When Customer Won’t Pay, Should you go to Collection Agency or Attorney?, by Sam Fensterstock, AG Adjustments

Your internal efforts have failed to collect a severely past due account. Now, it’s time to call in another source. But who should you call, your corporate/general counsel, a collection attorney or a collection agency? Let’s look at all three and determine what your best course of action is.

USING YOUR CORPORATE/GENERAL COUNSEL

Corporate counsels are lawyers who work directly for a business and general counsel is a law firm that is on a retainer to work a certain amount of time each month for your company. As such, all their time and energy is spent on their employer’s requirements in various capacities and do not have a specific focus in collections. Their main job is to provide legal representation to their employer and their employees. Specifically, they will offer advice on legal matters and perform legal research for the benefit of the corporation. Additionally, they will offer opinions on issues like contracts, property interests, collective bargaining agreements, government regulations, employment law and patents. They may also represent their employers in court on defense matters and they are also utilized in forwarding litigatory matters to experts in pending litigation matters.

Now when it comes to handling a collection situation, yes, they can handle it, but will they do the best job for you? If you have a large volume of placements can they handle it? Corporate/general counsel typically have little (if any) collections experience and very little of their day-to-day time is focused in this area. Collection agencies and collection attorneys have specific training and experience in handling collections that a corporate/general counsel usually does not have.

Also, if you use your corporate/general counsel to file suit against a customer who operates in another state, normally they file the suit where your company is located as it is much easier to do. However, once you obtain a judgement, you will need to find an attorney in the local jurisdiction of your customer to domesticate and enforce it. Now you have two attorneys involved, a delayed resolution and increased expense.

Using your corporate/general counsel to collect a debt may be easier as they are either part of your company or are local and on a retainer and you might think your costs will be less but the retainer is only a charge against their hourly billing. A collection matter can cost a lot of money to pursue with no guarantee of success based on an hourly structure, especially if your customer files a counter claim, it could wind up costing you much more in the long run. So, will using your corporate/general counsel get the best results? We do not think so.

USING A COLLECTION ATTORNEY OR A COLLECTION AGENCY?

Based on the previous assessment the choice is now a collection attorney or a collection agency? There are hundreds of collection attorneys listed with the Commercial Law League of America and all of them have experience in collections and many do a great job. But, if your customer is delinquent and you cannot get paid, should your first stop be a collection attorney or a collection agency? This is a choice that companies frequently face as they try to find a collection professional to handle their placements who will provide the greatest chance of collection in the shortest period of time with the lowest costs. We think the decision is a straight forward one.

To further explain, let’s look at the differences and why one choice is rather clear: collection agencies work on a contingency basis. That is, they will keep a portion of what is collected. If nothing is collected there is zero fee. When they do collect, a contingent fee is charged on the amount collected. Often these fees can be negotiated based upon the volume of accounts placed, size of the account and circumstances such as age of invoices, disputes, etc. A collection agency’s goal is to collect to collect your money in-house in the shortest period of time, without having to use an attorney. When a collection agency has to forward a file to an attorney, it is their last resort in trying to get your money.

Collection attorneys, while many may work on a contingency basis, there are those that work on a fee for service basis. They will earn a fee based on the time spent regardless of the outcome. Additionally, attorneys earn their living by suing and filing a lawsuit costs money. Included in the suit costs will be the cost of filing a summons and complaint, serving the debtor, and various required attorney actions during the lawsuit. Collection attorney’s make more money litigating. Unnecessary lawsuits are filed frequently and as the collection effort is non-apparent during the time of litigation, many times your customer can go out of business, pay other suppliers instead or file a counter suit, which will further increase your exposure. Once a lawsuit has been filed you are now at the mercy of the courts and the time frame to get you paid just got extended 6-12 months.

Collection attorneys are also normally regionalized to geographic locations. They usually do not have the reach to handle accounts in multiple states let alone matters that are international. Furthermore, if your placements are spread though out the country or around the globe you have much more “clout” when dealing with a national or international collection agency as opposed to a local law firm.

One of the critical difference between collection agencies and attorneys is that collection agencies are equipped to handle a large number of accounts. They are specifically designed and have the personnel and computer capability to deal with thousands of accounts at any one time and handle files that range in dollar amounts from $100 to millions of dollars. Collection attorneys rarely have the capability to properly control a large volume of collections files and do not typically want to handle low dollar files. Agencies are designed with this capability, in mind. If they cannot successfully handle high volumes and low dollar files they will not be a very profitable business. Attorneys have assistants and associates handling incoming calls and payments while working on other more important business, themselves. They are law firms not collection agencies and therefore do not operate like a traditional collection agency

If litigation is needed using a collection agency is still your best bet as collection agencies usually have a network of local attorney’s that they utilize to bring suit, secure judgments and collect in a creditors behalf. They are staffed to “quarterback” attorney efforts to move the case as swiftly as possible. When questions arise, collection agency staff are versed in the various nuances of the litigatory process and are well prepared to get you the answers needed quickly and efficiently. Reputable agencies are fully bonded and insured and only utilize attorneys who are equally bonded and insured to provide creditors with maximum protection.

As collection agencies handle a large volume of accounts they also place substantial business with local law firms. Agencies have vetted the law firms they use who they feel do the best job in securing recovery for the creditor. Furthermore, an agency that is national in scope actually has more clout with a given law firm than any single creditor. Those attorneys that accept business from both collection agencies and credit grantors are bypassing the triadic system that has been in existence for over 100 years. It is unethical to accept business from a creditor as well as a collection agency. While you certainly want recovery of your funds we would believe that it should be accomplished in the most ethical manner possible.

CONCLUSION

Collection agencies FULL time responsibility is to collect the delinquent debt of their customers in the shortest period of time without litigation. Collection agencies are set-up and geared to making a maximum number of attempts at third party intervention to bring forth payment, quickly. When a customer asks that the agency call back next Tuesday at 10am, the agency has software to ensure that the call is made next Tuesday at 10am. This is what they do all day, every day. This is not how your corporate/general counsel or collection attorney is set up to operate and therefore they cannot deliver the results that a collection agency can. Also, if litigation is needed a collection agency will hire for you the best collection attorney in the jurisdiction of your customer, contain your costs and make sure the account is handled as efficiently as possible and bring you the results expected. A collection agency’s goal is to collect your money in the shortest period of time and that means doing It ethically and as expeditiously as possible.

Sam Fensterstock is Vice President of AG Adjustments, CMA’s chosen collections partner. For over 40 years, AGA has been the most respected commercial collection agency in the nation. The company assists corporations with improving cash flow, while preserving a positive image with customers. It accomplishes this by employing the best and brightest talent in the industry, with low turnover and unparalleled tenure.

Credit Protection, Does It Guarantee Payment or Do You Need to Be “All-In”?, by Sam Fensterstock, AG Adjustments

“We have lien rights and we don’t need collection agency”. “We have credit insurance and we don’t need a collection agency”, “We factor our receivable, so we do not need a collection agency”. Are any of these statements 100% accurate? We hear these statements all the time and the answer is no.

Chasing debts can be a difficult and sometimes impossible job for any credit department regardless of your resources. As well as being time consuming, the problems associated with managing delinquent payment and writing off bad debt can be crippling to your company. At AGA, we believe in a proactive “all-in” approach using all the credit and collection management tool and services available to you that will help you avoid many of these complications.

Your perspective regarding how to manage the optimum credit department will shift and change depending on your company and industry. As with any career, your career in commercial credit is an evolution. I’d argue credit and collections is the ultimate onion profession, layered; Regardless of how long you’ve been in the credit profession the best of the best keep peeling back the onion learning more, trimming days.

For those in the construction trade it’s all about secured transactions and the lien and bond process. Are preliminary notices prepared timely and accurately, are deadlines being managed, liens filed correctly suits initiated on time? Some credit managers limit their focus to the collection efforts relating to the owner via his/her property as collateral or through a payment bond on a public job. We do not think you should limit yourself, think “all-in” with your credit tools. Obviously, you’ll need to maintain your rights efficiently in those construction situations where the dollars justify the expense, but what about putting pressure on your debtor? Think “all-in” and place the customer with a collection agency and pursue aggressive 3rd party collections in conjunction with the ladder of supply pressure. Even a personal guaranty, not typically used in construction credit, can assist your collection agency during their process.

The job is get the cash thru the door as quickly as possible. In the construction market, resolving your delinquencies from the bottom of the ladder of supply (debtor pressure from your 3rd party agency) in conjunction with pressure from the top of the ladder (serving your notice and filing your lien to engage the property owner and general contractor to force funds downward) can pay dividends. Save time and money, think “all-in” with the addition of 3rd party agency pressure being placed on your debtor simultaneously will typically help resolve your claim faster than simply serving and filing a notice or lien. In most cases, without the expense of filing suit against a payment bond or foreclosure, you won’t be giving up your rights to proceed should that need arise. Lastly, don’t assume your notices and liens are going to be 100% bullet proof, when it’s time to file a lien it’s time to place the account for collection. Of course, it’s important to work with an agency that understands construction credit.

Credit Insurance is another tool. It is commonly used to increase sales, increased borrowing availability, and help prevent catastrophic loss. The cost of credit insurance is based on the accounts that are subject to the insurance and their inherent risk. The cost for the policy will be a percent of your sales and depends on many variables, including trading history and historical debt loss of your company, your trade sector, and your customer portfolio.

Deductibles for credit insurance can also be an issue. The analysis of the solvency of your clients is followed by the setting up of limits carried out by the insurer. Credit insurance covers your company for loss of the credit insured, but rarely covers 100% of your accounts receivable, it’s usually up to a predetermined percentage. Depending on the risk category, the insured’s deductible can vary between 5% and 20%. The deductible is the amount that the insured must pay toward his own losses before he can recover from the insurer. Like any insurance submitting a claim can affect your premium therefore your “all-in” approach should include 3rd party collection efforts prior to submitting a claim to your carrier thereby reducing your need to submit the claim, paying the deductible and most importantly getting you paid faster.

Factoring is another tool that is used in many industries where extended terms are granted like apparel and furniture. However just because you have factored your receivables doesn’t mean that your fully protected. The most common type is Recourse Factoring where if your customer does not pay the factor on the factored invoices, you must repay the factor and collect your delinquent customer on your own. The other type is Non-Recourse Factoring where if your customer does not pay due to bankruptcy or insolvency you do not need to re-pay the factor. Given that Recourse Factoring is the most common, just because you have it doesn’t mean that you will never need to engage with a collection agency and sometimes you may have to go “all-in” and leverage every resource you can to help you collect what you are owed.

Conclusion

Waiting until customer’s invoices are past due is still a typical approach many credit & collection departments take to manage their accounts receivable, but this just creates problems and leads to a greater probability of incurring bad debt. Mitigating credit risk from the start, with an “all-in” strategy will enable you to better manage your accounts and prevent cash flow problems in the future.

Today, many organizations both large and small are taking a closer look at their credit & collection management process. Many have taken this analysis a step further by addressing all aspects of their credit process performance including efficiency, cycle times, available outside credit tools and their connection to performance. Understanding all the tools of your trade; To include credit applications, personal guarantees, credit reporting/monitoring, security and the utilization of a professional, methodical collection agency is the starting point then determining the combination that’s right for your business will have your department consistently in the best possible position to get paid, that’s “all-in”.

