the state and local levels could help to close this gap.

We can tie this all together by looking back at the question raised – Will any of this impact third-party agencies? Sooner or later it will so the new question is how can agencies prepare? In my opinion, agencies should upgrade their technology so it stands out as if they were attempting to sell their services to government entities. Essentially, make your operation appear cutting edge. “Appear” is the most important word in that statement because nothing needs to change with your collection process. Instead, pretend you are working a state government contract and are in a position to give them the data they need, the reports they are looking for and the analytics they want. Here are three things your agency can do to stand out:

1) Data Centralization

Use a data warehouse, data lake, master data management (MDM) system or whatever you want to name it to gather all the data from all your systems. Most agencies have many database systems in place to run the business. Common cases include collection software, client or debtor access portals, accounting software, outside vendor services and a CRM. These are all standalone systems with their own data sets. By getting as much of the overall data as you can into a central location, you are in a position to report on the entire enterprise and to use the data to really understand how the business is performing. To stand out even further, put your data centralization solution in the cloud.

2) Performance Reporting Package

Develop a package of canned reports about your agency’s performance at the portfolio level that rolls all the way up to the entire organization. There is a good chance you already have a pile of client reports to start with. Having a performance reporting package available shows you are ready to take on more business and you have an understanding of what creditors and first parties want to see from their agencies. If your client does not have hard report layout and formatting requirements, use your package to eliminate a large chunk of the new client onboarding work. You will onboard quicker and will not miss reporting deadlines with your new client.

3) Business Intelligence

An element of this includes report development but with business intelligence (BI), you are adding the bells and whistles. A BI solution can be tough to implement because similar to developing a reporting package, you must know the information that is critical and the data points that are key performance indicators. Only when those elements are understood, a slick set of dashboards and analytictype reports can be developed. To really achieve a noticeable BI solution, an outside provider is almost always necessary. BI is a popular topic these days and there are many good providers in the industry but Tableau offers the best product I have seen. I highly recommend their product and at the very least, it is worth a demo.

An initial push to upgrade your technology and keep up with trends does not have to break the budget or involve a massive overall in how your business operates. It is forecast that government IT spending will be increasing in the coming years and a few updates now could reduce the amount of work that may be required later this year or next. Additionally, the element of change is naturally a challenge and most are comfortable with the way things are but a little change now could ease the pain from a big change coming soon.

1 http://www.govtech.com/civic/Stateand- Local-IT-Spending-to-Outpace-Federal- in-2017-and-2018.html

* This article is also published by Collection Advisor


Differentiating in the Commoditized Skip Tracing Market

Some time ago, the process of locating and gathering information about a debtor, or skip tracing, became a commodity. It is easy to get the information and the demand remains high. However, there is little differentiation among those companies providing the data. When an end user is presented with new address or phone number data in the collection software, rarely do they know where the information came from. It is true some collection software platforms can track or flag the source of the data, but the source cannot be derived by simply looking at the data. Let’s look at the differentiation available and some ideas for agencies to streamline their skip tracing processes.

Skip tracing service providers offer a variety of solutions. Free services, one-time fee services, real-time services and subscription services are commonly offered. Free skip tracing should be discarded. Although the obvious economic reasons are appealing, free skip tracing requires a staff, a high volume of manual intervention, inconsistency in effort and procedure and integration with the collection software, which is non-existent. You get what you pay for and free usually doesn’t cut it. We have all heard this before.

One-time fee services are commonly referred to as batch skip tracing. Batch mode is generally very consistent and integrated. The data is requested and received one-time, usually overnight, and automatically fed into the collection software. An agency can and should build all sorts of data handling rules to not only electronically load the data into the system but also set a level of reliability on the data and whether or not a verification process is required. What’s important is capturing all the data. After all, you are paying for it.

Batch is a good method when the agency has a need to process many debtors and having the updated information immediately is not important. Real-time services are similar to batch in terms of consistency and integration. The difference is in the timing. Real-time skip tracing is the fastest way to get updated or receive new information. It is usually accomplished in the collection software using a preprogrammed button or workflow where a request is sent to the service provider and a response is received real-time or near real-time. The concept of the data going straight into the software and the data handling rules as used in batch mode can apply.

A subscription model can be implemented for both batch and real-time. The beauty of a subscription model is that any debtors sent to the skip tracing service provider are “monitored” regardless of whether the request is sent in batch mode or real-time mode. This is attractive to agencies because the technology is always on. The provider will deliver a response on the initial request and monitor the debtor record for a predefined term. If at any time during the term the provider receives new information, it will automatically be delivered to the respective agency. Due to the nature of the service, the subscription model is commonly referred to as “monitoring.”

Excluding free services, technology and automation is largely well-defined and reliable in the skip tracing market. However, skip tracing can be counterproductive. Too much manual intervention and the mixing of service providers can be expensive in terms of dollars and man hours. I believe 99% of all skip tracing efforts need to be electronic and automated in the collection software. Agencies should work to streamline skip tracing efforts by simplifying or eliminating waterfall models in an effort to find one sound service provider that can satisfy all the service models previously mentioned. There are providers who offer batch, real-time, subscription, and manual skip tracing services. While the first three are electronic and integrated with collection software, the manual service is simply a portal where the service provider allows end users to manually search the database for new information or to maintain the customers monitored database. Working with a provider like this can greatly streamline an agency’s skip tracing process.

Regardless of your skip tracing practice, don’t overlook the information from the original creditor. It is usually the most reliable. You want that information, so ask for it in the placement file and load any data point you receive somewhere in your technology enterprise. If you don’t need it today, it will be easier to locate when you do need it tomorrow.

