How do you know your OCA (outside collection agency) is meeting your needs?
In our article titled Nine Guidelines for Selecting the Right Collection Agency, we shared nine things to consider when selecting an Outside Collection Agency (OCA). Once you’ve made your choice, and have some experience with the agency, how can you determine that they are doing a good job? This month’s article offers valuable tips on determining how well the OCA you selected is meeting your needs.
Knowing Your Needs
The first step in accurately assessing your collection agency’s performance is determining what factors in the relationship are most important to you and your company. Of course, bringing in the cash is going to be high on the list. But there are other qualitative and quantitative components to consider.
Qualitative Factors to Consider When Assessing Your OCA
- Your relationship with the OCA’s collections and service personnel. Are they friendly and helpful? Do they listen to you and take your concerns seriously? If you raise an issue, is it handled quickly and appropriately?
- The professionalism of collectors. How do the agency’s collectors treat you and your staff? Just as important, how do they treat your customers? You may want to resume business with some customers once the past due account is resolved. Your customers, even those that have occasional cash flow issues, are your most valuable asset. Do the collector’s attitude and behavior toward your customer strengthen the relationship or destroy it?
- Quality and timeliness of reporting. Are you getting updates within reasonable time-frames? Are the updates understandable? Is there a real-time web site that allows you to check on the status of your accounts yourself?
- Flexibility. If you require a special report, can the agency provide it? Are they locked into rigid work standards or can they work with you to try something new that will meet your specific needs?
- Value-add. Can the agency help you improve your own internal credit management and collection efforts? Do they have access to industry-specific data and benchmarks? Do they offer educational newsletters, webinars or training programs? Are there related services they can supply or help you find?
How you feel is important. You want to be as objective as possible when analyzing the above qualitative factors. But, when push comes to shove, if you’re not comfortable with your agency’s personnel or don’t feel they are responsive to your needs, you may have the wrong agency. If your overall perception is negative, however, let your agency know. Give them the opportunity to address your issues.
Quantitative Factors to Consider When Assessing Your OCA
An agency that’s doing its job should not only be able to provide data about their collection results, but informative and helpful information about the portfolio you place with them as well.
Data to Determine Collection Agency Results
The recovery rate should be a major factor in your analysis. Typically, recovery rates are calculated on the entire portfolio, regardless of age at placement, date placed, the average size of the account, location of the debtor, etc. A recovery rate calculated in this manner, however, does not give the most accurate assessment. Consider requesting the agency to provide recovery rates based on the following:
- The recovery rate on all accounts. Keep these factors in mind: the type and age of accounts being included in the calculation and the percentage of claims still open at the time the recovery rate was calculated. A recent benchmark recovery rate survey showed the following: The most recent average recovery rate for members is 45.5%. Compare your agency’s results to this benchmark but take into account these parameters:
- Domestic (US) debtors only
- Accounts less than $20,000
- No more than 5% of the portfolio still open
- The recovery rate on closed accounts. Any account that’s still open has the potential to be collected. A recovery rate based on closed claims provides the fairest analysis of your agency’s results. Even better, remove accounts from the calculation that involve bankruptcies, valid disputes, or have passed the statute of limitations. In most cases, these weren’t collectible to begin with.
- The recovery rate on claims that have been worked at least 60-90 days. It’s not fair to make a judgment on a recovery rate that includes accounts that have just been placed. Allow the agency a reasonable amount of time to work the claims. When selecting what you consider a “reasonable” amount of time, don’t forget to consider extenuating factors, such as age at placement and complexity. Older accounts and those with complex issues often end up with attorneys, increasing the length of time needed to collect.
- Recovery rate by age past due. According to surveys, the older an account when it is placed with an OCA, the less the likelihood of collection. The Credit Research Foundation’s Credit Assistant website suggests 61 days past due as the optimal time to place an account with a third party. Therefore, it’s not realistic to expect the same recovery rate on accounts placed at 120, 180 or more days past due.
- Note: When comparing the recovery rate of multiple agencies, make sure all are calculating “age past due” in a similar manner. ABC-Amega calculates “age past due” from the date of the oldest past due invoice. Be aware, however, that we’ve run across some firms that calculate from the date of the most recent past due invoice.
