I attended the Digital Banking Club’s Collections Debate at the Law Society offices in Chancery Lane last month. There was a cross section of credit and customer engagement professionals in the room, from IT staff to C Suite execs from some large financial services and utilities institutions, which made for an interesting and engaging session on some of the hot topics in digital debt collection.

Here are some of the key takeaways from the debate:

Apps are becoming the norm

Consumers are now used to and comfortable with using apps for a wide range of uses. They expect apps to be available to make their lives easier and to make online tasks more streamlined. There is huge potential for apps within the debt collection arena with some firms already looking to launch dedicated apps following market research which showed that customers would benefit from the convenience of features including push notifications to remind customers that card details are expiring – cutting out the need for calling.

This is all about engagement and use of the app – I would urge an air of caution to businesses who use it as a collections tool pushing notifications to advise of due payments or missed payments as this could irritate a customer and they will simply delete it. Worse still, it could cause additional stress or hassle rather than making the process easier.

Keeping up with the customer

Panelists agreed that tech is speeding along and we all have to ensure that we catch up to what the consumer is already using. Collections can’t impose new technologies; we have to try and build it into the technology customers are familiar and comfortable with.

WhatsApp, Facebook and Artificial Intelligence Bot Chat are all areas we should be looking at. Bots can pick up questions such as ‘what’s my balance?’ without the need for an agent, freeing up more time for interactions where a ‘human touch’ is required.

Making Income & Expenditure easier

Income & Expenditure forms have long since been an area that has hindered customer engagement and we are always trying to find ways to make it quicker and easier to share this important information. Business-to-consumer discussions around income & expenditure should be a thing of the past if we can use triggers with customers through an online portal but there are regulatory elements that accompany its completion which make this difficult. The new Standard Financial Statement and trigger figures could alleviate this problem for better customer outcomes. This will be an interesting one to watch.

 Data protection issues

We are all very aware that GDPR is looming – or are we? What does it mean to us in real terms? That was the question from many around the room, and not just in financial services but utilities and telecoms. This is causing some real concern across industries, especially in terms of its impact on use of technology. Come 2018 businesses will need to be ready and to help them do this, the CSA is dedicating an entire stream to GDPR at the UK Credit & Collections Conference (UKCCC) in September to include a number of practical workshops covering the different processes involved including breach notifications and fair processing notices for example.

Digital platforms and tools will no doubt open up a whole new world of debt collection once we overcome some of the key hurdles that are still holding back their full potential. The key is to find the right balance and keep customer outcomes at the heart of what we do. I’m looking forward to this not only having a dedicated stream on the subject but being the key talking point at the Credit Services Association’s UKCCC on Thursday 14 September 2017 at Hilton London Wembley.

Stuart Sykes is Director at Secure Recoveries Ltd and is also now a Credit Services Association Board Director.