* This article is also published by Collection Advisor


Compliance: Technology Alone Will Not Protect You

Every day, I receive around a dozen emails detailing some aspect of compliance and data security. Some I immediately delete, some I briefly scan over and others I really dig into. There is no formula behind this. It simply depends on the timing of the email. Looking back at the history of the ARM industry, compliance is certainly one of the newer topics of conversation. The conversation has been steadily growing and the concerns surrounding compliance have exploded in recent years. On most days, it seems one could attend several compliance webinars covering everything from implementation strategies to costs.

Technology changes very rapidly and in many cases, technology introduced today will be outdated in fewer than six months. That statement is not enlightening for any of us but what we may overlook is how much technology is taking over the everyday aspects of our lives. For example, think about how we communicate, receive our news, and manage finances. With such a dependence on technology and increasing regulation surrounding compliance and data security, what is an agency to do?

Many agencies have taken the approach of staging a fully compliant and secure environment for individual clients, for different lines of business or for employee training purposes. I recently visited a client that prepared this type of environment for their Department of Education accounts and it has allowed them to control the data and access to sensitive data. Furthermore, the environment can be cloned and the data can be masked or scrambled to create a fully compliant and secure environment for training, related to an individual client or business line. This is a sound approach but there are several considerations before making a move like this.

Evaluate Costs

First, costs should be evaluated. The raw costs to start up another environment, purchase additional licenses from your software provider, and add more support and maintenance is easy to calculate but do not neglect the costs of working the business. Costs such as staff training, integrating with outside service vendors, and completing security audits need to be added to the raw environment costs and then compared against anticipated revenue from working the business. You may find it difficult to justify.


Second, if costs can be justified, access to the environment and certain data elements within the environment must be a top priority. Even if employees have all the necessary training and clearance permissions, they probably do not need access to everything in the environment. Utilize user profile features and permission sets in your software to control user access and to ensure users can only access the information necessary for their job.


Finally, ensure your software is up-to-date with the latest upgrades and releases from your software provider. Included in this is the operating system and software running on your servers and employee workstations. In most cases, updates and upgrades are simple to retrieve and install. Be careful though and make sure you have a testing plan in place for upgrades and a rollback procedure in the event the update or upgrade fails or takes longer to install than anticipated. Running the latest software versions will help protect your organization from cyber-attacks and data breaches.

Agencies, as they should, want to benefit from technology investments but when it comes to compliance, you must recognize that technology alone will not protect you. Even the best and most detailed compliance practices can fail without collective buy in from the members of the organization.

* This article is also published by Collection Advisor


Automatic Collections

Nearly ten years ago, I read a book titled “The Automatic Millionaire” by David Bach. It is a lesson on accumulating wealth and achieving financial independence. The subject is not important here. What is important is how it is accomplished because we attempt to apply the same concepts in accounts receivable management and I believe it is particularly imperative when working telecom paper. That theory is “make it automatic.” In the book, the easiest way to achieve financial independence is to make the process automatic through the use of automated payroll deductions, account rebalancing and other such processes. Then, we do not have to do anything or really even think about doing anything. It just happens.

When it comes to timing, of course you do not have 20 to 30 years to collect on any one telecom account but what if we could apply the automatic practice to the collection efforts? What would that look like and how could your technology be the workhorse?

Voice and data providers are always competing to reduce costs and come up with efficient ways to manage customer payments. The service has become commoditized and thus makes it simple for customers to switch providers with little care for any current or past due balances. According to multiple sources, including a white paper published by HCL Technologies, the telecom industry loses in excess of $10 billion annually due to bad debt. That number is much too large to ignore the “make it automatic” concept.

Before automating anything in your software, design a flow that makes sense. It may be helpful to refer to this as a schedule of action. Allow me to explain the automatic setup in your software using the following flow as an example:


Setup your system to begin investigative efforts immediately. The new business process should be constructed with logic to identify consumers with missing information. You may discover some accounts are missing too much information for collection attempts. For the rest, make sure the workflow in your software identifies consumers for immediate skip tracing and scoring. Labeling these consumers with a tag or status will make it easy for an automated interface to pick them up for transfer to your skip tracing or scoring service provider.

Dialing and Sending Notices

Like the investigative efforts, the workflow in your software should be able to automatically label consumers for required notices and be scheduled to either print the notices or transfer the requests to your letter vendor. Additionally, whether using a dialer or manually dialing, ensure the dialing pools built by the software are based on your secret sauce (balance, geographic location, credit score and so on).


As a consumer, telecom bills are one of the easiest payments to overlook. This remains true for telecom accounts in collections as well. Setting up time-based events as reminders for consumers is imperative. Make sure your software is configured to automatically issue urgent letters, send emails or dial the consumer over the course of attempting to collect on the account.


When calls, notices and reminders are ignored, it is helpful to have a time-based event in your software to commence the disconnect process. This could be a simple pop-up when the account is accessed or an automated message to the service provider to cut the service. If the consumer is already in collections and still has full or partial service, nothing should get their attention like disconnecting the service entirely.


When all other automated attempts fail, blacklisting is the most aggressive action. Here again, a time-based event should be configured in your software to commence this process. This will eventually require some manual intervention but knowing when to start the process and perhaps some initial actions can be automated. Blacklisting can follow a few different paths. It may involve hot-lining by redirecting all calls from consumers to a special department or in more extreme examples, include barring the consumer for service not only from one provider, but from all providers of similar telecom services.

Applying the “make it automatic” concept to telecom collection efforts may not make you a millionaire but it could certainly ease the effort of working your share of the $10 billion of bad debt every year in the telecom industry.

* This article is also published by Collection Advisor


Managing Unstructured Data with Big Data Notions

Data is traditionally structured. It makes the data easy to read and simple to consume. Are those statements actually true? I have a hard time accepting that perception. What if I told you we collectively perceive data as traditionally structured because we select to ignore unstructured data? All that remains is the structured data and because that turns into the primary focus, it becomes natural to claim data is traditionally structured. It makes the data easier to read and simpler to consume.