Sam Fensterstock is Vice President of AG Adjustments, CMA’s chosen collections partner. For over 40 years, AGA has been the most respected commercial collection agency in the nation. The company assists corporations with improving cash flow, while preserving a positive image with customers. It accomplishes this by employing the best and brightest talent in the industry, with low turnover and unparalleled tenure.

Why You Need a Good Credit Application, by Sam Fensterstock

 

As a commercial collection agency, the primary way AG Adjustments (AGA) helps our clients is through the collection of their seriously delinquent debt. One of the ways that our clients can aid in our collection efforts is by having their customers fill out a credit application that provides measures of protection and will increase the ultimate collectability of an account. We cannot emphasize enough how many times we have been successful in the recovery of our client past due monies because of their proactive approach in obtaining a well-drawn up credit application.

As a company working in the B2B space, the credit application is one of the primary tools available for controlling credit risk when extending credit to your customers and protecting your company. A credit application is a contract between the seller and the buyer. A good credit application will benefit the seller, a bad one the buyer. Therefore, it is important that your company be certain that your credit application, whether electronic or in paper form, contains all the safeguards and guarantees available to reduce customer risk. Securing a credit application, while certainly does not guarantee payment, is one of the more significant documents you can obtain in assisting in not only the credit decision but the ultimate collectability of your past due accounts receivable and collection fees. The adage that “the sale is not complete until the money is in the bank’ is as true today as ever. A good credit application will assist in getting your company to that point.

What Do You Need to Know to Control Credit Risk?

The credit application is your first step in gathering information about your potential customer. The more you know about them, the better off you are and the easier it will be to make a good decision and collect the necessary information to determine how much credit to extend them. You can never assume all the information on the application is correct and you will need to do your due diligence to help you verify the information provided you before you grant credit. Therefore, it is important that the sales department make sure that every customer fills out and signs the credit application prior to any goods or services being delivered.

A typical credit application requires that at least the following information be provided:

  • Name and address of the applicant
  • Name and address of any parent company
  • All contact information: I e: phone #’s, e-mail addresses etc.
  • Type of entity (i.e., corporation, partnership, proprietorship, etc.)
  • Names of principals/directors/officers
  • Bank references
  • Trade references -at least three
  • Tax ID and DUNS number
  • Availability of financial statements
  • Credit limit requested
  • Applicant’s agreement to payment terms
  • Applicant’s agreement to interest on past-due amounts
  • Applicant’s agreement to pay for legal and collection costs
  • Applicant’s personal guaranty(s) with spouses if possible and authorization to pull personal credit report with SS#.
  • Right to verify data on application from external sources (banks, trade references, credit bureaus, etc.)
  • Signer(s) is an officer or authorized to bind the buyer

The Most Important Things to Consider

A credit application serves two purposes: It is a data gathering tool and it is a contract. As a contract, it specifies the rights and obligations of both the customer and creditor. As you are writing the application, bear in mind that it’s a request for credit to be extended and should be written so that it provides your company an advantage if your business relationship fails, since we all know that “credit is not a right but a privilege.” The most important things to consider are:

  • The signer(s) must be able to legally bind the company. If the signer is not authorized to accept the terms and conditions of the credit application, they can’t sign the application.
  • If possible, make a personal guarantee part of your credit application. We would recommend that when extending credit to SMB’s that you get the owners and their spouses to sign a personal guarantee. While many personal guarantees have no value, it’s better to have one than to not and if a SMB owner is not willing to sign a personal guarantee, that might tell you something as well. You also want the social security number of the individual signing the personal guarantee so that if you must enforce it, you will have an easier time tracking them down in the event they abscond.
  • You want a stipulation that the customer will pay interest on past-due amounts and will pay any collection, legal fees and court costs that are incurred because of non-payment. If you do not have this detailed in your credit application, you will NOT be able to collect fees on your debt if placed with a collection agency. In the event of litigation, it is up to the local courts jurisdiction if collection fees, attorney fees and interest will be awarded
  • You want assurance that only the disputed portion of a past due amount will be withheld.
  • If you file suit over non-payment, you want it to be as convenient as possible. The choice of venue must be yours. While many creditors will request suit in their local jurisdiction, this is not necessarily in a creditors best interest. The customer’s assets are normally local to their whereabouts. Therefore, in the event post judgment remedies are needed the judgment must be recorded in a debtor’s local jurisdiction to attach assets.
  • You want authorization to obtain information from credit bureaus, banks and trade references both before authorizing credit and ongoing once they are a customer.
  • You want current financials and the ability to obtain financials in the future once they are a customer.

Verifying the Credit Application

Once you have the credit application in hand, you need to verify the information it contains. At least three trade creditor references should be contacted as well as their banks to verify the existence of their checking account. You should be sure that all their references are legitimate. If for some reason you can’t contact one, be sure at least that they exist. Any false information on the credit application is a valid reason for not doing business. If the buyer is looking for a substantial credit line, make sure you review their financials, especially a statement of cash flow. If they are operating in a negative cash position you need to be sure that they will have enough cash available to pay you. Limit their credit line or at the very least change their terms if it looks that they may have a cash flow problem.

Once They Are a Customer

Periodic credit reviews are a necessity. Major account defaults can come from existing long-term customers as well as the new ones. Customer credit limits should be reviewed periodically, at a minimum once a year. Get current financials from your accounts annually if possible. Make sure their cash position can support their business. CMA offers many solutions to help you check credit, from bureau reports to credit group meetings, trade references and more. Additionally, obtaining current credit bureau reports on your largest customers, annually, is a good idea. Stay on top of your accounts receivable aging. If a customer is always 60 to 90 days past-due on some part of their balance, they are only one period away from being a problem.

A sample credit application can be found by following the link below:

https://images.template.net/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/07061009/Sample-Credit-Application.jpg

 

Sam Fensterstock is Senior Vice President, Business Development, for AGA, a leading commercial collection agency based in Melville, NY. He can be reached at (631) 425-8800 or samf@agaltd.com.

Bart Frankel Named CMA Educator of the Year

Congratulations to Bart Frankel, who was named as the 2017 CMA Educator of the Year by CMA Members.

Bart Frankel is recognized as a longtime expert in the credit and collections field. He does various webinars, presentations and specialized training for members of CMA as well as for the companies he has worked for. He teaches the Six Steps in Phone Power Collections, a program that resonates well with anyone in the credit profession, regardless of experience level. His experience runs deep over the past 35+ years.

He is sincere and conscientious during his training sessions, and looks forward to presenting the topic in May to CMA members via webinar.

Congratulations go out to Bart!

The CMA Educator of the Year Award was presented during the Annual Meeting portion of the CreditScape Spring Summit in Garden Grove, CA on April 12.

Why do Businesses Need Third-Party Collection Agencies to Maximize Cash Flow and their Bottom Line

by Sam Fensterstock, AGA
“Cash is King,” and if you are not maximizing your cash flow, it can have serious repercussions on your operations and bottom line. Most companies, in particular SMBs, wait too long to aggressively go after their slow-paying accounts. It costs four times as much to bring on a new customer as it does to keep an existing one, so no one wants to lose a customer over collection tactics. However, once a customer on credit goes 90 to 120 days past due and is no longer ordering and paying down the old balance, it is going to become more and more difficult to collect these accounts with only internal resources. The effect of your customers owing your company money for too long can be significant.

HOW IMPORTANT IS CASH FLOW?

The difference between the beginning cash position and the ending cash position of a given period is called cash flow. If you take in more than you spend you have a positive cash flow, the reverse is a negative cash flow. Cash flow is one of the major indicators financial institutions use to evaluate financial health. Banks and financial institutions are not going to loan you money if they don’t think you can pay it back. Remember, when you borrow money for any purpose, you are going to pay it back with future cash flow. You can’t pay it back if you have a negative cash flow.

HOW CAN YOU DETERMINE IF YOUR CASH FLOW CAN BE IMPROVED?

Collecting your accounts receivable as quickly as possible is a major factor in having enough money to cover current operating needs and pay off your debt commitments. There are several credit and collection performance measures that can tell you whether you are collecting your accounts efficiently, or if you need some outside help to improve your cash flow. We will discuss two of the most popular ones:

Days Sales Outstanding (DSO)

DSO is a measure of the average time in days that receivables are outstanding. It can be used to compare your company to other organizations for identifying whether your company is converting receivables to cash efficiently. In most instances a DSO under 40 days is good assuming you are giving 30 day terms. A DSO from 34 to 38 indicates very good operating performance and a DSO over 45 indicates that you are not converting your receivables efficiently and that some outside help may be necessary. The formula for computing DSO is:

(Ending Total Receivables x Number of Days in Period)/(Credit Sales for Period Analyzed)

A sample calculation is:
Ending Receivables = 1,000,000
Credit Sales for Period = 750,000
Number of Days in Period = 31

DSO =(1,000,000 x 31)/(750,000) = 41.3 days

Collection Effectiveness Index (CEI)

This measure was developed by the Credit Research Foundation (CRF) and is thought to be a far better measure of collection effectiveness than DSO. It produces a percentage that measures the effectiveness of collection efforts over time. The maximum value is 100% and the closer you are to 100% the more effective you are. A CEI under 75% needs to be improved or your cash flow will eventually be negatively affected. The formula for computing CEI is:

(Beginning Receivables+(Credit Sales/N ) -Ending Total Receivables)/(Beginning Receivables+(Credit Sales/N )- Ending Current Receivables) x 100

N = Number of Months
A sample calculation is:
Beginning Receivables = 800,000
Credit Sales = 750,000
Ending Total Receivables = 1,000,000
Ending Current Receivables (all invoices not yet due) = 700,000
N = 1

CEI =(800,000+(750,000/1)-1,000,000)/(800,000+(750,000/1)-700,000) x 100 = 64.7%

Notice the difference in the results of the two calculations. The DSO is acceptable, but the CEI is not.
Realistically, whichever measure you use, it should be computed frequently (monthly if possible) and reviewed over time. If it’s trending downward, even if it is not yet unacceptable, you should consider bringing in outside help to stop the downward trend before your cash flow is seriously affected.

WHY USE A THIRD-PARTY COLLECTION AGENCY?

Any receivable not collected represents a loss and affects your bottom line. You have laid out money for goods produced or services rendered and not collected the money due your company. Your cost of sales has gone up, but your revenues haven’t. That’s a net loss and your bottom line has been reduced accordingly. For example, suppose your profit margin is 10%. In other words, on a $5,000 sale you make $500, or your cost of sales is $4,500. If you have to write off $50,000 of receivables in a year, you need an additional $450,000 in sales to make up for it. Sometimes not such an easy task.

There are at least three good reasons to use a collection agency to help collect past due accounts:

A collection agency will collect from accounts that you could not. Your past due accounts won’t talk to you but they will talk to an agency or the collection agency’s attorney. The agency knows that to collect they must make contact with the account and they won’t stop trying until they do. A good collection agency will make 10-15 attempts to reach your former customer in the first 30-45 days they have the file, typically about three times the number of attempts your internal staff will make. As their fee is based on what they collect and agency will be more persistent and assertive than your internal collectors are at this stage of the customer lifecycle. Just remember this, collection agencies don’t get paid unless they collect your money and collection agencies do not want to work for free.

Using an agency frees up the time and resources needed to manage your current active business. Collecting money is very time consuming. You need to send letters, emails, possibly make customer visits and make phone calls, lots of phone calls. This takes time away from the things you and your employees need to do to manage and run your business on a day to day basis.

