DIn 1899 Charles H. Duell, the then-Commissioner of the United States Patent Office said:

Everything that can be invented, has been invented

Looking back, the world cries with laughter.

What a mistake!!!

Charles Duell’s quote from 1899 is now regarded as one of the most ignorant statements ever made. I think old Charlie will die a second death if he had to see things like the Internet or had to hear about data-migration. What, transfer words from one paper to another without writing?! I can hear him say. Let it never again be said that humanity’s creativity has reached its end.

It is now commonly held that 60% of our Grade 1 children will someday have a job that does not exist yet. This shows how creative mankind is. This progress is also very intimately linked to advances in technology. Duell underestimated the role that new technology would play in the world and we so often do the same.

Years ago, debt collection went about typing up a letter of demand or a summons and sending it off to a debtor in some form or another. Since 1944 this was the official way in which to collect debt.

Then in the 1980s a different approach started to emerge, where a Section 57 or 58 Notice was generated and sent to the debtor for signature. If the debtor signed the Consent, an Emolument Attachment Order could be obtained. Wow! Things were really moving fast now.

If you think laterally about it, this was no different to the 1944-process as it still required a document to be generated and to be sent to the debtor. So we still used paper as our mechanism of choice to collect our debt.

In the 1990s a few visionaries realised that it was easier and cheaper to use the 1876-invented telephone to call a debtor and ask him for the money. No paper, no waiting, no signatures, just a phone call. How could all the clever people collecting money since 1944 have missed this? Suddenly efficiency was achieved in this simplicity.

Then people realised that debt collection actually went about communication. If you can communicate with a debtor, you can collect from him. If you cant communicate with him, you cant collect from him. Simple.

So we started using e-Mails and SMS messages in addition to calls and documents. This heralded the mind-change that the leading debt collection lawyers and agencies have come to experience. The leaders in the industry know that the recipe is simple: Get your information into a system, call the debtors, SMS them, e-Mail them and write to them. Do this all within 20 days. Then, if you still don’t succeed, decide very carefully whether you want to use the 1944 mechanisms to bully (did I say bully?) the debtor into submission on some of your files.

Let it never again be said that humanity’s creativity has reached its end

These advances also signaled the fast approaching death of many collections practices that are blind to the role that technology plays in our industry. We recently met with a respectable law firm that has been doing debt collection for approximately 60 years, talking about how technology would improve their collections and, in so doing, the money in their pockets. We realised that this firms collections department was terminally ill when the senior partner remarked: So, are you telling me that every secretary needs a computer?

What will the senior partner say if he had to hear that you should automatically strike the debtors bank account with a debit order? What will he say if he hears that you don’t have to do anything to make this happen, other than speaking to the debtor? What will he say if he hears that you don’t even need to dial the debtor, and that your computer will dial the debtor on your behalf? What about automatically submitting your trace matters into the database of the various Credit Bureaus? I think this senior partner will soon become as infamous as Charles Duell with quotes that will read something like: There is no place for technology in the debt collection industry or These guys are mad to think that every staff member needs a computer.

The next step in evolution is taking place at a very fast pace:

  1. Get all the communication tools to automatically work together in unison; and
  2. Get very, very, very smart with your data management.

The most important one of these is your data management. Appoint a data expert and give them the tools to make you a lot more money. This guy will become the most important person in your business.