Unstructured data is defined as information that does not have a pre-defined model or is not organized in any sensible manner. This is not a new phenomenon. However, the sheer quantity of unstructured data is on the rise across all industry verticals and there is growing interest in the ingestion of that data. One of the largest examples of this is in the healthcare space. Take a minute to think about all the pre-printed medical forms, questionnaires, insurance forms, procedure and diagnosis forms, and claim forms you are exposed to as a patient or guarantor. That is what you see. Those same forms can exist in a variety of formats and layouts based on the insurance company, hospital or medical facility, or the state or locality where the services are performed. It may be a single field variance or a completely different looking form altogether. Whether typed into an electronic form or scanned into a system as an image, the data is likely unstructured making it nearly impossible to develop software to read, recognize and accurately ingest all of the data all of the time.

Instead of setting unstructured data aside, we need to use technology to reduce the constraints and structure the data. This will allow for the consumption of more data, which is really what enterprises are after. By understanding the data, you are creating a modern architecture ideally easy to use, repeatable, and secure. What could you accomplish with more data? What could society accomplish with more data, specifically in the healthcare space? Could we prevent outbreaks? Could we cure disease?

All enterprises deal with unstructured data. Some have more than others but unstructured data does exist everywhere. There are many methods of thinking about unstructured data, getting it into a structured format, and ultimately loading it into the system or data warehouse. It can be done manually with users reading and inputting the data, it can be done electronically with extract, transform, load-type processes to deal with most of the data, or it can be a combination of electronic and manual effort. Making the process as electronic and systematic as possible will be very helpful but remember it is nearly impossible to consume 100% of the data this way. Some manual effort will still be required when a form field is blank or has been moved to the next box, for example.

You need the right challenges while making the decision to ingest and make sense of unstructured data. It is important to know or at least question what you are possibly missing or what you can possibly gain from this additional data. Do not go blindly into the effort of managing unstructured data. Also, do not get caught up in the immediate issues or only a few use cases. Architect the process for a long term and comprehensive build out. You may know the challenges you are facing today but consider what challenges you may face down the road. Regulation, security, and technology are examples of ever-changing items in our industry that may present future challenges. Finally, data governance must be addressed. This is particularly true in the healthcare industry. The days of only a few fields being deemed personally identifiable information (PII) are fading away. If you are dealing with healthcare data, you are better off considering everything as PII. Secure access to the data on a need-to-know basis or at least with the vision that not everyone requires access to everything.

The concept of ingesting unstructured data is relatively new in the debt collection industry. Much of what I have presented crosses the line between what is considered data integration and what is considered Big Data. Managing unstructured data requires integration processes but understanding why unstructured data is important is a Big Data thought. Regardless of your approach, plan to pay for the sins of the past. Not capturing all the data and randomly dropping data into fields that “look” good may end up skewing your results as you ingest unstructured data.

* This article is also published by Collection Advisor


Texting Is The Final Frontier?

How are there two extremes when it comes to sending a text message to a debtor? The answer is actually quite simple. There is no answer because the FDCPA does not specifically address text messaging. In 1977, when the FDCPA was passed into law, text messaging and other contemporary forms of communication did not exist. Since then, not only have new methods of communication been introduced but the population’s preference for how they want to be communicated with has changed dramatically. Almost anyone with children can confirm that texting and social media dwarfs communicating over the phone or in person. In fact, we see these same preferences in the younger generation workforce as well.

Education aside, how can the agency start sending text messages? There is no law detailing the use of text messages as a method of communication; however there is law regarding how the agency can communicate with the debtor. The same rules in place for communicating via phone calls, letters, and emails need to be followed when sending text messages. If we evaluate this from a technology perspective, agencies are faced with a challenge. Even the newest collection software available does not include a module for text messaging. For now, agencies must partner with an outsider provider to capture the necessary technology to launch a text messaging campaign. Using an outside service provider equals a need for integration. Here are three technology considerations for implementing your text messaging campaign:

1. Consent

As with calling a cell phone or sending an email, you must get consent from the debtor. Yes, this can be achieved over the phone if you actually speak with the debtor but I have seen a more systematic approach. If you are driving the debtor to a payment portal, whether from your own website or through a letter campaign, ask for consent when they log into the portal. Setup the first screen to include a checkbox for consent to receive text messages. Furthermore, if the box is checked, ask for updated contact information. Force the debtor to confirm or update their phone numbers and address information before they can move to the payment portion of the site. I have seen technology offerings like this from several letter vendors and payment processing vendors in the industry.

2. Data Integrity

If the debtor does consent and provides updated demographic information, do not assume it is accurate. You should not be in a hurry to overwrite the primary phone number and address you have in your collection software just because something newer has been presented. The debtor may consent to receiving text messages and then deceitfully or not, provide a wireless phone number that does not belong to them. Sending a text message to the wrong phone number could mean you have just disclosed the debt to a third party and violated the law. Ask the debtor to respond to an initial text somehow confirming the phone number belongs to them. After passing your integrity checks, update the primary phone and/or address information in your collection software with the newly provided demographic data. However, do not fully delete any previous demographic data. Capture it in a previous record module or in the account notes.

3. Integration

The design and development of the data integration, or interface, will need to be tested and in place before launching your text messaging campaign. Most vendors will offer a batch mode integration. This file-based solution usually involves an overnight file delivery for updates that day. The agency will receive that file and import it into their collection software. An import interface must be built into your collection software. Depending on how many files are delivered or the schema of the files, more than one import interface may be required. The data in your collection software will always be up to 24 hours behind the payment/consent portal because the updates will not be received and processed until later that night. A real-time solution will process updates from the portal as they occur and import the updates into your collection software automatically.

For now, sending text messages to debtors remains a gray area. While text specific regulation is being formed, will you wait for others to push ahead and evaluate the fallout or will you implement this modern day, and often preferred, contact method?

