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The ‘mutual’ benefits of technology: Helping customers to help themselves

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02/07/2018

Banking litigation experts Louise Power and Justin Coley from Walker Morris’ Lender Services team explain how building societies and law firms can harness new technology and debt management solutions to offer an enhanced customer journey and improved lender/borrower relationships.

To PayPlan and beyond…

Earlier this year Walker Morris announced its partnership with PayPlan – money advice and debt management experts accredited by the Money Advice Service and authorised/regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority and Insolvency Practitioners Association. PayPlan are funded by donations from the credit industry in recognition of the free, impartial and confidential support and advice that they provide to customers throughout the UK who are struggling with debt.

The idea behind the Walker Morris/PayPlan partnership was simple – by helping customers to manage their finances, find their way out of debt and take back control of their money and their lives, Walker Morris would also ensure a positive outcome for their lender clients. Customer engagement would be improved and arrears cases would be handled as sensitively as possible and fully in line with lenders’ Treating Customers Fairly (TCF) objectives.  The result would be both an improved customer experience and an effective, efficient arms-length debt management and recovery solution.

But it doesn’t stop there. With demonstrable improvements already evident [1] the next step will be to harness new and exciting technological innovations to further improve the customer experience which, in turn, will foster and build relationships: a ‘mutually beneficial arrangement!

Technology to help customers help themselves: Get ‘on-board’

With today’s proliferation of smartphones, tablets, apps and other mobile and digital devices, there is no doubt that customers are embracing technological advances. PayPlan’s Peter Munro explains:  “65% of customers now choose to work with us digitally rather than by phone. Debt problems can carry a lot of stigma, so if people can get help without having a painful and sometimes embarrassing conversation, they will.

Customer preferences, along with security and productivity considerations and governmental/regulatory drivers (including Open Banking), are promoting the increased use of technological solutions at every stage of the customer journey.

One key area in which customers, building societies and law firms together can benefit from harnessing new technology is the on-boarding process [2].  Engaging customers and understanding their personal and financial circumstances is critical to a law firm delivering the right outcome for its clients and their customers. Completion of an income and expenditure form (I&E) is a key component of that.

With the benefits of their partnership already being clear, Walker Morris and PayPlan are now taking the next step and using Paylink Embark, a secure digital platform that can provide the following benefits:

  • a digital I&E that can be completed by the law firm or a customer wishing to self-serve
  • the I&E is underpinned by CRA data [3] and open banking facilities to improve speed of completion and accuracy
  • the I&E can be pushed to clients via text, email or live chat, allowing them to complete via their channel of choice on any device they choose and at a time and place of their convenience
  • the I&E can also be a link embedded within a website, so it can be accessed directly from a lender’s or a law firm’s website, or from any portal used to engage with customers
  • the I&E is aligned to the Standard Financial Statement and can be output in multiple formats including an Application Program Interface. It is also is compatible with the Civil Procedure Rules Pre-action Protocol for Debt Claims
  • the I&E enables a ‘1 touch’ referral to free debt advice, seamlessly transferring the customer and their data.

This new technology has seen 20% more customers engage in the I&E process, increasing the volume of customer rehabilitation outcomes and the application of appropriate forbearance measures.  It has also delivered a far more efficient process, particularly as customers can channel hop, self-serve or still complete traditionally over the phone [4].

Looking ahead, this technology will not only assist with onboarding. It can be used to set up and track payment plan arrangements; complete further reviews; send alerts and documentation to customers; and to enable customers to make payments; and more.  It can represent a ‘real time’ digital financial journey for the customer and offer convenience, confidence, flexibility and enhanced financial management and control on an ongoing basis.  Paylink Embark has also been developed on a modular basis, so that different lenders can pick and choose whichever elements suit their own particular processes and requirements.

From a mutual’s perspective, this improved customer experience and increased engagement, along with the availability of touchpoint opportunities for targeted communications (including sophisticated signposting which can even enable firms to identify and address areas of vulnerability or sensitivity) is a ‘win:win’. It is entirely compatible with TCF and can only help to build more positive relationships with customers in the future.

Embracing technology together

Perhaps in the debt management/recovery arena more than any other, customers of every age and socio-economic bracket are embracing the flexibility, convenience and impartiality that technological innovations can offer. Money problems are a highly emotive issue and can cause feelings of sensitivity and even embarrassment, not to mention health, well-being and relationship problems if they are not effectively addressed.  Enabling people to get their finances under control in the comfort of their own home; with their documents and data to hand; at a time and via a medium that is convenient and comfortable for them, can be an attractive option for customers who are particularly vulnerable or anxious about dealing with financial institutions and lawyers.  This is therefore a key area in which technology can afford a valuable and important opportunity – helping customers to help themselves.

The advantages for customers are clear. So too are the advantages for building societies, who will benefit both directly and indirectly, and both in the short term and long term, from happier and more solvent customers who have appreciated the enhanced, arm’s length, non-judgmental, efficient and compliant experience that a digital debt management platform can offer.

From the lawyers’ perspective, technological advances are inevitable and can be invaluable, in terms of the mutual benefits of efficiency/profitability and improved customer/client relationships.

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[1] Through PayPlan’s digital referral form Walker Morris can quickly and securely pass consenting customers’ contact details and preferred method of communication to PayPlan.  This is has so far resulted in up to 10 times more arrears customers engaging directly with free debt advice.
[2] ‘Onboarding’ is the process by which lenders collect and collate their customers’ details.  In this context it includes the completion of income and expenditure forms and affordability assessments and facilitates the debt management/recovery process.
[3] That is, credit reference agency data.
[4] The digital platform reduces the time taken from around 90 minutes via the phone process to around just 18 minutes.

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