vattenfall collenda

Interview with Hans de Louw, credit manager for external parties at Vattenfall Nederland

Performance Management (Cwize) enables you to speak to each other about transparent, clear information.”

Vattenfall is one of the top 3 energy suppliers in the Netherlands. Over the last 25 years, this company, which was originally Swedish, has undergone a rapid international expansion. This has involved, among other things, the takeover of the Dutch company Nuon in 2009. To handle Vattenfall’s activities within our country, Hans de Louw – credit manager for external parties – makes use of a SaaS solution available through Collenda Performance Management (Cwize). This is in order to gain insight into both the status of files during the collection process and into the services rendered by our collection partners.

Over the past decades, the Dutch energy market has been strongly consolidated within one sector. Here, three major energy suppliers have taken the top positions: Essent, Eneco and Vattenfall The last of these, with approximately 2 million customers and 4,000 employees in the Netherlands, has its head office in Amsterdam and branches in Alkmaar, Arnhem and Leeuwarden.

Fossil-free

The majority of Vattenfall Nederland’s customers – both individuals and companies – have a contract for the supply of gas, electricity or heat. They also purchase specific products and services, such as solar panels and charging points for electric vehicles. Vattenfall has been making good progress lately with its mission of ‘living fossil–free within one generation’. According to credit manager Hans de Louw, this is no empty promise. ‘Vattenfall has always had the largest wind farms and continues to supply more green energy in the form of green gas and green electricity. The organisation really embodies it, it’s among our core focuses.’

Debt assistance

collenda cwize vattenfallHans de Louw joined Vattenfall as business controller in 2009 after previously forging a career in the same function at ATOS Origin. Since the end of 2018, he has been working as credit manager for external parties and understands better than anyone how Vattenfall handles its customers who are currently struggling with debt. Apart from the company’s own efforts to achieve amicable settlements, intensive efforts are made to work together with all institutions that deal with debt assistance. ‘There are thus separate collaborations with major municipalities,’ says De Louw. ‘We recently started a pilot project with the City of Amsterdam for a group of customer accounts that we would have otherwise sent to the bailiffs. The municipality will now look into an integral approach for this specific group of debtors. We are taking a number of initiatives to solve debt problems in other ways, including early detection projects. There is a strong desire within our organisation to assist in dire cases.’

Artificial intelligence

An intensive collection procedure has been set up for customers with unpaid accounts, which involves a number of our different divisions and external collection partners. De Louw: ‘Some debtors are able to sort things out on their own, others will pay after receiving a reminder from us via text, email, letter or, sometimes, a telephone call. We try to reach these debtors through the proper channels, with the right message at the right time. Timing is often crucial. You do not want to bother the customer at a time that does not suit him or her, which is ultimately also beneficial for our own efficiency. Using a form of artificial intelligence, we are working on predicting customer behaviour, and this will only increase going forward.’

The first course of action is an amicable external collection procedure, which is then followed by our own service staff

If this does not work, an external collection company will take the same amicable approach as Vattenfall during the first phase. De Louw: ‘They use the same means, but a different logo and a somewhat different approach. This enables us to reach another target group. They also have much more information about our debtor group, which means that some individuals can be approached in a more targeted manner. And this results in success.’ In addition, Vattenfall has its own service staff that follows an intensive and personal approach. These staff not only look at current receivables, but at the customer’s situation as well. If the problem is structural, then it will solve this when possible. Vattenfall itself is not a grid operator for electricity and gas. This means that they can terminate the contract. The supply of gas and electricity then becomes the responsibility of the grid operator, unless the customer concludes a new contract with another supplier. Vattenfall itself is the grid operator for the supply of heat, and it is not possible to terminate this type of contract. As a result, the costs for this type of contract can quickly accumulate when no solution is found for non-paying customers.

Bailiffs

The accounts with unpaid invoices for heat contracts are sent to two collection partners. In this type of case as well, they start with an amicable procedure. ‘It does seem excessive, of course’ says De Louw, ‘but it is successful in some cases. This mainly has to do with how much time has passed. In some cases you are already a few months along, and maybe the customer is now able to pay or has used the time to seek assistance.’ In the case of the other accounts, the bailiffs will go to court to terminate the contract and to obtain approval for this termination. This is usually done with some reservations, De Louw explains. ‘Termination is a last resort that you only choose when all other possibilities have been exhausted. Even then we still look to see whether what we are doing is responsible. On the other hand: even the customer does not benefit from having the debt accumulate each month. Termination frequently gives the debtor the impetus to act.’

Data quality

Vattenfall makes use of Performance Management (Cwize) as a portal to follow up on accounts once they have been submitted to external collection partners during the various phases of the collection procedure, both amicable and legal. In the run-up to the application of Performance Management (Cwize) within the organisation, De Louw paid particular attention to the data quality. ‘The quality depends on the information provided to us by the bailiffs. We map it in Performance Management (Cwize) based on this. Collenda has helped us enormously with grouping the information and translating it into reports that are easily usable for both us and the bailiffs. The great advantage is that Performance Management (Cwize) can be used to divide the debtors’ portfolio into sections that you can use to make well-founded decisions for each individual account. The reports mainly allow me to look at the throughput time for each account, at why certain accounts are sometimes very much in arrears, as well as at the accounts for which an agreement has been reached with the debtor, but no payments are being received. Performance Management (Cwize) makes it a lot easier for me to gauge what is happening in the portfolios and which actions are necessary for individual accounts.’

Helping each other improve

Benchmarking the services of the various collection partners is not relevant during the initial phase, as Vattenfall is only working with a single party at that stage. This may be the case when it comes to the bailiffs, however, and Vattenfall also responds accordingly, says De Louw. ‘The main aim is to improve each other. This is also the reason why the performance of the two offices does not diverge too much. We keep each other on the ball this way. If I notice, for example, that an approach pursued by one of the bailiffs for a certain type of account or with a certain court is more successful, I can pass this information on to the other bailiff. For me, the most important benefit is that you can make a much sounder decision regarding individual accounts with respect to whether or not you will continue trying to collect.’ Another one of Performance Management’s (Cwize) benefits, according to De Louw, is the nature of the consultations with bailiffs regarding operations procedures. ‘In the past they would come with their reports and we would discuss those. Now we are the ones bringing the reports. That makes a huge difference. This means that we are calling the shots and can control what we wish to discuss as full-fledged discussion partners. It all has to do with transparency. This is that Performance Management (Cwize) excels in – it gives us clear insight and forces us to speak to each other on the basis of clear information.’

Find more information about the Collenda Performance Management (Cwize) solution here:

Vattenfall in times of corona

At the beginning of the corona crisis, there was the fear that the number of unpaid energy accounts would steeply increase at some point. This prediction did not come true. Rather, it was the opposite case. Hans de Louw has an explanation for this. ‘We suspect that this is because people are unable to spend as much money outdoors. People also tend to stay at home more and, if they have debts, tend to pay the account that ensures that they have a warm and well-lit home. Another factor that helps us is the introduction of smart meters. This has caused the number of discussions about meter readings – another possible cause of payment arrears – to drop significantly.’