* This article is also published by Collection Advisor


Collecting for the IRS

Last December, the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act (FAST Act) was made law by the federal government. Unlike the previous ruling which only allowed the IRS the authority to place collections with private debt collection companies, this new law went a step further by requiring the IRS to use private debt collection companies. The law also states that the IRS must begin entering into contracts within three months after the date of enactment. That time frame is rapidly closing but there is no language detailing when the IRS will actually start placing inactive tax receivables.

Last year, I wrote about agencies investing their time and dollars in preparing for a government contract, primarily for the Department of Education contract. Collecting for the IRS is a new opportunity for established agencies to get into the government space and for agencies already in the space to service another line of government receivables. There is plenty of work that can be done in advance to prepare for this opportunity.

Data security should be a primary concern. If your collection software is preventing your agency from achieving compliance and hitting security benchmarks you may want to evaluate other software options or work with your current software provider to implement additional security features. Make sure the backend database is fully encrypted and that data in transit is as well. If encryption is available, you may want to verify it is turned on because in some collection products the encryption feature is optional and turned off by default in an effort to save space. Aside from the actual software, you should review and enhance your information security policies. If you do not already have these policies documented, you should address that immediately. Policies detailing available user accounts, access privileges, password policies, and how to work with sensitive data need to be covered. If you find yourself overwhelmed with implementing or updating data security policies, a great resource to start is the Federal Information Security Management Act (FISMA). It will not answer all the questions but FISMA will provide great direction and help to set things in motion.

Simply having a strong data security policy is not good enough. Awareness of the policy and to the ever-changing landscape of compliance and data security is key as well. Awareness begins with a strong training program. Create an electronic training program that focuses on working with government data and the sensitivity of that data. In a test environment, stage examples for users to encounter and work with sensitive data in your collection software. Wherever possible, implement automated IT processes that promote awareness.

So far, I have touched on policy and procedure ideas with a focus on the operation and environment. There are many items you can fine-tune directly in your collection software as well. First and foremost, make every effort to eliminate manual processes by replacing them with automation. Every time a user manually kicks off a process, renames or moves a file, or manually retrieves/sends data with an external vendor, the likelihood for user error increases. You may be surprised to find out that most manual processes like those mentioned can be automated within your software or with custom applications that work with your collection software. Take a step back to really understand and document all your processes. Then, review the list with your team or consultant(s), pick out areas where automation is an option, and prioritize the list before beginning any design or development. Second, take the time to evaluate and enhance your workflow. Agencies should implement this practice at least twice per year. The addition of new clients, the performance of your consumer representatives, and the strengths/weaknesses of your skip tracing efforts may introduce new trends or change trends that were evaluated when your existing workflow was designed. Find something that works best for your agency. Third, develop your own performance reports. Do not rely solely on canned reports that were delivered with your collection software. Like enhancing the workflow, there are metrics and key performance indicators (KPIs) meaningful for your agency. Many of the collection products have some sort of built-in mechanism for developing custom reports. If custom reporting within your software is not available, there are plenty of reporting tools with many connectors that may work with your product. Take a look at Business Objects (Crystal Reports), Cognos BI, Microsoft SSRS, or Tableau.

By refining a few of your operational policies and procedures and implementing some strategic changes in your collection software, your agency can be set up nicely for that new government contract. As with the Department of Education contract, you can bet the IRS will be gathering performance data on the agencies receiving placements and that the data will be made public via several published reports. Wouldn’t it be nice to see your agency at the top of that list?

* This article is also published by Collection Advisor


Managing Unconventional Skip Tracing Data

The common skip trace practice many third-party agencies follow after loading a new placement file is to address skip trace, phone number skip trace, bankruptcy skip trace, deceased skip trace, and credit score. Most collection professionals are well versed on this now monotonous routine. All agencies do it. The difference lies in how the return data is evaluated, captured, and embedded into the daily workflow for managing the inventory. However, there are some other, unconventional skip tracing services and often, they will provide some very revealing information. This information may be just enough to separate you from the competition. I would like to detail three unconventional skip tracing services and more importantly, ideas for how to manage them in your receivables management software.

Possible Incarceration

You may eventually discover a consumer is incarcerated over the course of working the account but have you considered running a skip trace for incarceration before any effort goes into contacting the consumer or sending a letter? Executing this skip trace and identifying a consumer is incarcerated will allow your representatives to focus on accounts that are more collectible. The possible incarceration skip trace should be scheduled one of two ways. First, the request can be automated to run with your normal skip trace service requests (address, phone, bankruptcy, deceased, credit score). Alternatively, you have your regularly scheduled requests run first and then based on those results, segment the ideal consumers for a possible incarceration skip trace. For example, if you receive a return that a consumer is deceased or has a credit score less than 400, your automated workflow may be set up to automatically close the account. In those cases, your skip tracing automation should bypass that consumer altogether for the possible incarceration scrub.

When receiving a hit for incarceration, some decisions need to be made. Most often, a release date (if applicable) is provided with the incarceration hit. Depending on the duration of the incarceration, you may option to close the account and re-open it immediately after the release date. On the other hand, you may just want to close the account and archive it. Either way, let your system handle it with built-in automation.

Possible Litigious Debtor

The litigious debtor skip trace could save thousands of dollars in legal costs. This may be one of the most fascinating services available these days. A returned hit on this service may indicate you are facing a consumer who has filed one or several lawsuits against agencies. It exists because consumer lawsuits against agencies and first parties are on the rise. Furthermore, consumer initiated lawsuits are steadily increasing because more and more consumers are becoming well educated on the FDCPA and other federal or state regulation.

Unlike the possible incarceration skip trace, you may want to set up workflow to run the possible litigious debtor skip trace right away. If a hit is returned, most agencies establish rules in the software to immediately flag and close the account in an effort to eliminate any contact whatsoever. When going this route, utilize workflow or other automation to close the account, remove it from any dialing queues, stop any other skip tracing efforts, halt all contact attempts, and flag the consumer so it is understood to steer clear of this account.


