Talk about the difference between your company’s approach to innovation vs. its approach to incremental improvement.
We see innovation as being a disruptive and transformative process that replaces an existing practice. As part of the decision-making process here at Firstsource, the key outcomes for an innovation project must include product differentiation, a compelling value proposition, and next-gen customer experience. Innovation needs the best minds in the relevant fields of expertise from business, marketing, technology, analytics, compliance, and operations. This is typically a mix of resources from within the business, centralized corporate functions, and external partners. It is critical to get it right (the first time) when we plan large-scale disruptive transformation and hence we adopt divergent thinking to generate creative ideas by exploring many possible solutions. It typically occurs in a spontaneous, free-flowing, "non-linear" manner, such that many ideas are generated in an emergent cognitive fashion.
When it comes to incremental improvement, we do not expect big sweeping changes, but instead a series of small and impactful changes that deliver long-term value. Incremental improvement happens within all departments of our business when staff focuses efforts on smaller solutions that slowly but surely move the business toward success. These ideas are typically low-cost and low-risk; however, the accumulation of numerous such small improvements over time is often as powerful as making disruptive change.
At Firstsource, we strongly encourage and empower both models to meet our goals.
What do you think is the greatest innovation in history? Why?
The internet. Having lived more than 57% of my life before the internet was widely available, I truly appreciate how it has transformed the way we live today. In what feels like an instant it disrupted conventional commerce, communications, and social interactions, reduced costs, and leveled the playing field for all when it comes to information access. No other invention has touched the lives of almost the entire planet in such a short time as the internet. If the internet were to suddenly disappear – I believe we would struggle mightily.
What’s the most innovative decision your company has made? Tell the story behind it.
In 2017, we were rambling along and breaking our heads over the traditional form of collections. We seemed to be constantly editing strategies, competing in a tough mature industry, struggling with talent attraction & retention, navigating compliance and regulations. There had to be a different way. We were fortuitous to be given an opportunity to build a disruptive white-labeled digital collections product from scratch. It got our creative juices in overdrive and the next 16 weeks were amongst the most memorable in our careers. We utilized the methodology described above and were able to launch a non-invasive, fully automated, and intuitive collections product that we believed would define the future of our industry. Every key metric from customer experience, negotiations, compliance, data reconciliation, and special circumstance management was mapped against process failures. This product allows us to do away with outbound calling altogether, which is a major milestone for the collections experience!
Firstsource is one of two lead sponsors of iA Strategy & Tech, a digital conference produced by insideARM for creditors, lenders, collection agencies and other stakeholders in the collection ecosystem. Attend iAST July 13-15, 2021 from your desk to learn the latest trends in collections strategy, get a bird's-eye view of the industry through data, learn about new and sophisticated ways to minimize losses, and vet the latest in strategy-enhancing industry tech. Plus, connect with the smartest executives in strategy.
What current industry problem do you think will require the most innovative solutions?
Digital Engagement, defined as the percentage of customers who prefer to be contacted electronically over traditional means. This is measured in eyeballs, clicks, and page visits. As creditors and servicers move along in the digital journey, we will tackle evolving customer preferences and a need for personalization. Today, depending on the nature of credit, size of balances, and credit scores, we see digital engagement vary widely across products between 30-85%. The most innovative solutions will require modern machine learning and AB testing while balancing empathy and urgency in our digital outreach. The data around this is nascent and the ML tools in use today barely keep up with a good manual collections strategy. Further innovations in AI/ML that better predict customer preferences will help us achieve the desired state configuration of the future.
Finish this sentence in the context of the industry: What if…
What if customers’ preferred payment choices were cryptocurrencies?
With greater adoption and as more businesses begin to accept these under-regulated decentralized payment mechanisms, there could be a point in the future where cryptocurrency becomes a part of the mainstream. If there is a value proposition for the common person in transacting via this method, that date will come sooner rather than later. How do we as an industry respond? The flimsy regulations, uncertain jurisdictions, and tax liabilities currently in force for this sector will pose a challenge.
As with everything this industry has faced; despite all the limitations, challenges, negative perceptions, and draconian regulations, I am sure we will find a way.
The iA Innovation Council is a collaborative working group of product, tech, strategy, and operations thought leaders at the forefront of analytics, communications, payments, and compliance technology. Group members meet in person (and lately, virtually) several times each year to engage in substantive dialogue and whiteboard sessions with the creative thinkers behind the latest innovations for the industry, the regulators who audit and establish guardrails for new technology, and educators, entrepreneurs and innovators from outside the industry who inspire different thinking.
2021 members include:
2nd Order Solutions
AllianceOne Receivables Management
Capital Collection Management
Collection Bureau of America
Crown Asset Management
Healthcare Revenue Recovery Group
NCB Management Services
Phillips & Cohen
Professional Finance Company
Radius Global Solutions
Spring Oaks Capital
State Collection Service
The CMI Group