A collection agency utilizes technology that you do not have. This makes them far more proficient at collecting money than their clients. They possess advanced tools that help them find and make contact with debtors. This technology is costly and unless you are in the collection business you won’t have it. Additionally, their personnel are professional debt collectors. That is what they do and they do it well.

CONCLUSION

According to Commercial Law League of America, the amount of money you are likely to collect from a past due account is directly correlated to the age of the account. Once the account is 90 days past due you will most likely collect only about 70% of the amount due, and after 6 months only about 50%, and the amount likely to be collected continues to go down rapidly from there.

If your customer has not paid you and they are more than 90 days past due, there are no new orders coming in the door and they are not responding to your request for payment you are probably not going to get paid on your own. For these types of accounts, it makes business sense to place them with a 3rd party collection agency now and at least get 30-40% of your money back. This will allow you to maximize your cash flow and minimize the negative effect on your bottom line.
About AGA

For over 40 years, AGA has been the most respected commercial collection agency in the nation. We assist corporations with improving cash flow, while preserving a positive image with customers. We accomplish this by employing the best and brightest talent in the industry, with low turnover and unparalleled tenure.

CMA Announces New Collections Webinar Series

CMA is proud to announce a new series of three webinars that will focus on tips and tricks you can use in your business to improve your collections results. The webinars, which are sponsored by CMA’s collections partner AG Adjustments will feature practical advice from a few of CMA’s most popular speakers: Bart Frankel, Dave Osburn and Greg Powelson.

Dates (and session descriptions) can be accessed under the links below:

The webinars are highly interactive, and are geared towards credit professionals with all levels of skills. We hope you’ll participate.

For more information about CMA’s education program, and a complete schedule of events, click here.

Seven Signs That Your Customer Has a Problem and May Need to be Placed for Collection, by Sam Fensterstock

This is a common-sense approach to the problem of determining whether a customer is about to become a collection problem. Companies that have a cash flow problem must choose which vendors they will continue to satisfy and which vendors they will not. If a company has insufficient cash on hand to pay all of their vendors on a timely basis, some of their vendors are not going to get paid on time. This can be a one-time problem and things could get back to normal fairly soon, or it can be an endemic problem and if you don’t act promptly it may cost you.

When you first spot a problem, you are not going to know whether it’s a short-term thing or the customer is in financial difficulty. It behooves you to make a determination and act as quickly as possible. Some of the signs to look for are discussed below. Essentially, they represent behavioral changes in the account. The chances are that if the account is having financial problems more than one of them will be evident, but the occurrence of only one may still signify a real problem. In any event, once you make your determination, the quicker you turn the account over for collection, the more likely you are to realize a significant cash return. Here are the things to look for:

The Account is Over 90 Days Past Due

The customer has been a solid citizen and almost always paid on a timely basis. Now they are 90 days past due, and it seems they are struggling to not go to 120. They answer your calls, but promises to accelerate their payments and clean up the past due balance are not met. They may also be evidencing some of the behavior discussed below. The chances are you have a problem and turning them over for collection may save you some money and in many instances, save you a customer.

The Account is Not Returning Your Calls

This is a sure sign of a problem. They are past due and ducking you. If they won’t talk to you after repeated attempts to reach them, your collection agency may be your only solution. Collection agencies have trained recovery professionals that focus on working with these types of accounts and experience this problem as a normal course of their daily activity. They will get your customer to the table because it’s what they do for a living.

The Account Has Started Purchasing Erratically

Over time, the customer has always bought, even if it’s seasonal, a reasonably predictable amount of product. Your salesperson on the account can’t understand what’s going on. There are several possible reasons for erratic purchasing. It is possible that the demand for your product(s) has become highly variable and the customer is purchasing accordingly, or your customer is having financial trouble and is having difficulty staying current. If other customers are still purchasing the same products on a consistent basis than the chance that there is a demand problem is small. So, a financial problem may be the reason. This is something that needs to be checked out before it costs you money.

The Account Has Stopped Buying

If the account has stopped buying and owes you money, even if it’s not past due, you need to be on the alert. For whatever reason, if the account no longer needs you, they don’t have a reason to be prompt. If they go 90 days past due, you are probably going to need outside help to collect your money.

The Account Changes Bank Accounts Too Frequently

Good banking relations are vital to a company’s health. If your account is suddenly paying you from a different bank it may not signify a problem, but if they pay you from a different bank every time they send you a check, something’s wrong. This needs to be checked out. An updated credit check is called for, and if it doesn’t come out clean, you need to pay extra attention to the account because, if they are not overdue yet, the chances are great that they soon may be.

You Receive Negative Trade Information on an Account

As of now, the account is not past due, but you receive some negative trade information on the account at a recent credit group meeting or from a credit report. This needs to be checked carefully. When an account gets into trouble, they start allocating their available cash. The more important vendors may not see a problem, but the secondary vendors find the account is falling behind. For example, if the account is a supermarket, to be in the soda business they need Coke and Pepsi. The alternative soda brands will see a problem, but Coke and Pepsi will not until the company is ready to go belly-up.

The Account Has Several Unresolved Disputes

There are always disputes with customers. They received the wrong items, or the items were received damaged, or they were entitled to a discount are some of the reasons an account will not pay an invoice in-full. However, these types of disputes are easily settled if both parties are willing to compromise. But when an account refuses to settle and the dispute grows old, and additionally more invoices are disputed and they too age, you have a problem and it has nothing to do with the disputes. The account is holding on to cash and the disputes are a way of justifying their non-payment.
Final Thoughts

We recommend having a strategy in place to determine when to pull the trigger and place a customer with your collection partner. The warning signs listed above are usually evident during your internal collection efforts and the sooner you recognize them the better. We recommend being proactive with your internal efforts as soon as your customer is past due. If the customer is more than 90 days past due, you obviously have a problem and the account should be turned over for collection to maximize your cash flow.

But even if your customer is not 90 days past due, you may be about to have a problem. When an account evidences any of the behavior discussed above you need to get on their case sooner rather than later. Prompt action will save you money. If the account is behaving erratically you should turn them over as soon as they trigger the 90 days past due signal because in all probability things are not going to get better, only worse.
Sam Fensterstock is Senior Vice President, Business Development, for AGA, a leading commercial collection agency based in Melville, NY. He can be reached at (631) 425-8800 or samf@agaltd.com.

What Can You Expect When You Instruct Your Collection Agency to ‘Go Legal’ Against Your Former Customer, by Sam Fensterstock

Let’s say that you have placed your former customer for collection and your agency demands, as well as the local attorney, demands have not been successful. Your agency along with your attorney believe that litigation is your only option in hopes of being paid, provided that the amount due falls above your suit parameters. Had the former customer filed for bankruptcy, you can forget about a lawsuit and write off the receivable. In this situation, if you want to have any chance of collecting, your agency along with your attorney will review all documentation supplied along with a review of their internal efforts and investigation and make a recommendation to you regarding the filing of a lawsuit in the debtor’s locale.

SOME THINGS TO CONSIDER BEFORE FILING

Upon agreeing to litigate, your agency will then provide your attorney all of the information they have on your claim including amount due, principal and interest; debtor’s contact and phone number; nature of your business; details of any dispute and creditor’s response with copies of memos and correspondence. Additionally, they will provide the attorney with any documentation they have including: credit agreement; contracts, leases, personal guarantees, promissory notes, and NSF checks; purchase orders, delivery receipts, invoices, and statements of account; etc. The attorney will use this information during the legal demand process to try to bring the debtor to the table as well as use to substantiate their pleadings if suit is filed.

If the attorney has exhausted all their demands with no positive result, the next step is to consider a lawsuit. Before bringing a lawsuit, you want to be very sure that you have a good chance of winning. It is going to cost you some upfront money to file a lawsuit, and it would be silly to spend it if the debtor is out of business and you have no personal guarantee or if it is a highly contested debt and debtor has a good chance of successfully defending it. If you are going to file a lawsuit, you need to determine whether any of the following debtor defenses are possible:

• Could the debtor claim a prior payment?
• Is the amount due an offset?
• Does the debtor have a basis for a counterclaim?
• Is the debtor disputing the balance and has documentation to back it up?
• Is payment barred by the statute of limitations?
• Were the goods and/or services provided deemed inferior by the debtor?

If any of these defenses, and there are more, is possible then you may want to think twice before filing a lawsuit, because if you have to go to court the suit may become expensive, and there is a chance you might lose, thereby increasing your cost with no reward. Also remember, having a personal guarantee always helps. Furthermore, if a defense is expected, can you supply a witness at trial? Keep in mind the expense of travel as well as time your witness may need to be deposed or attend and testify at trial.

Many times a lawsuit will bring your debtor to the table to negotiate a payout or settlement. Also, keep in mind that at any time during the process, the debtor can file bankruptcy, which will immediately halt any legal proceedings or they can simply go out of business.

COURT COSTS AND FEES

Your agency will provide you with the attorney’s contingent fee requirement as well as any non-contingent fee requirement.

Court Costs

Filing a lawsuit costs money. Included in the suit costs will be:

• The cost of filing a summons and complaint

• The cost of serving the debtor

• Costs for various required attorney actions during the course of the lawsuit.

The attorney will require, in advance, their estimated costs for filing a suit and obtaining a judgment. The amount required will vary based upon jurisdiction and the venue where the lawsuit is filed. In addition, these fees are not negotiable as these costs are set by the courts.

These costs, however, most times are non-contingent and may not be lost. If you win, the court costs in connection with the lawsuit may be recovered from the debtor and you are entitled to a full return of the costs advanced if the debtor is required to pay costs as part of the judgment. .

Attorney Suit Fees

Essentially, these fall into two classes –contingent and non-contingent. Contingent suite fees, i.e., a fee based on the amount of the account as well as the amount collected. In addition to the contingency fees already applied to any monies collected, suit fees may also be charged. In essence, the suit fee is an additional fee the attorney earns for filing suit, no matter if you are successful in collecting.

The attorney may require a non-contingent fee to handle the case. This is a portion of the fee which attorney will earn upon the filing of suit. The non-contingent suit fees be applied towards the total suit fee the attorney earns which normally does not exceed a total of 10%.

HOW LONG WILL THE AVERAGE CASE TAKE?

If everything goes the attorney’s way and you get a default or no acceptable defense judgment, you can figure on six to nine months. However, every case is different and if the debtor puts up a fight it could take several years before a resolution is reached. The “wheels of justice move slowly” and creditors right litigation is no different.

COLLECTING A JUDGMENT

You have won your case and received a judgement from the court against your former customer, now all you have to do is collect the money due. If the debtor is located in the jurisdiction that the suit was filed then garnishments, marshal/sheriff levies, i.e., direct action against the debtor is possible. However, collecting a judgement can be a complicated matter. The lawsuit should always be filed in the jurisdiction where the debtors and their assets are located. Using a national agency that has the experience as well as database of local attorneys who specialize in collection litigation is a plus. A national collection agency has highly trained staff members who are familiar with the various laws of each state and their expertise affords them the opportunity to “quarterback” your attorney. Their goal is the same as yours, to conclude the matter as quickly and professionally as possible and maximize the money that is recovered. Some of the benefits of using your agency to handle your lawsuits:

• The agency can employ local attorneys who are bonded and insured to move the case as quickly and expeditiously as the local courts will allow.