This skip tracing service is a fun one and can arm your representatives with some very valuable information prior to contacting the consumer. The property skip trace will inform you if the consumer has recently purchased, leased, or somehow acquired new property. A house, condo, and land are all property examples. This information is especially valuable when a representative is working a consumer who indicates they are on a tight budget or simply does not have the financial resources to repay the debt.

As for automating this service, it is best to send the request after your first blast of skip tracing. You will want to carefully segment and select the consumers you want for the property skip trace. Construct the workflow to select consumers with a valid phone number and address, populated with full SSN, an outstanding balance that justifies the property skip trace, and a moderate to high credit score. Unlike possible incarceration and litigious debtor, turning on monitoring is a great idea for this service. This will allow your skip trace provider to continuously seek property hits for the consumer, rather than a one-time scrub, and notify you when a new hit becomes available. With this information, a representative can easily counter an excuse-ridden consumer by simply questioning his financial position since he has recently purchased a new property.

Before jumping right into unconventional skip tracing, you must first develop guidelines for isolating and marking the consumers for these different services, for identifying them when hits are received, and for the special handling they require. Regardless of the decisions for implementing unconventional skip tracing or managing the returns, store the data in your software or data warehouse and make the process automated in your software by including it in your everyday workflow.

* This article is also published by Collection Advisor


4 Compliance Areas Debt Buyers Must Address

For years, debt buyers could operate outside the scope of compliance and regulation in the accounts receivable management industry. This was not because debt buyers were attempting to be deceitful, rather this sector of the industry was so new and innovative that too much was unknown to attempt to govern it. Those days are over and no longer are debt buyers overlooked. In fact, they are now very much on the radar of the CFPB. It was only a matter of time as compliance administration was on the rise with larger creditors and other first parties. The CFPB is already visiting the organizations. Most would agree that debt buyers are not far down the list.

What can debt buyers do to prepare themselves for a call from the CFPB? Debt buyer certification programs are fairly new in the industry and several options are available. The standards for most of these certification programs focus on the primary areas of concern debt buyers are facing these days. Topics including media, chain of title, agency management, and credit bureau reporting all make the cut. I would like to examine these four primary topic areas and present some solutions for capturing and maintaining the compliance related information using the same technology debt buyers are using to manage their inventory. Let’s set the precedence that present day debt buyers are managing their inventory with proper, enterprise level software. Any debt purchasing operation still managing inventory using spreadsheets is destined for compliance violations and trouble with the CFPB should there be an audit.


Also referred to as account and debtor documentation, media is crucial for debt buyers and it is important to have software that will allow for media attachments on a per account basis. Often, media is not included in the actual purchase agreement. It usually must be requested from a separate entity, or if the seller does have the media, it comes with an additional cost. In many systems, media attachment components are not included but hopefully your software allows for custom configuration and you are able to add media attachment options.

Make sure media attachments are available at both the account and consumer levels. For example, there may be a contract at the account level but separate credit reports if there is more than one responsible party on the account. The setup should be able to store the credit report for the respective responsible party. Most media is large in file size and because of this, disk space will be consumed quickly. Proper system sizing is often overlooked and needs to be planned accordingly. Lastly, in the event a consumer pursues litigation, the debt buyer will need to be in a position to confirm the consumer opened the account and is a responsible party by presenting media.

Chain of Title

The history of account ownership is referred to as chain of title. When a debt buyer purchases an account from a creditor or another debt buyer, the ownership is transferred. Like media, chain of title is additional documentation for the account. It should be requested at the time of purchase and any information or media related to chain of title should be stored in the software at the account level. You will want to have this information for compliance purposes, in the event of litigation, or if you eventually sell the account. Storing the chain of title in your software will also position you to set up your placement strategies with external agencies and provide them with chain of title for each account in the placement file.

Agency Management

As a debt buyer, knowing the agencies you are placing with is almost as important as knowing your own agency. At least that is what an auditing entity will expect. Until sold and ownership changes hands, debt buyers are responsible for all their accounts regardless if being worked inhouse or placed with an external agency. There is some very nice software available for debt buyers that will not only allow for automated account placement strategies, but will also include features for ranking an agency, certifying an agency, and tracking compliance related data points for an agency. If you cannot find the latter in your current software, it is in your interest to build out the agency management module to capture compliance related information. For example, you may be expected to know any certifications your agencies have achieved, how they enforce and maintain data security related to your inventory, and their backup and restore procedures. In most cases, this is not only a single field of data. You should be able to capture and store short text descriptions of the processes or attach documentation to the external agencies that are configured in your software.

Credit Bureau Reporting

How debt buyers report to the credit bureaus is one of the most common violations in the industry. Far too often, workflow elements for credit bureau reporting is not detailed enough. Ensure your credit bureau reporting workflow is not re-reporting debtors and is also deleting debtors from the bureau’ s file upon resolution of the debt or in the case of bankruptcy. Be ready with documentation that details your process. It is much easier to hand an auditor a detailed document and walk through it together than attempt to explain your process for others to appraise. Credit bureau reporting practices are also key processes debt buyers should understand about each of their external agencies.

Understanding and documenting compliance standards such as those described above will help prepare you for a visit from the CFPB. At the very least, you will have addressed and standardized some important, compliance related business processes should the CFPB never call or visit.

* This article is also published by Collection Advisor


Increase Telecom Recoveries with Robust Scoring Models

When handling telecom accounts, agencies need to have a distinct approach to be successful in their recovery attempts. Customer delinquency is on the rise in the telecom market. Higher subscriber prices, providers combining services, the competitive nature of the players in the market, and third-party involvement is to blame for the growing number of delinquent subscribers and rising write-off amounts. News like this should be welcoming to agencies servicing telecom accounts, but with it comes increased pressure on the agencies to recover.