- Recovery rate by location of the debtor. This is valuable particularly when international accounts are included in the portfolio. If you have a significant number of foreign debtors in your collection portfolio, segregate recovery rates by country to get a fair picture of the agency’s capabilities.
- Recovery rate by each of your divisions or locations. The agency should be able to set up your account so that you get an overall view of the results, and each division or location gets accurate data for their piece of the portfolio. This can provide essential intelligence into the effectiveness of each division’s internal processes. For instance, if a particular division is receiving significantly higher recoveries than the rest of the company, they might have better internal processes that can be duplicated to improve the overall percentage collected.
Stage of Recovery
How accounts are recovered has a huge impact on the price you pay for collection ” and cost, though by no means the most important factor, is another thing to consider when evaluating how your agency is performing. If the agency is able to collect your accounts in-house, your contingent fees will be less than if an attorney is brought into the picture. In addition, if the collection can be made amicably, you save court costs and the extra (usually 10%) suit fee.
Analyzing at what stage (In-House, Attorney-Amicable, Suit, Judgment) your accounts were collected can provide valuable insight into how your agency is handling your portfolio. If the majority of your accounts end up with an attorney, perhaps the agency is too quick to give up working them internally. Or, perhaps you’re the culprit. The accounts might be highly disputed due to some internal deficiencies, or you might be waiting too long to place them.
Time-frame to Recovery
Another factor you’ll want to consider is how long, on average, it takes your OCA to collect your accounts. ABC-Amega has a report called a “Recovery Diagonal” that shows the percentage of accounts recovered each month on a specific day’s placement. Once there is a reasonable history of placements, it’s possible to determine the optimum collection period for your entire portfolio.
As with other quantitative factors, this information can shed light on both the agency’s capabilities and the quality of your internal processes. If your target for collection is three months, but the agency is taking six, your next step is to discover why? Look at the age of your accounts at placement, the amount and quality of your internal collection efforts, and the stage at which the collection agency is either collecting or closing the accounts as uncollectible. Your OCA can assist with the analysis and should be able to suggest changes to their collection treatment plan, and/or your internal processes that could improve your results.
Data About Your Collection Portfolio
Along with recovery information, a good OCA should provide you with additional data on the portfolio they’re handling for you ” information that can help you assess the value of their services and the efficiency and effectiveness of your own internal processes. Some valuable metrics:
- Number, amount and percentage of accounts by age at placement. Are accounts being placed with the OCA within a time-frame that allows for optimal recovery? Is the claim submission process running properly and efficiently? ABC-Amega recently uncovered a problem with placements caused by an IT glitch on the client’s end. All claims were supposed to be placed at 91 days past due, which would result in a relatively high recovery rate. Unfortunately, the results were falling far short of expectations. A placement analysis revealed that many claims were actually 12 months or more past due at the time they were placed. Armed with this information, the client was able to ferret out a glitch in their programming that was sending the wrong claims, at the wrong time.
- Reasons for account closings. Understanding why accounts are being closed by your agency can shed light on both the agency’s and your own internal deficiencies. If a high percentage of your collection accounts are closed as “Skips” (skipped town) is the agency giving up too quickly? Or, are you waiting too long to place? If you’re ending up with a lot of “Uncollectible Judgments” is the agency suggesting suit without determining if there are any assets to file against? If there are a lot of “Valid Disputes” are there internal billing or shipping errors?
Grading Your OCA
Check out these other collections articles and tips on our website:
- 6 Tips for Making Collection Calls that Get Results
- 9 Collection Tips for Small Business
- 9 Guidelines for Selecting the Right Collection Agency
- 9 Steps to Help Your OCA Help You
- 13 Strategies to Speed Up Collections
- A Career in Collections? Consider the Possibility!
- Collecting by Phone: The Three-Step Process
- Collection Litigation: Court Costs and Suit Fees
- Payment Plan Negotiations
- Regulating Commercial Debt Collection
- Using an OCA to Execute Debtor Judgments
- Working with an OCA