Interview with Eric Rijff, Collections Manager at ICS
Cwize makes our process completely transparent, both internally and externally.“Eric Rijff, Collections Manager ICS
International Card Services (ICS) is the largest issuer of credit cards in the Netherlands. Given that there are over 3 million customers with a credit card, this ABN AMRO subsidiary is the undisputed market leader. ICS works with brands such as Visa and Mastercard, but also facilitates co-branded cards and products for partners such as ANWB and De Bijenkorf.
ICS has a banking license from DNB, the central bank of the Netherlands, as well as licenses from the Dutch Authority for the Financial Markets (AFM), which enable ICS to offer credit and saving accounts. Until recently, Eric Rijff from ICS was responsible for collecting outstanding payments. ICS has been using the performance management tool of Cwize, part of Collenda, since 2017 to monitor the performance of ICS’s collection partners.
Eric Rijff started working for ICS in 1991, which at the time operated under a different name as part of the Bank of America. “From the start, I worked for the Outstanding Payments (arrears) Department and experienced just about everything here. Including the transfer to VSB Bank, to Fortis and ultimately ABN AMRO. The development is striking of course. When I was hired, no more than 500,000 cards were issued. Now it’s more than six times that. An important step forward was the deal with ANWB to replace their old letter of credit system for travellers abroad with a credit card. The Product and Solutions Management department grew with the market: from four employees in the beginning to over forty today.”
Collection as a form of after sales
ICS’s Outstanding Payments Department is divided into Early Collections and Late Collections. Early Collections is the front portal where the call centre has service talks with customers in the early stages of arrears. It usually concerns a temporary problem: 75 per cent of the arrears have usually been dealt with two months after the problem has been detected. The other cases are sent to Late Collections. “We always try to remain in dialogue with our customers, from the front end and the back end,” says Eric Rijff. “Because I consider collections as a form of after sales. If your customer isn’t meeting his obligations, or is unable to, then as a provider you have a duty of care to guide him. If your customer has a dispute with you about a product, then you have to solve it, right?”
Providing credit takes place, according to Eric Rijff, when you’re convinced that the customer has sufficient financial capacity. “So something has changed in the event of arrears, and that doesn’t necessarily mean there’s malicious intent. That’s what you have to find out, which isn’t always easy. These days, everyone’s dreaming about big data and algorithms, but in my opinion there are two things missing. Namely, how to discover what the cause of the arrears is, and what the available budget is at this point in time to relieve the debt. That’s not information that I can get with big data and algorithms. I can only do it through personal contact. Of course, we use the telephone for that, but also texting, WhatsApp and voice messages. Moreover, we make it as easy as possible for customers to pay. With Tikkie Business, for example, or buttons in the app. Because we want the money to come in and also help the customer out of the arrears in a sustainable way.”
Results with a realistic price tag
In Late Collections, ICS works with a workflow system to plan and monitor the cases. “First we check each case again to make sure everything is right,” says Eric Rijff, “and then we use a firmer approach towards the customer. By firm I mean that we make it clear what the follow-up process will be if we don’t receive payment. During this phase, we try to distinguish between those who can’t and those who don’t want to. For those who can’t, we can always find a tailored solution, such as payment plans, interest subsidies or debt restructuring. And we further investigate the unwilling. It’s only when they refuse to cooperate with a plan or to provide information that the bailiffs enter into the picture. Our bailiffs are not an automatic extension of our collections process, rather they’re an addition. We only redirect customers if we’re reasonably certain that it makes sense. That it will produce a result with a realistic price tag, for us and for the customer. Ultimately, a quarter of the cases handled by Late Collections end up with bailiffs. We come to an agreement with the rest, or, in extreme cases, they’re written off.”
ICS has been working with the same three collection agencies for years: Jongejan Wisseborn from Harderwijk, BRU from Utrecht and Van Weelderen from Deventer. “There’s a good reason for that,” says Eric Rijff. “The credit card may seem like a simple product, yet it has a number of special attributes. As a result of our long cooperation, our partners have developed a high degree of specialisation in our product. That works well. The AFM’s Guideline for Consumers and Collection Processes in late 2016 prompted us to review our SLAs with our collection partners. And we started talks with Collenda Cwize because we were looking for a tool that would enable us to monitor our collection partners. Of course, our partners were giving us information, but they all did it in their own way. Like all other financial institutions, ICS is under strict supervision. Not only from our parent company, but also from institutions such as DNB, AFM and the European Central Bank. That’s why we wanted a dashboard containing all of the essential information about our customers with arrears, for all stakeholders, both inside and outside our organisation.”
Socially responsible debt collection
Together with Collenda Cwize, ICS developed a model, in which the operational and financial SLAs are the foundation for extensive monitoring options, control over all collection activities and access to all essential information. This model is also the framework that ICS used to formulate its principles for socially responsible debt collection. “Through the SLAs, we agree on how our collection partners will apply our policy, for example to manage lead times, take the agreed action at the right time and tailored solutions for the most vulnerable customers. The same applies to the financial aspects. For example, interest maximisation is an effective tool for preventing despondency. The same goes for the principle of proportional costs. The most important thing for us is that we get the borrowed money back. Being in contact with customers makes it easier to determine the best way of achieving that.”
Cwize retrieves information from ICS’s three collection partners on a daily basis. Based on that information, Eric Rijff has an up-to-date dashboard every day with standard measurements, including the total number of cases with each bailiff, the outstanding amounts, the closed and open cases, and the progress. “There’s also a check on all parameters from the model, so we can immediately see any deviations. Every quarter, we use the information from the Cwize tool to evaluate what happened and how we can or should adapt our agreements. In other words, this helps us to continuously sharpen the focus of our SLAs. If fact, it even goes further than that. Cwize sends the raw data from our collection partners’ systems to our data warehouse every day via a backfeed. As a result, we can carry out ad hoc queries ourselves at any time, without having to inconvenience Cwize or any of our collection partners.”
Insights at any time
Insight into the activities of the collection partners yields financial benefits for ICS. Since the introduction of the tool, ICS has incurred fewer unnecessary costs and collected more money more rapidly. Eric Rijff highlights a third benefit in particular, namely that ICS is in a position to provide clear insights at any time about the progress and the costs. Both to customers, ICS itself, all stakeholders, and all regulatory authorities.
It used to be ‘tell me’, now it’s ‘show me’. The Cwize tool has enabled that by making the process completely transparent.