It is a mistake to think of telecom accounts just like every other account. It is an even greater mistake to treat telecom consumers as you would treat bank card, student loan, or medical consumers who have delinquent accounts. Take a minute and think about yourself as a consumer in the telecom market. This should be easy as you likely have some combination of telephone, cable, satellite, or streaming service accounts in your name. As a consumer in the market, do you understand what you signed up for, how much you owe, and in what respect the money is applied when you make a payment? Generally, consumers in the telecom market cannot answer these questions and furthermore, cannot explain the contract they signed or if they even signed a contract. We see this phenomenon in the telecom industry because it has been commoditized to the extent where it is too easy for consumers to switch suppliers. When a consumer switches, he/ she usually either does not know or does not care he/she owes money. The point is the industry is different so how an agency utilizes systems and technology to collect needs to be different.

Closer management is essential. Creating and implementing finely segmented profiles using strong scoring models is one way to manage telecom accounts in your collection software. First and foremost, identify the data elements that should factor into generating your recovery score and how each may positively or negatively impact the score. The list below includes some data elements and considerations when generating a recovery score for your telecom accounts.

Credit Score

In most cases this is undoubtedly the top data element to include when generating a custom recovery score. It should weigh heavily in determining the collectability of an account. The workflows or queue logic in your software should stage consumers with the higher credit scores to receive the most attention. Likewise, you may set up your workflow to all but close out accounts with a credit score in the 300 or 400 range.

Quantity and Quality of Data

It is important to know how much data you have per account and the quality of the data. Generating a custom recovery score with not enough and or unqualified data may hurt your recovery attempt more than helps it. Ideally, you already have the data captured in your software. If not, most data should be included in the placement file from the service provider or can be obtained by interfacing with data scrub service providers like LexisNexis, MicroBilt, or any of the major credit bureaus. At a minimum, make sure you are receiving and storing data points like full name, social security number, full and verified address, and verified phone.

Number of Delinquent Accounts

Any consumer with multiple delinquent accounts in your system should receive a lower score. It is an indication the consumer is hopping suppliers when better deals or introductory offers are available.

Geographic Location

Some may question the significance of this data element but in remote or lesspopulated areas of the country, consumers do not have many options for telecom service. They may even be limited to a single supplier for Internet, cable, and/or telephone service. In these cases, a higher recovery score is reasonable as the consumer must satisfy the debt in order to resume service or to receive new services from the supplier.

Type of Residence

You may consider increasing the recovery score if the consumer owns versus rents or shares a residence. In just about all cases, the telecom accounts for a homeowner are in his/her name. When working with consumers in an apartment, condo, or other renting situation, the telecom services and responsibilities may be split among many of the residents, making it somewhat easier to neglect their portion of the service.

After identifying and detailing the data elements important for generating your custom recovery score, they must be built into your software for automatic and fluent management. Some recovery software platforms include modules to set up custom scoring but none I have encountered are very impressive. More flexibility and options are likely available outside of the software. In most cases, custom scripting will be required to consume the data and make systematic scoring decisions. If you have strong programmers on staff, their skills will certainly be required to configure your scoring model. This can be handled strictly with scripting a solution that will integrate with your recovery software or externally in a data warehouse or “black box.” The terms data warehouse and black box are interchangeable on this topic. It is a place external to the recovery software where data from your recovery software, accounting software, web portal, CRM, or any of other in-house system is captured.

Custom scripting can be applied here as well and may be a better option than against the recovery software database because you may have more data elements to work with in the data warehouse. Regardless of the database(s) utilized, it is imperative to apply the recovery score logic uniformly and against all consumers in the system. One mistake agencies make when implementing new logic is only applying it on a go-forward basis. Circle back on all the existing telecom consumers in your system and run them through your new custom scoring logic as well. Allow the system to make decisions and commit to allowing your scoring to drive collection efforts.

* This article is also published by Collection Advisor


Synchronizing Collection Software with Hospital Data

As a server of medical accounts, agencies often find themselves facing some additional technology concerns. Every vertical brings its own technological challenges. In most verticals these challenges are shared but the healthcare vertical adds complexity when considering items such as system of record and the detailed nature of industry accepted data standards.

Medical collection software exists for any serious agency in the healthcare space. However, I see and hear agencies are simultaneously working in two different systems, their own collection software and the hospital’s system. (Throughout this column, I will repeatedly reference the “hospital’s system” but the terms “medical facility’s system,” “insurance company’s system,” “claims management system,” and so on could easily take its place.) The questions I will address in this column are: Why are there disparate systems and how can these agencies work out of one system? Most often the “why” is one of three scenarios. One, the hospital requires the agency to work directly in their system. Two, the agency software does not have the same data points as the hospital’s system. Three, there is no seamless integration between the two systems so real-time updates are not sent back and forth between the two pieces of software. In any case, system of record becomes a question. When working in two separate systems, which one wins when there is a conflict? No wrong answer to this question exists and the better question to answer is how can the conflicts be avoided? Unless you have a compelling case, the hospital will insist your reps work directly in their system and will not be convinced your receivables management software is sufficient enough to allow otherwise. You can utilize your technology to build this compelling case by addressing the integration scenario previously presented.

Before detailing a seamless integration between systems, there are a few prerequisites. Ideally, the following statements are all true:

  • Both the agency and the client have technical teams available to implement and test the integration.
  • There are application programming interfaces or web services available for both the source and target systems.
  • The source and the target system include functionality to track data changes and events that occur as users are working.