• The agency can act as an effective conduit between you and the local attorney, thereby collecting the maximum amount in the shortest possible time while protecting your interests.

• The agency has more expertise, in collecting debtor judgments, in terms of volume of accounts and trained and available staff than any law firm. It is their business and their only business.

CONCLUSION

In the event that an account that you submit to your collection agency winds up with an attorney for litigation, before filing a lawsuit, carefully evaluate your chances of winning before you throw good money after bad. However, many times a lawsuit is your best and only chance of collecting.
Sam Fensterstock is Senior Vice President, Business Development, for AGA, a leading commercial collection agency based in Melville, NY. He can be reached at (631) 425-8800 or samf@agaltd.com.

To Place or Not to Place, by Tracy Rosenbach, CCE

IMG_7974efHello everyone! I was thinking about an issue recently that affects all Credit and Collections professionals, when is the right time to place an account with a collection agency. Though I won’t be talking about Shakespeare (as the title of my blog suggests), I used the reference because I find myself pondering this question very frequently, and it is at times a tough decision.

Let’s face it: the profession we work in is in many ways a grey area. Our decisions can quickly change depending on the information we receive, even one bit of information can alter our course. What can we do about it? If you haven’t already, I believe that every company should develop a procedure for placing accounts for collection. Your policy should address such issues as timing (how long does your company generally allow an account to be past due), dollar amount (does your company treat an account differently depending on the dollar amount outstanding), account status (does your company view the customer as a key account) and customer cooperation (is the customer willing, but unable or are you getting the silent treatment). If your company already has a policy regarding placing an account in collections I suggest that you review it periodically so that it accurately reflects your company’s culture. Once you have a procedure in place you have a guideline to follow.

Next we look at what information we have. We as credit managers are amazing at gathering, processing and summarizing information. Information in this situation would include: customer payment history, customer financial information (if shared), a third party report (Dun & Bradstreet, Experian, Equifax, etc…), your own experience in handling the customer, your CMA industry credit group experience and perhaps information from sales. We process this information and summarize it. We compare the information we have on hand to our company’s policy and then make our recommendation.

How do you decide when to put an account in collections? How long should you wait? What are things I look for before I submit to collections? We weigh the information in a department discussion, review our guidelines and then make our decision.

CMA’s collection partner AG Adjustments suggests you wait until you have exhausted your internal efforts, the customer is 60-90 days past due, they are not communicating and there are no new orders and the customer is unresponsive before placing for collections. What do you think? I’m interested in your thoughts and methodology. Please leave your comments at the bottom of this blog.

Hope you have a good September. I’ll touch base in next month.

Tracy Rosenbach
CMA Chairperson 2016/2017

Evaluating Your Outside Collection Agency’s Performance, By Sam Fensterstock

At some point you were responsible for selecting a new outside collection agency (OCA) and started providing them with past due accounts for collection. Now, one of the executives in your company’s financial department wants to know how the OCA is doing. He wants you to justify your selection. What factors are you going to consider that will allow you to determine whether the OCA’s overall performance is meeting your expectations or they are falling short?

There Are Two Types of Factors to Consider – Objective and Subjective

In evaluating an OCA’s operation there are many factors that have to be considered. First you have to determine the period of time that you want to evaluate. Most OCA’s would recommend that you us e a minimum of 12 months of placements with the review being done 90 days after the last file is placed. Some can be measured directly, like recovery rate and collection fees. Some cannot, like quality of the paper place due to factors such as age of debt and if it is disputed or not. Other factors like OCA personnel interaction with both you and your accounts. All are vitally important with respect to the OCA’s response to your needs and their results. So, let’s take a look at both types of factors that we need information on, under the assumption that once the information is gathered and evaluated, you will be able to justify about how well the OCA is performing and how your decision to use them has benefited your company.

Objective Factors

The prime objective factor that can be easily measured in the collection industry is the recovery percentage. How much you have turned over vs how much the OCA have collected. How is the OCA doing in collecting the accounts you have given them? What can they tell you about how they are doing it? You want complete transparency. Does your OCA have a web based platform that is available 24/7 that can provide you with detailed information? Can you easily obtain overall gross and net recovery rates? Can you view down to the individual account level all the way up to summary information on your total portfolio, over any period of time you require?

Additionally, is the platform easy to access and navigate for you to get this objective information? The web platform should be easy to use and provide you with all if the information you need to evaluate and track your OCA’s performance. You should also be able to query your data by account, by date, or range of dates, etc. Can you review all collector notes and communications? Do you have the ability to communicate with the collector if you have questions on an account? Can you export the data into any format you want such as Excel or PDF so that you can perform further analysis or use the data for in-house reporting?

What do you need to know?
• What is the quality of the paper that you have been sending to your OCA, how old is the debt and is the customer still open and operating? It’s almost impossible for an OCA to collect from a company that is out of business or in bankruptcy so strong consideration needs to be placed on the accounts being sent to your OCA and are they remotely collectable.

• For the accounts that are collectable, for the total time you have been doing business with the OCA, and by year and by month, and by account, what is their gross and net recovery returns (net is after adjustment for bankruptcies, uncollectable accounts, etc.)? This is an important number as it allows you to compare their results to published national averages as well as industry averages.

• Where does your OCA stand with your accounts today? You need a status report that lets you know how they are doing right now. What does your current portfolio look like, how much has been collected so far, in total, and by account. To the extent status codes and descriptors are used, what is the status of each account and what future activity anticipated.

• You need a payment history that shows the time to recovery from turnover to your receiving a check. Can you compute average recovery time so that you can do some cash forecasting based on the age of your portfolio?

• For auditing purposes, you need a track record of remittances sent to remittances received. You need to be able to verify that all payments the OCA has sent you have been received and deposited.

• All of the information should be exportable and sortable in to multiple formats. Can you sort a report by field from high to low, from low to high, or alphabetically, or by range of dates or by status code or by a combination of fields?

• You might also want your OCAs to provide any of their reports based on a specific subset of your accounts, such as by period of time the OCA has had the claim, by customer type, or by age past due at the time of placement. Any breakdown for a subset of accounts should be possible as long as you can extract accounts from the portfolio by some defined characteristic and then prepare a specific report just from the extracted accounts. Do they have ad-hoc query capability?

• Can you drill down to the individual account level and see in detail, how any individual account is being handled? Are the collector’s notes available and easy to understand? Can you use the account level report to easily access the collector either by email or by phone?

• Can you listen to recording of collectors calls on your files?

This is just some of the objective information you need to properly evaluate an OCA. If they can’t give you most of it, you might want to look for somebody that can.

Subjective Factors

These are qualitative items that can’t be measured with a number, but are just as important as the objective factors in evaluating an OCA’s performance. These are feel good items that measure your comfort level with the OCA, and if you are not comfortable with the objective factors regardless of how good they are, he OCA may not be sufficient for you to want to continue to do business with them.

What Subjective Factors Are Important?

• How they treat your accounts is critical. How does the OCA represent your brand? If they are too aggressive they may be making it impossible for you ever to do business with a customer again. Every once in a while an account may suffer a business downturn, so you don’t want to let an infrequent problem eliminate your chance of ever doing business with the customer again. And you certainly do not want to hear from the account’s lawyer that your OCA may be in violation of fair collection practices.

• Is this a professional outfit? If you do not feel you are being treated with respect, you may have a problem. The OCA needs to respond promptly to your emails or telephone calls. If you need some particular service, do they provide it without a hassle?

• Is the OCA easy to do business with? Are they flexible and do they have the ability to meet your needs, no matter those needs are? Working with and OCA many times is the last thing on your mind, but as you need them to manage a portion of your AR are they easy to work with?

• Do you like doing business with them? Do you like the people at the OCA? After all, collections is a “people business” and personal relationships are very important as they allow for far better communication and it’s easier to work with somebody you like than somebody you don’t. The chances of an OCA meeting your needs are far better if the parties get along than if they do not.

• Can they provide you with professional advice that can improve your in-house operations? An OCA should be able to give you an independent evaluation of your internal operations. While making you more efficient may cost them some short-term cash flow, it should guarantee your relationship for the long-term.

• Can you utilize advice from your OCA and their alliances to assist in your daily routines? Can you maximize your relationship and obtain information provided to protect your company from unexpected loses?

In Summary

As you can see, the review of your OCA’s performance is both objective and subjective. If you place business with your partners, both areas really need to be evaluated and should be on a consistent basis. While write-offs at most companies are insignificant, although expected, every dollar your OCA returns to you puts cash back to the bottom line. This further promotes the fact that the credit department can be more of a profit center, not just a cost center.

Sam Fensterstock is Senior Vice President, Business Development, for AGA, a leading commercial collection agency based in Melville, NY. He can be reached at (631) 425-8800 or samf@agaltd.com.

How Collections Fits in the “Order-to-Cash” Cycle, by Bart Frankel

Following is an excerpt from my workshop at the upcoming CreditScape Summit and Workshops in Sonoma, CA, Sept. 22-23. I sincerely look forward to meeting many of you at the event to discuss this in much more detail.
First let’s define the Order-to-Cash Cycle (O2CC). It can be defined in an 11-step process as follows:

  • The sales call
  • The credit check
  • Contract payment terms and conditions
  • Order entry
  • Shipping
  • Billing
  • COLLECTIONS
  • Legal action
  • Cash Application
  • Customer Statements
  • Customer payment history

“Collections” is in capital letters because, without it, the majority part of the cash flow process would not be as successful as it should be. The “Sixth Step of the Collection Process” in Phone Power Collections is the nucleus of the other 10 functions of O2CC. If any of these functions go wrong, it would be the responsibility of the Collection Process, not only to fix itself, but to also fix the other 10 steps to make the O2CC process more efficient. No process is perfect, but we all have the responsibility to strive for perfection through best business practices of the O2CC process.
For example:

If the sales department is quoting 45-day payment terms, when in fact your organization’s payment terms are 30 days, then the collections department needs to meet with the sales department to ensure the correct payment terms are quoted to the customer. If the sales department makes a “special deal” with a particular customer for a 60-day payment, then the sales department needs to get prior approval from the finance department and then notify the legal department about the special payment terms for contract purposes.

If order entry is not putting the Purchase Order number on the order sheet for the billing department to put it on the customer invoice, this would be a good excuse for the customer not to pay if this is a customer requirement.

Similarly, if shipping continues to short or over ship items to the customer, this will cause lost revenue or delayed collection. In this case, procedures need to be tightened up in shipping to minimize over and short shipping.

In cash application, if there is a big backlog in unapplied cash, the customer would not receive an accurate customer statement and not pay timely until all unapplied cash to their account is posted. Likewise, all customer statements must be mailed out two days after the month-end closing to ensure timely review, by the customer, for accuracy on their statements.

I look forward to sharing the rest of this presentation with you at the upcoming CreditScape conference in Sonoma this September.

Each of these points and more will be discussed in-depth at the upcoming CreditScape Summit and Workshops in Sonoma, CA on September 22-23, 2016. Come to CreditScape, learn from experts and peers who have done this, share you own experiences with others. For more information, visit www.CreditScapeConference.com.

Bart Frankel is a professional speaker who was responsible for a $7 billion Order-to-Cash process when he was the Manager of Financial Services for the Pratt & Whitney Division of United Technologies for more than 20 years.

