Almost everyone I talk to in the industry (and that’s a lot of people lately) rate innovation as a top priority.

Not long ago, in my former role as the leader of collections strategy for a major bank, I led a full strategy overhaul. I know first hand there are a lot of hurdles and setbacks once you decide to engage in such a change. In our case, everything needed an update; data infrastructure, scoring models, decision engines, customer contact tools (interactive messaging, text, email, etc.), reporting -  you name it, we needed it.

Below are some lessons I’ve learned along the way. I hope they help you move more quickly on on your way toward innovation.

The Great willing to have it -- The compliance and legal debate can feel like an insurmountable hurdle when trying to innovate in collections. Because debt collection laws are so dated, there’s a lot of interpretation involved. If the initial answer is “no, we can’t do that,” don’t take your ball and go home. I say broaden the debate; seek input from peers, industry experts and others who have had proven success. This is the single biggest missed opportunity I see in our industry.  Rarely do we talk to each other for the greater good.

Prioritize - Let’s be real; Not all change, no matter how shiny, is equal. I’ve had the greatest success with large scale transformations when I took the time to build a value based prioritization matrix. Start by listing the capabilities you need and score them against your product lines and your criteria; estimated loss impact, expense reduction, customer value, ease of implementation (funding, regulations, technology), dependencies, etc.  

TIP: DO NOT get analysis paralysis here. High level swags and some good intuition at this stage will not lead you astray. It’s as easy as 1, 3, 5. By using one of these three numbers to rate the degree of impact each particular criteria has, you keep it simple and have a built in weighting system.

Build a Case - A common myth is that collections is strictly a cost of doing business. This is especially common on the creditor/lender side of the equation -- but couldn’t be further from the truth. If your strategy for getting technology funding is to walk in and say “c’mon, trust me,” you probably won’t get very far. Do the work: Size your impacted population, outline your assumed performance improvement, and then pull that through the roll rates to estimate reduced losses (or expenses, or improved experience, etc.). The ROI is often so clear that smart leaders will pounce!

TIP:  Don’t limit your ROI to loss reduction or expense reduction. The less quantifiable, but impactful, benefits to customers, colleagues, operational risk should also be included.   

Prove It (test, test, test) - People sometimes glaze over when I talk about this, but if you’re still reading you’re probably with me. It’s one thing to make solid assumptions in the business case, but if you can’t back it up post-deployment, you’ll lose buy-in and credibility. Think proactively about how you’ll test each of your strategies, always keeping an unchanged portion of the portfolio clean for comparison. If we want to dispel myths about being a cost center, we need to take the time to prove the value. Test and control gets it done every time.

Each of us is constantly at different stages of development, and there is nothing to lose by learning from each other. 

Driving transformational change is by far the hardest work I’ve ever done. It requires a great deal of planning and perseverance. For that reason, I’ll leave you with this….Don’t Give Up!

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