Consider your collection software as the source. This is the system you are familiar with and the system you prefer to work with. A data push can be developed using system inherent data integration tools or an external data integration tool with connectors to the system database. This push process will need to be constructed in a manner that captures the data level events as they occur and will need to be shared with the hospital’s system. Simultaneously, a pull or retrieve process will need to be in place for the hospital. This process will grab the real-time data events being provided by the agency’s system. After some analytic, transformation, or validation routines are performed, the data from the agency’s system will ideally auto-update in the hospital’s system. Additionally, reverse processes will need to be engineered for the hospital to automatically share real-time data events with the agency’s system. Achieving this sort of real-time integration will allow your representatives to work exclusively in your system while keeping the hospital’s system in sync and vice versa.

Prior to engineering the solution described above, there will need to be a requirements gathering session with your client to identify the data elements that are important to share and are able to be shared between the two systems. A significant takeaway from these sessions needs to be a requirements document. At a minimum, the following should be detailed in this documentation:

  • A very detailed listing of the data fields to exchange.
  • Any business rules related to data transformations, data validations, and data extract/load procedures.
  • Instructions for using any web service technology.

Utilizing existing data standards is almost essential in the healthcare space. These standards are also helpful in achieving real-time system integration. Your agency is likely already using data standards like Health Level Seven (HL7), HIPAA formats, or something EDI related in order to exchange data with clients. Transaction and code standards like these provide a uniform method for sending and receiving healthcare related data in near real-time. It is important to understand these standards not only because your clients will expect it but also because it displays a higher level of sophistication regarding your operation. The client’s only expectation is you are staying up to date with the ever-changing healthcare standards. The October 1, 2015 countdown to ICD-10 (10th revision of the International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems – Clinical Modification/Procedure Coding System) is on the horizon. Are you ready?

* This article is also published by Collection Advisor


5 Steps to Perform Systematic Due Diligence

Anyone who has kept up with recent industry news is aware due diligence is a hot topic of conversation. The general public and regulatory organizations want to know what agencies are doing related to due diligence, if is it sufficient, and if is there proof of it. Considering many collection agencies perform credit card collections, I believe there are ways to manage and track your due diligence using technology already in place. The manual steps to have in place include: making a due diligence list as well as developing milestones and inspections.

The five steps to systematically track due diligence in your existing collection software are described in the following sections: proof of debt, statute of limitations, licensing and debtors’ state of residence, pending or potential legal issues, and thirdparty vendors. (In the event your software cannot be customized at these levels, consider an external application as a bolt-on to your collection software.)

1. Proof of debt

Before taking legal action to collect on behalf of a debt buyer, you must be in a position to supply proof of debt. Design and build out account level, and in some cases consumer level, proof of debt data points in your software. The location of these proof of debt data points is crucial. First, add custom fields (examples noted below) at the account and consumer levels. I also recommend making these read-only fields. In most cases, the data for these fields can be collected at the time of placement and should never change. Second, add the new fields to windows or screens that are easily accessible. You will want key personnel to have immediate access to this information when it is required. Use role-based privileges to grant and restrict user access. Next, make an attempt to segregate these data points from other sections in the software that house more typical fields used in everyday collection efforts. Doing so will make any auditing situation easier when you can simply navigate to the proof of debt window. Use the software to track and maintain date of acquisition, the amount paid to acquire the account, previous account owners, and images of contracts, statements, or anything else related to chain of title.

2. Statute of Limitations

It is imperative to know the state laws that set the statute of limitations. Having that knowledge is nice. Having it and making that information readily available for each account in your system is better. On the collector’s screen, add visible fields for the statute state and statute date. Train your representatives on how to use that information or restrict out-ofstatute accounts from even being presented.

3. Licensing and debtors’ State of Residence

Related to the previous point, it is important to capture and display fielded data for state laws based on the nature of the debt, time zone and call time restrictions, and permitted collection activity are important to capture and display. For agencies, make it clear in which states you are licensed to collect. For debt buyers, know where your agencies are licensed and build your placement strategies accordingly. Track state licensing at the client and account levels. Licensing can change so use alerts or even temporary holds in your software to monitor and validate collection licensing.

4. Pending or Potential Legal Issues

Whether your agency is working accounts from a debt buyer or directly from the original creditor there should be systematic processes for identifying legal issues or flagging for potential legal issues. Consider the legal or potential-legal areas you are accountable for maintaining. Are you protected against legal issues, which arise from bankruptcy, deceased accounts, or consumers currently in litigation? Use scrubbing services to track the data you receive and build your workflow around it.

5. Third-Party vendors

Agencies use third-party service providers not only for scrubbing but scoring and sometimes outsourcing collection activity. What do you know about these partners? Effective collection software includes vendor setup and maintenance modules. Demographic items like company name, address, and phone number are common, but adding items from your due diligence checklist can prevent some headaches down the road. Simple yes/no fields and free form text fields are beneficial. Checklist questions should include: Have you met this partner in person? Have you toured their facility? What levels of compliance or security are achieved? They should also include subcontractor information, and insurance information.

Collection agencies can discover the most common types of deficient collection activity by systematically following and tracking due diligence activity in their software. Following all the important steps every time will provide a record of your due diligence steps, and protect your agency from inadvertently sailing into dangerous waters.

* The article is also published by Collection Advisor


Investing in Government Collections

The idea of securing a government contract should stimulate your entrepreneurial wits. Succeeding in the endeavor can be very lucrative and can help to grow your agency tremendously. As with most great rewards, there are great risks along the way so the road in between requires careful evaluation and meticulous planning. This is not something to take lightly.

Whether your agency is already working a government contract or is simply considering the opportunity, there are many areas to assess in order to avoid pitfalls along the way. The primary areas of concern are infrastructure and security. Yes, the two are related – you will see this below – and there is certainly some overlap but several subcategories within each require some real attention. In fact, it is a good idea to revisit both infrastructure and security regardless of how and what your agency is working.

When evaluating infrastructure related to government collections, I am asking you to consider hardware, physical networks and collection software.