Other related articles:

10 Negotiating Tips You Need To Know, by Robert S. Shultz

Negotiation is not a contest to see who can prevail. It is the “art” of getting to the point where two parties can agree on critical concerns. It encompasses employing core negotiation principles, the use of applicable strategies addressing the situation, focus on specific objectives, having a fallback position and, if all else fails, knowing when to walk.

Following are 10 considerations creditors can use to improve negotiation results. This is not complete list by any means. However, these points are critical for a successful negotiation outcome.

1. Don’t alienate the other party: In an effective negotiation, both sides must have the desire to reach a conclusion without alienating the other side. In the end, both sides should be satisfied with the result. If your counterpart seems unwilling to reach a desirable outcome, find points that will gain support and acceptance. Effective negotiation requires knowing how to satisfy a customer’s needs and amicably resolve differences. By being skilled in negotiating you will be able to collect more dollars, improve overall performance, and improve customer satisfaction.

2. Practice effective communication: Successful negotiation involves effective communication between the parties. To eliminate communications roadblocks, consider the following:
• Listen first. Pick up on what is said to clarify or modify your position.
• Find a basis for common understanding.
• Clearly state your case and what you want.
• Recognize the style of the other side and communicate in a fashion they can relate to. Don’t be intimidated or overwhelmed by aggressive behavior coming from the other side. Keep focused on your objectives and remain calm. If things become unprofessional with no change of behavior in sight, be prepared to walk.
• Deal with the decision maker. Invest your time with someone who can make a decision.
• Ask probing questions that cannot be answered with a “Yes” or a “No” and make the other side explain the answer.

3. Avoid elevating issues into a conflict:
• Find common ground: Both parties should have a strong understanding of one another’s needs.
• Break down issues into manageable/understandable pieces: Sometimes an impasse can be avoided by breaking the issues down. Start with what you can agree on. Attack the easiest issues first. You may find when the easy issues are resolved most, if not all, of the big issues have evaporated.
• Build a track record of trust: Once you have agreed on issues where some give and take was possible, a trust develops between the parties

4. Practice the “Four C’s” of negotiating: These points describe an approach. Not everyone you come up against will use this approach.
• Caring: Be sincere. Listen to the other party and be interested in their issues.
• Calm: This is a tactic that will encourage the other side to state their position and objections without undo emotion. When they are excited and you are calm, it tends to bring them down.
• Clear: Confirm the other party heard you and clearly understands your position. To avoid misunderstanding, restate what you hear. Repeat what is said and keep repeating until you get it right. It may take several tries.
• Comprehensive: Prepare yourself as best you can under the circumstances, time constraints and information available. Think about: Possible “What Ifs” and “What Nots.”

5. Prepare yourself in advance of a negotiation:
• Do your homework and learn everything you can about the other side. Try to understand their motives and objectives. Determine what you want to accomplish. In face-to-face meetings, have an agenda handout or an executive summary.
• When the negotiation starts, have all the necessary documentation in front of you. Have a plan for your initial position and your final position.
• Have a primary and secondary goal: A primary goal is a necessary outcome. A secondary goal is what you can accept and still meet your company’s needs.

6. Understand your “Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement” (BATNA): This is the course of action you will take if the current negotiations fail and an agreement cannot be reached. This is different than your “walk away” point. Very often if a win-win cannot be achieved, going for a “no deal” could be the best answer. You can’t win every time. There may be business factors that override a negotiated settlement if one cannot be reached.

7. Define the negotiation scope and approach: This will depend on several factors, each of which must be considered as you enter any negotiation with a customer.
• What are the key issues or obstacles that need to be addressed? Is it payment? Does the other party need additional information to meet your request?
• What are your restrictions? (Time, costs, etc.) Are you up against a deadline?
• Is this a major issue or a priority for your company? Should you spend a little or a lot of time dealing with this?
• Can you trade on an issue that you feel has limited importance to win on a major one?

8. Know who you will be negotiating with: What is their negotiating style? Determine how you expect them to approach a negotiation? Work to establish a rapport at the outset of the negotiation. Separate people from the problem. Remember, negotiators are people first. In most supplier/customer negotiations, the negotiator has two basic interests: The issues at hand, and a desire for a continuing relationship between the parties.

9. Understand the business and future relationship potential: Is this customer of strategic importance to your company? Review your company’s historical relationship with this customer. Is the issue at hand an anomaly, or is it a repetitive issue? What is the revenue and profit potential in the future? Is the relationship worth saving?

10. Be culturally sensitive:
• Don’t Apply the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Use the “Platinum Rule” – “Do unto others as they would have done unto themselves.”
• Understand what is offensive: You might be comfortable looking someone straight in the eye, introducing yourself with a firm handshake, being direct and open and getting right to business. Other cultures encourage other behaviors.
• Be sensitive to the appropriate sequence of business and negotiation: It is not appropriate in some cultures to first do business and then develop a relationship. You are expected to develop a relationship and then do business. You need to understand what goes first.
• Understand the “real” message: Cultures vary in the way they communicate their message. You must be sensitive to these differences to understand what they are telling you and react effectively.

Effective negotiation is truly a combination of art and science. It takes planning and effort to reach a result acceptable to both parties. In doing so, business between the parties can continue. As a supplier, you can collect more cash and keep more customers.

Robert S. Shultz is a founding partner at Quote to Cash Solutions (Q2C) LLC, a consulting firm that focuses on delivering quality solutions that improve client revenue opportunities, cash flow, operational efficiency and customer retention and satisfaction and when needed, management and staff training. He can be reached at (805) 520-7880. For more information, visit Q2C’s website at www.quotetocash.com.

Can the Credit Department Reduce (or Withdraw) Open Account Terms?, by Michael C. Dennis

In business-to-business credit granting, can the credit department withdraw or reduce open account terms at any time for any reason or for no reason? I think most people would say ‘Yes’. In my opinion, the answer is ‘Maybe’. For example:

  • You cannot reduce or withdraw open account terms if the decision to do so is based on factors including Race, Religion, Age, or Sexual Orientation.
  • You cannot reduce or eliminate open account terms if there is a law that prevents you from doing.

You might respond that this is not the case in the United States. Assuming that is true, my question is this: Are there laws limiting your right reduce the credit limit in the other countries in which you do business?

If you have a contract with a customer that limits or prevents you from taking unilateral action in connection with lowering the credit limit, then obviously the actions of the credit department in this regard are constrained.

What are your opinions of this subject? As always, I welcome your feedback.

This topic will be covered at the upcoming CreditScape Fall Summit, September 17-18 at the Tropicana in Las Vegas. For more information about the conference, visit www.creditscapeconference.com. I hope to see you there.

Michael C. Dennis is the author of the Encyclopedia of Credit, a free, fast, internet resource for credit and collection professionals. He is a frequent instructor at CMA-sponsored educational events. His most recent book, “Happy Customers, Faster Cash,” is available at amazon.com. He can be contacted at 949-584-9685.

What a Collections Professional Should Know Before Picking Up the Phone, by Michael C. Dennis

Debt collections fall broadly into two categories: Consumer collections, and Commercial collections. Consumer collections involve collection activities between a business and a consumer. Consumer collections are highly regulated. These laws are intended to protect consumers from overly aggressive or deceptive practices used against inexperienced and unsophisticated consumers.

Commercial collection deals with debts owed by one business to another. Commercial collection is largely regulated. Why? Because it is assumed that businesses are sophisticated enough to understand their rights when dealing with a creditor.

The laws, rules and regulations governing credit and collection activities change dramatically based on whether the debtor is (a) a consumer or (b) a customer. In my opinion, the collector must have a thorough understanding of the regulations and laws governing debt collection activities before ever picking up the phone.
Are your activities in full compliance with state and local laws? If you sell internationally, are your collection efforts permissible or unlawful in the countries in which your company sells products? Do you know what laws govern your collection activities? I look forward to your comments.

This topic will be covered at the upcoming CreditScape Fall Summit, September 17-18 at the Tropicana in Las Vegas. For more information about the conference, visit www.creditscapeconference.com. I hope to see you there.

Michael C. Dennis is the author of the Encyclopedia of Credit (www.encyclopediaofcredit.com), a free, fast, internet resource for credit and collection professionals. He is a frequent instructor at CMA-sponsored educational events. His most recent book, “Happy Customers, Faster Cash,” is available at amazon.com. He can be contacted at 949-584-9685.

When To Place Your Collections With a Third-Party Agency,  By Sam Fensterstock

As a 25-year veteran of the Credit and Collections industry and now with a primary focus in third-party collections, one of the most frequent discussions I have recently had with both collection industry peers, clients and prospects is what is the appropriate third-party collection placement strategy for a B2B company?  What constitutes serious delinquency? How long after invoices go past due has the customer reached the “point of no return” and should be placed with an outside agency?  What is the optimal placement policy that ensures the highest possible recoveries?

In a typical credit and collection department, accounts are considered actionably delinquent somewhere between being 30 to 60 days past the due date. In the real world, if an account is a few days late, often your collectors are not going to hassle the customer too much for fear of upsetting your relationship with them. If you have implemented risk-based collections and are using an order-to-cash workflow solution you probably have strategies designed to auto-treat many of these customers.

However, at 30 days past due your collection strategy probably directs your collectors to call the customer and try to collect the receivable. But, most companies will not start really squeezing their accounts, until they are 45-60 days past due. At that time, depending on the organization of the credit and collection department and their resources, delinquent customers are likely to be turned over to the internal collection team who will begin to initiate recovery procedures.

Now let’s look at this from the viewpoint of a typical internal collector who is responsible for managing an account portfolio, all of which are in various stages of delinquency. The collector’s goal is to collect as much as they can and our experience says that accounts that are most current are the ones most likely to pay and will get the primary focus. As noted above, the older an account gets the lower the probability they are going to pay and as accounts age one of two things is going to happen, either they will eventually pay or they won’t. Accounts that don’t pay, as they age, will continue to become harder to collect and given your current collection environment will these severely delinquent customers continue to get the collection focus they need?

If you look at the percentage of a delinquent portfolio recovered by your collectors as a function of days past due, you will most likely see an extremely skewed distribution. When a delinquent customer is initially turned over to the internal collections team, the recoveries during the period until the accounts are 120 days past due will be material. Perhaps 50% of the initial value will be recovered. But, after 120 days almost nothing additional is likely to be collected. And the main reason for this is that given most companies collection resources, collectors are not actively working the older accounts, but focusing instead, on the more current accounts that are the easiest to collect. This practice means that the un-collected delinquent accounts will continue to age and a drag on your balance sheet.

Given this scenario happens so often, why do so many companies wait until an account is 180 days past due or even older before turning it over to a collection agency? It just doesn’t make any sense.

Take in mind that accounts turned over to a collection agency have first been handled by a company’s collection department usually for at least 90 to 120 days – unsuccessfully. But a good collection agency will eventually recover 30%-50% of those receivable.  Why? Because an agency is an expert in handling these types of accounts and they don’t cherry pick based on age or dollar amount, they work them all. That’s why you can expect the types of recovery % mentioned above even on accounts that have been turned over even at 210 days past due. However, if the accounts are turned over sooner say at 90 to 120 days past due, the collection rate may go even higher.  It a proven industry fact, holding on to delinquent receivables for too long will cost your company money.

