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by Vanessa Bersani
ABC-Amega Account Executive
Although I started as a collector just 3 months ago, I’ve already learned an important lesson. One that will go a long way in helping me succeed in my new position.
In that short time, I’ve come to understand that approaching the debtor with an open mind and a willingness to listen will net better results than an insinuating, aggressive approach. Be firm, yes - but avoid making accusatory statements until you’re sure of the facts.
While most accounts placed for collection are actually owed, and debtors do employ various stalling tactics, it’s worth taking the time to sort out what’s really going on in the dispute. By doing that you have a better chance of resolving the problem, collecting the debt, and keeping your focus on maintaining the important relationship between creditor and debtor.
Here are a few examples of situations I’ve encountered that have taught me the value of approaching debtors with a balanced attitude.
-- A debtor asked me for the bank account information of a creditor so they could wire a partial payment. I relayed the request to my client, a collection agency in Europe, who was handling this for the creditor. After looking into it, they realized this debtor had already made some payments over the past few months. They advised me that the debtor should already have the creditor’s bank account information and is probably just trying to buy some time. Nevertheless, they gave me the creditor’s bank information again.
Upon sending the information to the debtor, I included it in a letter conveying a skeptical attitude. It was worded something like this: “It’s really strange that you’ve asked for this information as you appear to have wired the creditor money in the past.”
Well, it turned out that the creditor had recently merged with another company. And, they indeed had changed bank accounts for wire transfers! The debtor knew of the merger, and correctly supposed that it was best to determine if the bank account information had changed.
-- This situation involved a debtor located in Venezuela where government policies make it very difficult for companies to buy and pay in USD. When I contacted the debtor, they insisted that they had paid the account in full a few months ago. The creditor, however, reported that they could not find any record of this and they asked me to request a proof of payment.
The debtor was puzzled. They said that they had definitely made the payment and couldn’t understand why the creditor had no record of it.
I insisted the debtor provide proof of payment, but my demands were ignored. After a month of contacting them once a week by phone and by email, I began to think, “These people just never paid and they’re trying to divert my attention.” I decided to get tough. I notified them that if they didn’t send me proof of payment within the next week, I’d send the case to our local attorney.
At that point, I received information from the client’s Venezuela division indicating that they had received the payment a few months ago, and that they couldn’t understand why the claim was still open.
It turned out that it was just a problem of coordinating communications. The payment was made to the client’s division in Venezuela to avoid all the hassle of having to pay in USD. Unfortunately, the information wasn’t sent to all the parties involved. Certainly, the debtor shouldn’t have ignored my demands, and by “getting tough”, I finally obtained an answer and was able to close the file. But again, jumping to conclusions can provide us with some pretty big surprises.
-- This last one is a favorite of mine. A debtor sends me a copy of the wire transfer they just made. I send it to the client and ask them to confirm. The client gets back to me with their account number saying that they don’t understand where the debtor sent the money because the number they used is incorrect. When I compared the client’s account number to the one the debtor used for the transfer, it turns out they differed by one digit.
So I started thinking: “This is really a good one! They probably just made a fake wire transfer to a nonexistent account number to stall on making the payment. Then they’ll try to claim that they made a mistake in typing the bank account number.”
I then contacted the debtor, asking them to confirm with their bank whether the wire had gone through or not. It had. And what’s more, the debtor kept insisting that the number they used was the bank account the creditor had told them to use for wire transfers.
When I got back to the client with this information, it turned out that they were actually the ones who had made a mistake. The debtor had used the correct bank account number and made the payment just as they claimed and the funds had indeed been properly received.
All in all, I’ve learned that keeping a balanced focus on collecting the debt and maintaining the relationship between creditor and debtor is key to being effective. And I’ve learned that this can best be done by having the attitude that debtors and creditors alike make mistakes – and both should be treated with professionalism and respect.
Vanessa Bersani, ABC-Amega Account Executive – International, holds a post-graduate degree in Business Management Sciences from the University of Paris IX Dauphine in France. She has lived, worked and traveled throughout Europe and is fluent in English, Spanish, French and Italian.
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