Is your current configuration scalable? If you are new to government collections, you are likely facing a significant increase in account and raw data volume. Ensuring there is proper disk space and processing power can eliminate delays in the most inopportune circumstance. You do not want to be ready to work your brand new accounts and have to upgrade hardware.

Physical Networks

Re-read the hardware subcategory. Everything mentioned applies for physical networks as well. In addition, what is your solution for failover? Do you have one? In the event your primary Internet service provider is down or even interrupted, make sure there is a secondary protocol for continued service. Now is the time to evaluate bandwidth as well. Check your upload and download speeds and consult your provider for upgrade opportunities. A government contract may require your agency to interface using web service technology, unique file sending and retrieving systems, or some other real-time exchange methods. Any of these could impact your network performance, especially as data volumes increase.

Collection Software

Most collection software is customizable to enable adding new tables, fields, windows, views and reports. In most cases when onboarding a new client or line of business some custom work in your software is required. Before taking on the burden exclusively, check with your collection software provider for government modules or add-ons. There may be something available that will get you 90% of what you need.

Without a doubt the most scrutinized category regarding government collections is security. Most of the subcategories mentioned in the infrastructure section are valid areas of security concern as well. Let’s evaluate a few considerations related to government collections and security.


Most are aware of the recent Home Depot and Target data breach events making national news. There have been smaller instances of data security concern in the collection space as well. The point is data security is a primary concern when working a government contract. If you find yourself overwhelmed with implementing or updating data security policies and procedures, a great resource to start with is the Federal Information Security Management Act (FISMA). It will not answer all the questions or undeniably solidify your agency as foolproof for government collections but FISMA will provide great direction and help you set things in motion.


Finding top-tier talent is tough. Finding and training a team to service government accounts is an even greater challenge. Before the team has been identified, create an electronic training program focused on working with government data and its sensitivity. To take it a step further, stage examples using your collection software running a test or training database. Understanding FISMA should provide plenty of detail towards constructing a training program both electronic and tangible in your collection software.


Separate from training yet somewhat related is security awareness. It is important for everyone in your organization with access to government data to be aware of any questionable security situations. It is equally important to implement automated IT related processes to promote awareness. Single sign-on, scheduled change password policies, mass internal email reminders concerning security and awareness, eliminating wireless networks, and prohibiting the use of mobile devices are just a few examples.

There is huge opportunity and huge risk in government collections. Securing and keeping a government contract means you must be a top performer. The concept of “open data” exists in government collections. Use the significance of the Department of Education contract as an example. It is not only public knowledge of which agencies have the contract but also of how each agency is performing and ranks among the competition. My hope is the aforementioned data and technology items for consideration will help guide you in the right direction and ideally position your agency for your first or for your next government contract.

* This article is also published by Collection Advisor


Launching Your Data Warehouse for Skip Tracing

The production data you receive can be simply classified into two categories. It is good data or it is bad data. We refer to the bad data as “garbage data” because it breaks your automated processes, will not load into your software, and in most cases requires some agonizing manual intervention. However, it is important to intelligently collect all skip tracing data and build automated processes for managing it. Technology solutions should be in place to manage your skip tracing data and to avoid your agency being buried in a landfill of skip tracing data.

Although, most collection software includes some sort of inherent module, feature, or perhaps even integrations for interfacing with skip trace service providers, a data warehouse should be implemented as a paired solution for housing and evaluating your skip tracing data. Your agency may already have a data warehouse that can be enhanced to include skip tracing data. Here are some considerations when launching or enhancing a data warehouse for your skip tracing data.

Basic Considerations

The basic, or not-that-exciting, considerations include:
1) Location – You need a server. If your security, compliance, and client requirements do not force you to host the data in-house, I recommend outsourcing to a hosting company. Most hosting companies can dedicate a physical server in a secure environment or implement a virtual environment with the same levels of safety and security.

2) System Sizing – Aside from the other data structures in your warehouse, how much disk space or how much processing power will you need to account for your skip tracing data? The disk space should be enough to house the production data from all systems feeding the data warehouse and from all the ancillary sources, such as your skip trace vendors. Regarding performance, there should be enough muscle to execute all jobs, rules, and interfaces in enough time to not interfere with any regu lar backups. If utilizing a hosting company, they can help you figure this out.

3) Software and Licensing – For most agencies, Microsoft Windows Server and Microsoft SQL Server will do the job. You may require .NET framework, Java, or special drivers based on your preferred technology for interfacing with the data warehouse. This is another area your hosting company can assist with.

Complex Considerations

The complex, and more stimulating, considerations include:
1) Data Structure – All skip tracing data should be captured and stored in your data warehouse even if it is not utilized today. After all, you are paying for it. It is safer to have the data and not need it than to need the data and not have it readily available. Try to construct an intuitive data structure. This will make future build out and scalability much easier.

2) Business Rules – There are many considerations on this topic but let’s focus on the skip tracing data your agency deems important. If you do not have documented business rules stating which pieces of returned data are imperative and how that data is used, you should. Let’s look at a simple business rule example. Most agencies run a skip for phone and address. Of course this information is imperative but how are you handling this returned data? Is it accepted as the best and always overwrites the primary phone and address in your system? Are you running a process to validate the returned phone and address prior to overwriting data in your system? Are you handling the returned data differently based on the source? These are some of the questions your documented business rules should answer. Finally, program these rules into your data warehouse so the process is fully automated.

3) Data Analytics – Many agencies overlook the importance of data analytics and thus lack the understanding of data trends. If you are going through the process of implementing or enhancing your data warehouse to include skip tracing data, you should absolutely run systemic analysis to understand your skip tracing data. This is more than identifying which skip tracing data points are important. Rather, it will show you what the data means. With proper build out, you will understand where you are getting the best skip trace results, what is not working within your business rules, and will likely identify cost saving opportunities.

* This article is also published by Collection Advisor