As a participant at the upcoming CreditScape Fall Summit, September 17-18 at the Tropicana in Las Vegas, I will address this topic in much more detail. For more information about the conference, visit www.creditscapeconference.com. I hope to see you there.

Sam Fensterstock is senior VP of Business Development for AG Adjustments. He will be participating in a panel discussion on Collections Compliance and Best Practices at the upcoming CreditScape Fall Summit, and can be reached at samf@agaltd.com.

Why It’s Worth Leaving the Office to Attend the CreditScape Fall Summit, by Michael W. Fenner, CBA

As we are all busy at our desks this summer with increased sales, dealing with coverage issues due to family summer vacations, etc., let’s take a minute to think about where we are all at with our current positions. Don’t we all want to stay up-to-date with the latest best practices in collections? Or maybe you have a new employee just starting out in credit who needs to learn the collection basics. How about that one person in your department that’s been around for awhile and needs to brush up on their skills. I might suggest that you and your credit team take advantage of attending the CreditScape Fall Summit, hosted by AG Adjustments and Credit Management Association.

This is something new and different this year. Let’s take a look at some of the items that stood out to me:

  • All Levels of Expertise Welcome – Good for beginners to experts in your department.
  • Roundtable Experience – This will not be a classroom setup as usual; it will be a roundtable interactive workshop (with limited participants) so you all can look each other in the eye and share valuable insights.
  • Focusing on Collections – This Summit will be all about collections. techniques, third-party processes, best practices, fraud prevention, collection results, strategies, international collections to name a few.
  • Convenient Location – This will be at the Tropicana Hotel in Las Vegas, well priced to save on flight and hotel costs.

The event information is as follows:

Date: September 17-18 2015 (from 10:30 am Thursday through 2:00 pm Friday afternoon)…Location: Tropicana Hotel 3801 South Las Vegas Blvd. Las Vegas NV 89109 (discount rates available)…Cost: $495 for CMA members and $595 for non-members… To register go to www.creditscapeconference.com

We all know how it is important to stay up-to-date with our education. And finding the time to go to these events can be hard too. Invest in your team, and challenge them to improve and grow. This program will be packed with information and has many excellent speakers too. I would highly recommend it.

Please take a few minutes to read through the program highlights to answer all of your questions.

Make sure you encourage your teams, support CMA your association, and network with old friends and make some new ones too. Team up with your colleagues and learn together. Then bring back your experiences to incorporate into your jobs. Let me know your thoughts. I’d love to hear your feedback.

Michael W. Fenner, CBA, is the Credit Management Association Chairman and Regional Credit Manager for Beacon Roofing Supply. He can be reached at 714-321-8187, or mfenner@becn.com.

Using Predictive Analysis to Create Collection Management Strategies, by Christopher Rios

Traditionally, debt collection involved little more than picking up the phone and convincing the debtor why they need to pay for the products/services sooner rather than later. Today, credit and collection professionals are being asked to adopt more sophisticated techniques. One of the newer techniques utilizes predictive analytics to create collection management strategies. Predictive analytics permits creditors to identify at-risk A/R and focuses collection efforts on those customers with the greatest propensity for paying slow. This combination of historical AR data and predictive attributes will allow creditor companies to review and optimize their resource allocation, provide improved customer service, and to accelerate cash inflows. By doing so, creditor companies potentially reduce unnecessary costs across the credit to cash cycle and accelerate payments from high risk customers.

Inevitably, even the best collection strategies fall short at times. An organization’s fail-safe shouldn’t be to write off uncollectible receivables against its bad debt provision and move on. What is sometimes overlooked is the need for and the benefit of having a robust third party process for dealing with debtors that cannot or will not pay. Third party strategies should include bankruptcy administration, pre-litigation, litigation and mediation strategies.

Establishing a solid process that provides prescriptive treatment for dealing with non-paying, financially distressed customers will help creditor companies maximize the benefits of the third party services being provided. Ensuring you’re maximizing your return on investment and increasing the chances of recovering unpaid accounts receivable are two benefits of partnering with the right service provider.

This topic will be covered at the upcoming CreditScape Fall Summit, September 17-18 at the Tropicana in Las Vegas as I lead the discussion on creating a robust third-party collections process. For more information about the conference, visit www.creditscapeconference.com. I hope to see you there.

Christopher Rios is the Group Leader – Finance Operations for Dun & Bradstreet. He will be speaking at the CreditScape Fall Summit, September 17-18, at the Tropicana in Las Vegas.

Phone Power: “The Psychological Advantage” to Improved Collections, by Bart Frankel

In my 20+ year career as a collector, I’ve learned that there are psychological advantages you have collecting your past dues that can separate you from the hundreds of other collectors trying to collect money from a delinquent account. From experience, I’ve developed a six-step process to improve my own collection techniques that does not follow the conventional thinking on collection but allows for “out of the box thinking” and is relevant for all levels of collectors covering from the “rookie collector” to a top collection expert.

Some of those steps involves a “partnership” with a delinquent account to eventually having them paying on time. Through this partnership/six step process, for example, (1) I never ask for money. I make my collection statement and wait for an open-ended statement from the delinquent account. (2) I also ensure professional office conduct before, during and after making the collection phone call.

I’ll be one of the speakers at the upcoming CreditScape Fall Summit, September 17-18, 2015 at the Tropicana in Las Vegas, where I’ll be discussing the full six-step process that has worked for me, and for dozens of other credit managers who I’ve shown the method to.

If you have any question please contact me at 860 668 2297 EST or email me at bnfrankel@cox.net

I look forward to meeting you in Las Vegas.

Bart Frankel, who was Manager of Financial Service for the Pratt & Whitney Division of United Technologies for over 20 years, has been responsible for a $7 billion Order-to-Cash process. He will be speaking at the CreditScape Fall Summit, September 17-18, 2015 at the Tropicana in Las Vegas. For more information on the event, visit www.creditscapeconference.com

Discussions You’ll Have at the CreditScape Fall Summit, by Mike Mitchell

At CMA, we are so excited about the CreditScape program we’ve got planned for you, we wanted to give everyone a sneak peak at what you’ll be talking about. All next week, CMA will publish a series of briefs from thought leaders who will be featured at the Summit — Chris Rios, Bart Frankel, Scott Blakeley, Chris Ng, Eddy Sumar, Michael Dennis, and more.

When I spoke with Chris Rios, Director of Finance Operations for Dun & Bradstreet, about the whole collections process, he spoke about the importance of treating collections like sales, because you are “selling” customers on why they should pay their bills. The key to success is building and maintaining good relationships with your customers. He also stresses the importance of being “forward looking” and strategic in your approach to collections – using data and analytics to drive collection effectiveness.

Bart Frankel has been a member favorite with his “Phone Power” Collection Webinars over the years, and we’ve asked him to share the collection techniques he developed for the $7 Billion Order-to-Cash process for the Pratt & Whitney Division of United Technologies. Bart will be the first to tell you that collections starts with the sales call and he stresses the importance of getting the upfront process right the first time so you don’t have so many issues on the back end.

What if you are exporting and trying to collect from customers in foreign countries? Eddy Sumar, CCE, CICE, has plenty to share about his experiences collecting money from all over the globe, and he’ll be the first to tell you, collections starts with an understanding of the 6th C of Credit — Culture.

Join us next week in hearing from these, and our other thought leaders, who will be driving the workshops and discussions that you care about at CreditScape. You can read their contributions on our blog page.

Full Schedule Announced for 2015 Fall CreditScape Summit

The CreditScape Fall Summit, September 17-18, 2015 at Tropicana Las Vegas, offers a 360-degree look into the entire collections process, focusing on best practices and real-world case studies with the best and brightest practitioners in credit and collections.

Here are some highlights of the sessions and workshops at the Summit. The full schedule, along with descriptions, is posted at www.creditscapeconference.com

  • Phone Power: 6 Steps to Collection Success (Speaker: Bart Frankel).
  • Using Credit Cards for Collection Strategy (Speaker: Scott Blakeley, Esq.)
  • Hire and Retain the Best Collectors (Speakers: Bob Daniel, Professional Recruiter, and Joe Lucas, VP & Chief Credit Officer, SRS Distribution)
  • Effective Collection Communication Strategies
  • Leverage Automation for Better Collection Results
  • The “Collection Prevention” Department
  • Collection Compliance & Best Practices
  • Developing a Third-Party Collection Process
  • Advanced Collection Techniques
  • International Collections
  • …and more!

If you’re serious about evaluating the collections processes at your company, or learning the latest best practices in collections techniques, then you must attend this event.

Learn more at http://www.creditscapeconference.com

 

Collections in the Digital Age: Technology, Outsourcing, and Compliance, by Eddy Sumar

‘Collections,’ ‘collectors,’ ‘collection agencies,’ ‘collection attorneys’: words that evoke strong emotions, sometimes even terror, in the hearts of uninformed debtors. Robocalls, automatic dialers, dialing for money, calling centers, SMS, texting, e-mailing, invoicing, phone calls, and personal visits—some of the avenues that companies pursue to collect their precious asset known as accounts receivable. When we look at the landscape of debt collection, we can see three things that beckon our attention: technology, outsourcing, and compliance.

These three areas have a great impact on people on all sides, creditors, intermediaries or third parties, and debtors. Let us look at each of these three areas separately.

Technology: Technology is a blessing, but it has side effects. When technology is employed, people lose their jobs. Technology leads to higher productivity at the beginning of the process, but it has long-term negative consequences. Digital technology, machines and robocalls do not satisfy the desires for human interaction. The fact is that technology should enhance the human factor, not diminish it. Technology should help us humans to produce more so we can have more time to interact and build the goodwill and loyalty. So the short-term need is to curb the negative effects of the technological factor in collection.

Outsourcing: Another factor that complicates collection is the outsourcing of debt collection to companies that do not understand the power of customer service and preserving customer and debtor goodwill. The calling-center mentality in collections is unempowered. It follows a certain script and cannot deviate from it. This railroad track mentality usually leads to derailment. The short-term benefits to the bottom-line will ultimately lead to long-term consequences that both eat the top-line and erode the bottom-line.

Compliance: As highlighted in the recent reports from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), consumers are being hounded by unethical collectors and unscrupulous collection agencies. These dial for money at all cost, intimidating the debtors with lawsuits and other methods that convey the thought of threatening their livelihood and dignity. To them, it is the money that counts, not the individual. To them, the debtor is totally at fault and they approach the debtor in a manner not fit for human dignity. The result is that the reputation of collectors and the agencies they work for are negatively affected. They become something to fear and avoid. The good news is: the collection industry is still filled with good law-abiding collectors. But unfortunately, it’s the bad apple that corrupts the whole bunch; the little poison that makes the refreshing glass of water on a sweltering day undrinkable. With technology the offense could easily be amplified. Bad collectors tend to hide behind their technological gadgets and screens, thinking that they can never be found in cyberspace. This new digital landscape allows bad collectors to abuse debtors, hurling at them every insult, thinking that the path of offense leads to collection success.

All of the above issues highlight the significance of compliance, which is compliance with existing codes and regulations, but above all compliance with the codes of human decency.

So, how can a company thrive in an environment of constant technological change? How can a company outsource its collection function without affecting the long-term profitability? How can a company be compliant?

The answers lie in a simple acronym: COLLECTOR.

The word ‘COLLECTOR’ embodies certain key qualities that need to be present whether a company pursues internal or external collection. If these qualities are pursued, then compliance issues will disappear. And if a company outsources to a third party to pursue its collection function, then the third party should have strong ethical standards that highlight the human factor. Here is the acronym:

C: Compassion, Connection, Communication, Courtesy, Customer-centric, Common sense

O: Options, Overcoming obstacles, Open-minded

L: Listen! Listen! Listen!

L: Learn! Legally-minded

E: Empathy, Education, Experience, Expertise, Excellence

C: Collaboration, Cooperation, Compliance

T: Teamwork, Targets, Timelines

O: Organization

R: Respect, Resolution, Results, Regulation

The above acronym highlights the human dimension of collection, not the technological and digital. It starts with the ‘C’ of compassion. Yes, collectors should show compassion to the debtor, especially in consumer transactions. Collectors need to connect in order to collect. Making that connection by building rapport is vital. Two-way open communication hallmarked by courtesy is paramount. Furthermore, a customer-centric approach is crucial in every collection call. I believe that collectors should always put on the customer service hat when they engage in collecting a debt. Simply put, it is common sense that should rule in collection.

Next, we see the ‘O,’ that opens the doors to options and alternatives. Collection is not a black and white approach. It should not be either / or. Collectors should work with the debtors to find the options and overcome the obstacles. Collectors should be open-minded throughout the collection process.

The first ‘L’ underlines the significance of listening. The key function for a collector should be to listen—listen to the debtor, listen to the debtor, listen to the debtor, listen to common sense. It is through listening that collectors move to the second ‘L.’

The second ‘L’ is a natural by-product of listening. When collectors listen, they learn, they go beneath the surface to see the unseen and the hidden. When they listen, they find the options that are practical and relevant. And yes, collectors should be legally-minded. They need to know the law, abide by the law and respect the law. Listening leads to the next letter ‘E.’

The ‘E’ reminds us of empathy. And empathy will make the collector’s job more exciting. Empathy humanizes the process; it allows the collector to walk in the debtor’s shoes—to feel, see, and experience the world from the debtor’s perspective and through the debtor’s eyes. Empathy leads to education that equips the collector with the experience that builds the expertise needed to show excellence in handling the collection process.

The next letter ‘C’ puts the spotlight on collaboration and cooperation. I read a quote that says: “If you want to be incrementally better: Be competitive. If you want to be exponentially better: Be cooperative.” So, for collectors to be better, to feel better, and for debtors to be better and feel better, they all need to cooperate and collaborate. Collaboration that reflects all of the previous ingredients will lead to compliance. Ethical and moral collectors that embody humanity and exercise their function with integrity and dignity cannot help but be compliant.

Now, the ‘T’ introduces teamwork that adds the flavor of joint effort and togetherness. When teams come together, they have a goal, a target to achieve. And with targets comes timelines. Thus, the collection process has an objective to collect in a timely manner to ensure the timely cashflow of the creditor while helping the debtor to be released on a timely manner from the burden of debt.

For collectors to really be successful they need the ‘O’ of organization. Organization allows the collector to handle the workflow with ease and proficiency. Organization allows the collector to become efficient and effective.

The final letter ‘R’ reiterates the importance of the human factor. Respect is a human need and collectors should show it at every step in the collection process. In addition to respect, collectors should never forget that collection is about resolution, resolving the issues, dissolving impasses and finding the options that lead to results. All should be done with dignity and decency under the vigilant eye of the law and regulations.

Just imagine collectors who exemplify the above! Collections, collectors will become words that elicit admiration and appreciation.

The human approach in collections will yield greater results than the hard-nosed and hardliner approach. Good, ethical, and law-abiding collectors are guides. They guide their debtors through the collection process leading them to win-win solutions. They steer them in the direction of resolution keeping the goals in sight, while showing understanding and empathy, maintaining initiative, and demonstrating high integrity and strong discipline. They allow themselves to be educated by the process and by the debtor in order to reach the destination without victims and injury.

From the above, we can see that collection is a multi-disciplinary process combining among many things a human approach that reflects knowledge of psychology, anthropology, sociology, negotiation, time management, organizational techniques and a host of functional skills needed in the collection field. To collect is not just about the moment, it is about the future. Though the digital age is here collection will always be a human function.
Eddy A. Sumar is the President & Founder of ERS Consulting Services. He is also the director of education and community outreach for CMA, and will be speaking at the upcoming CreditScape Fall Summit. He can be reached at 909-481-9869 or ealberto@aol.com. 

Because “That’s the Way We Always Did It” Doesn’t Cut it Anymore, by Larry Convoy

Larry Convoy, lead group facilitator
Larry Convoy, lead group facilitator

To change successful formulas or brands takes courage. Sometimes it works (Datsun becoming Nissan), sometimes it doesn’t (remember the “New Coca Cola”?). But in this current environment, where you can close or lose a multi-million dollar deal by touching an app on your phone, being passive will leave you behind the crowd.

For that reason, CMA is taking an aggressive approach with its new CREDITSCAPE Summit. CreditScape is unlike any other education activity CMA has ever offered. For one, the topics were created from feedback direct from CMA members about items they need to know. It focuses on only one topic (collections), and covers it thoroughly. If your idea of an educational event is to sit and passively watch a PowerPoint presentation given by someone pushing a product or book, this is NOT for you.

CreditScape will present collection options, not by a vendor pushing their services, but by credit managers who are actually using them so you can hear about their experiences. It will allow you to break into small groups and brainstorm various scenarios and hopefully come up with better ways to run your collection department.
CMA is offering workshops, role playing, a collaborative approach to learning instead of the standard classroom style for the credit and collection manager and their staff.

The event takes place September 17-18 is the Tropicana Hotel in Las Vegas.

Brainstorm with your peers, hear their procedures, tell them yours and then divide into smaller groups and address the issues presented. Leave Las Vegas with some solutions to your collection issues and real-world case studies, ones that you can implement immediately.

All credit professionals are encouraged to look over the agenda for the conference and decide if you’re ready to learn the latest in collections by being a participant, not a spectator.

You can register now at www.creditscapeconference.com

I hope to see you in Las Vegas.

Larry Convoy
Lead Group Facilitator
Credit Management Association

Should Your Company Outsource its Credit and Collection Functions?, by Michael C. Dennis

Michael C. Dennis

Many companies are interested in concentrating on core competencies and looking for ways to outsource so-called “non-core functions” including certain credit and collection functions. The simple truth is that any function or department or position is a candidate for outsourcing if the third-party service provider can convince the company that:

1. The work can be outsourced safely,
2. The outsourced work will be done promptly, and done well,
3. The service provider has adequate resources and sufficient experience to perform the work,
4. The cost to outsource the work is ‘reasonable’ compared to the cost to the company of continuing to do the work internally.

Third-party service providers are getting better at addressing each of these four concerns. Some service providers do an exceptionally good job of marketing these services to companies.

In my opinion, the key questions is this: What role should the credit manager play in any discussion about outsourcing certain functions in credit and collection such as cash application, deduction management, or day-to-day debt collection activities.

I think the credit manager needs to be an active participant in evaluating the outsourcing option. Creditor companies who outsource cash application or even debt collection tend to want to perform these processes in house:

• Establishing credit limits,
• Evaluating new accounts,
• Performing pending order review and approval
• Contributing to analysis and reporting in the following areas: cash flow, working capital, risk assessment and customer portfolio optimization (risk/reward analysis) including software solutions.

What is clear to me is that the company will be better off if the credit manager is a willing participant in the decision-making process as it relates to outsourcing some or even all of the credit and collection related activities.

By the way, this is one of the topics that will be covered at the upcoming CreditScape Fall Summit in Las Vegas, Sept. 17-18. For more information on that, visit www.creditscapeconference.com

Does your company outsource its credit and collection functions? What criteria did you use to make that decision? As always, I welcome your feedback.

Michael C. Dennis is the author of the Encyclopedia of Credit (www.encyclopediaofcredit.com), a free, fast, internet resource for credit and collection professionals. He is a consultant, and the author of “Credit and Collection Forms and Procedures Manual” as well as a frequent instructor at CMA-sponsored educational events. His most recent book, “Happy Customers, Faster Cash,” is available at amazon.com He can be contacted at 949-584-9685.

Registration now open for the 2015 CreditScape Fall Collections Summit

CreditScape Fall Summit Logo

Registration is now open for the 2015 CreditScape Fall Summit, which will focus solely on improving attendees’ collection practices. The conference, a collaboration with commercial collection partner AG Adjustments (AGA), takes place September 17-18, 2015 at the newly renovated Tropicana Hotel on the Las Vegas Strip, featuring two days of hands-on workshop training, expert practical and legal advice, and networking with other credit professionals.

Register now at www.creditscapeconference.com

CreditScape will be unlike anything else CMA has ever done before because:

  • It takes a different approach to a conference in that it focuses on only one topic, and covers it thoroughly
  • CMA members have asked for more information on collections
  • The summit takes a different approach to learning by collaborative exercises with other credit managers in a workshop approach instead of the standard classroom style
  • CMA members’ input will comprise the curriculum, to give credit professionals exactly the content that they need.

Topics will include:

  • Effective collections communications strategies
  • Understanding the AP process & cycle at a member company
  • The “Collection Prevention Department”: Collection mitigation tools like UCCs, Liens, and Credit Insurance
  • If my company sells internationally, how can I collect the payments? Where to go for information on collection protocols for other countries?
  • How to leverage automation for better collection results
  • Developing and managing a third-party collections process: insourcing, outsourcing to third party agencies, legal, and bankruptcy administration
  • Using data and analytics to drive collections effectiveness
  • Power phone collection techniques
  • Collections best practices tips
  • Advanced Collection Techniques (Pre and Post judgment) and when to use your collection attorney
  • Bullet-proofing your credit application to make it enforceable
  • Legal compliance and best practices: Standards for commercial collections, including personal guarantees
  • How to hire and retain the best collectors: Interview techniques, skills you’re looking for

A complete schedule of topics, including speaker information, will be announced during the summer. Credit professionals can visit CreditScapeConference.com to register now.

President’s Blog: Why I’m Excited About the CreditScape Fall Summit, by Mike Mitchell

CMA President Mike Mitchell
CMA President Mike Mitchell

I am really excited about our newest program, the CreditScape Fall Summit, focusing solely on Collections. First of all, I have to thank all of our members who participated in the CreditScape program development survey. We have received almost 100 responses from you with very valuable feedback on the topics and challenges you feel are important for getting better collection results. We are committed to considering input from our members and creating curricula that addresses your challenges as we design all of our education and training programs.

Additionally, in talking directly with members and subject-matter experts about the main focus of CreditScape, collections, my own view of collections has changed. I always thought of collections narrowly as a process for collecting overdue invoices. I now see it as a broader discipline that begins as soon as a sale is made. So, in addition to the mechanics of making demands for payment, the CreditScape will include many other aspects to ensure timely payments and effective accounts receivables management.

I am also excited about the format of the Summit. I have now attended and hosted probably close to a hundred conference-style events, most of which were in classroom-style lecture presentations. Recently, I have attended several events where a concerted effort was made to incorporate audience collaboration into the learning experience, and when done well, gave participants a much greater sense of value for their time spent, and I personally got a lot more out of those types of sessions. Bringing that approach to CMA, while subject matter experts will still share their experiences with credit practitioners, much of the learning at CreditScape will come from practitioners sharing experiences with each other in workshop-style settings. This might be the perfect opportunity for credit and collections teams to get away from the office for a couple of days to pursue a journey toward process improvement.

Our goal with CreditScape is to provide an opportunity for credit practitioners with all levels of experience and expertise to come together to share successes and solve problems around collections and accounts receivable management. Everyone has something new to learn or something valuable to pass down that could help drive better results. You don’t know what you don’t know, and what you don’t know could be hindering your success.

And speaking of what you don’t know, I mentioned in my last blog that I had enrolled in the Business Credit Principles Online course. Since I am not a credit practitioner by trade, I have learned a lot about what credit professionals face every day, and the myriad of factors that have to be considered before a simple credit decision can be made. Clearly, it’s not that simple, which is why not just anyone with an accounting degree or with a general business background (like me) can perform effectively without a great deal of training and dedication to the profession. The real value in continuing education, even if it’s in an area with which you are already familiar, is that you don’t know what you don’t know, and I have had a great experience with instructor Paul Beretz discovering what I don’t know and putting it to good use.

By the way, I personally valued the Business Credit Principles course so much that I enrolled in Beretz’s Financial Statement Analysis course. Stay tuned…

Having a Bad Day, by Michael C. Dennis

Michael C. Dennis

A bad debt can ruin a good day. A bad debt is any debt that cannot be collected. Bad debt write-offs are a cost of doing business on open account terms. No matter how carefully the credit department reviews existing customers and new applicants, such losses are inevitable. Bad debt losses are a cost of doing business on open account terms.

When a bad debt loss occurs, you can either lament your losses or learn from them. I encourage you to consider all of the ideas below when such losses occur:

  1. Learn a lesson. Use this opportunity to reflect on what just happened. What could you have done differently? Even if the answer is that the credit department did ‘almost everything’ right, there is still room for improvement. Your goal is to take something positive away from the event, ideally so you can keep it from happening again in exactly the same way in the future.
  2. Keep things in perspective. Even if this is the biggest loss of the year, remember that some level of bad debt write offs are inevitable. Why? Because there is some level of risk in every open account sale. This includes sales to your largest and most creditworthy customers… not to mention the customers you recognize and self-identify as marginal credit risks.
  3. Every bad debt is an opportunity. Write-offs are opportunities to change, to improve and to refine your department’s policies and procedures. Each refinement brings you closer to the optimum internal credit management process intended to properly manage or balance risk and reward.
  4. Seek guidance from management. Use a bad debt as an opportunity to ask for comments, advice and guidance from your manager or senior management. Doing so is not a sign of weakness. It is an indication of maturity, and a great way to make certain that your ‘appetite’ for credit risk is consistent with your company’s taste for risk.
  5. Take responsibility. If you are the department manager, you are responsible when losses occur. This is true even if you personally didn’t take part in the decision-making process. Please don’t try to blame your subordinates. Instead, take the hit squarely in front of your manager and then move on.

I am convinced there are lessons to be learned from every bad debt write off. Among the most common mistakes uncovered are:

  • Information in the credit file was out of date
  • Financial analysis was not done or done poorly
  • The customer was allowed to exceed the credit limit
  • Orders were released while the account was past due
  • The credit manager was not told soon enough to make a difference
  • The collector did not focus enough time and attention on the account
  • The creditor company failed to place the account for collection quickly enough

Each of these mistakes has something in common. That common theme is that if the collection team is provided with clear guidelines and work instructions, fewer mistakes will be made and losses will be reduced

When [not if] bad debt losses happen, don’t lose faith in yourself or in the policies and procedures you have in place. If you ever fall into the trap of believing that what you do doesn’t matter, that idea can become a self-fulfilling prophesy. You will never be able to control all of the external forces that result in bad debts, but you can control what you do and how you respond.

Michael C. Dennis is the author of the Encyclopedia of Credit (www.encyclopediaofcredit.com), a free, fast, internet resource for credit and collection professionals. He is a consultant, and the author of “Credit and Collection Forms and Procedures Manual” as well as a frequent instructor at CMA-sponsored educational events. His most recent book, “Happy Customers, Faster Cash,” is available at amazon.com  He can be contacted at 949-584-9685.

Save the Date: CMA Announces CreditScape Fall Summit, by Mike Mitchell

CMA President Mike Mitchell
CMA President Mike Mitchell

CMA is proud to announce that it is collaborating with commercial collection partner AG Adjustments (AGA) to bring credit professionals an entirely new experience in collection and A/R management training. The CreditScape Fall Summit, which takes place September 17-18, 2015 at the newly renovated Tropicana Hotel on the Las Vegas Strip, features two days of workshop training, expert practical and legal advice, and networking with other credit professionals.

Part of this unique learning approach will involve subject-matter experts and seasoned credit professionals sharing their experiences through interactive case studies, and each session will dedicate time for participants to share their own experiences with each other. Sustainable learning is about shared knowledge and experiences, and this is one way that CreditScape Conferences will keep participants ahead of the curve in an ever-changing credit landscape. This will also be much more interactive than the typical teacher-and-classroom experience our audience is used to.

From discussions I’ve had with members over the years, CMA members are always looking for better ways to manage and maximize recovery of their receivables. CMA’s partnership with AGA has played an important role in satisfying that need, but we saw an opportunity to take that relationship to a higher level. By leveraging AGA’s deep expertise in commercial collections and vast network of contacts and resources in the credit space, we can deliver leading-edge tools, techniques, and best-practices in accounts receivable management. I also want to incorporate the latest techniques in content delivery for adult learners to create a thought-provoking and practical meeting experience that produces valuable take-aways and sustained value for participants and their credit departments.

AGA’s president Mark Gerstel has told me that his company has envisioned producing a training event focused on commercial collections because there is such a need, and that working with CMA on this event gives AGA an opportunity to help credit managers do a lot more to help themselves and help their outsource partners to get better results.

Preliminary discussions with CMA members and industry partners have uncovered various capabilities and core competencies that affect collection effectiveness, including automation tools, the quality of customer investigations and evaluations, building relationships with customers and sales, and differentiated collection approaches for large and small debtors. These are some of the subjects that will drive content and discussion at CreditScape.

CMA’s education subcommittee is currently developing the programming for the event, which is designed to propose best practices and methods to collect receivables from your company’s customers. Details about the program will be announced this summer.

To learn more about the event, visit www.creditmanagementassociation.org/events or call 800-541-2622.

We look forward to seeing you there!

Maximizing Your Ability to Collect, by Sam Fensterstock

One of the most frequently asked questions AGA gets from our clients is “how do we capitalize on our ability to collect from our customers?” Our answer is always the same: to be successful in maximizing your cash flow and reducing write-offs you must have three critical policies in place:

1. A Defined Credit Policy – While most companies have defined policies for best practices when it comes to employment, security and many other facets of their business, many companies we speak to do not have a clear policy when it comes to granting and reviewing credit . If you want to get paid after you have delivered your goods or services, you need to made good credit decisions when you decide to engage your customer. If you have not, your chances of collecting, if there is a problem in the future will decrease significantly. What your credit policy should be? Well, that is something that is hard to answer because it needs to be industry and company specific. However, best practices say it should be based on factors such as company risk tolerance, industry standards, gross profit margins and your internal risk assessment capabilities. The bottom line, a good credit policy will help you minimize your risk while maximizing your profitability. The acquisition of all pertinent information about a company such as a fully executed credit application (with verbiage that allows you to add interest and collection fees), financial statements, industry credit reports, trade data as well as a personal guarantee with home address and cell phone information should be a rule of thumb to most credit grantors.

2. A Defined Collection Policy – Just like with your credit policy, your collection policy should be specifically defined, documented and if possible, best practices recommends the use of an order to cash technology solution to help automate part of the collection process. No matter how your credit & collection department is set up, a pre-determined collection strategy that triggers a set of calls and e-mails with specific grace periods based on promises to pay should be deployed. To maximize collection results, the ratio of customers to collectors must also be taken into consideration, given your technology environment. If you’re in a fully automated collections environment you may be able to do more with less, compared to a manual collection process where you may need more collectors to handle the same amount of customers. As we all know, the sale is not complete until the money is in the bank and a defined collection policy will help ensure that your DSO and write offs are in line with company expectations and industry standards.

3. Having Defined Collection Placement Policy and a Strategic Collection Outsourcing Partner – No matter what kind of credit and collection policies you have in place and even if you have state of the art order to cash technology solution deployed, at some point, some customer will ignore all of your all internal collection efforts and not pay you. This is when we believe you should engage with an outside 3rd party collection outsourcing provider. Determining the “point of no return” with your customers is critical. Your collection placement policy should be specifically defined, as it has a direct correlation to your collection outsourcing partner’s ability to successfully recover what you’re owed. Remember, the older a receivable gets the harder it is to collect, so if you want to maximize cash flow from your aged receivables, you don’t need to “beat your customer to death”, just place them in a timely manner and let your partner do their work and you will see more cash come through the door. A proactive and professional approach will also assist in the possible re-acquisition of your customer.

Also, when choosing a collection outsource partner there are several things you should consider such as;
• Is the agency certified by the International Association of Commercial Collectors?
• Is the agency certified by the Commercial Law League of America?
• Does the agency have appropriate bond and liability coverage?
• Does the agency have web based reporting tools that provide you recovery analytics and 100% visibility into their collection efforts?
• Does the agency have the technology capabilities to integrate with your order to cash platform for automated placements?
• Does the agency provide a competitive rate for their services?
• Does the agency have a good reputation in the market?
• How many years has the agency been in business?
• Can the agency provide multiple references of companies who have been customers for more than 5 years?

Choosing the right outsourcing partner is critical in helping maximize the recovery of lost funds. Why is this so? It’s simple, if your company is earning a net profit of 5% and you write off $25,000 you will need and additional $500,000 in sales to offset the loss. In the long run, the success of your collection outsourcing partner can have a tremendous impact on your bottom line.

Sam Fensterstock is Senior Vice President, Business Development,  for AGA, a leading commercial collection agency based in Melville, NY. He can be reached at (631) 425-8800 or samf@agaltd.com.

Don’t Tell Me That, by Michael C. Dennis

I recently overheard a collector say this: “I am under a lot of pressure to collect the past-due balance as soon as possible.”  Upon hearing this, the customer could be forgiven for assuming they’re in a strong bargaining position. When a debtor thinks they are in the “driver’s seat,” it is more difficult for the collector to negotiate a favorable outcome.  I think a much better statement would be: “Your account is seriously past due. We need to reach agreement today about when, meaning how quickly, this past due balance will be cleared.”

I believe the “I’m under a lot of pressure” approach may be an attempt to get the debtor to either feel a shared responsibility with the collector for the status of the account, or that this is an “easy” way for the collector to approach their debtor.   But it’s doubtful that a debtor will feel a personal obligation to help the collector.  The debtor probably realizes that it’s likely this is how the collector approaches every slow pay customer.  As a result, this ‘hoping for help’ approach to collections is likely largely ineffective.

How do you approach customers? As always, I welcome your feedback.

Michael is the author of the Encyclopedia of Credit (www.encyclopediaofcredit.com), a free, fast, internet resource for credit and collection professionals.  He is a consultant, and the author of “Credit and Collection Forms and Procedures Manual” as well as a frequent instructor at CMA-sponsored educational events.  He can be contacted at 949-584-9685.