All people must have the knowledge required to manage their private finances well,’ says Jennie Flink, Director of Operations at OK Perintä.
She has just given a presentation of their new profiling approach at the Smarter Communication Day in the centre of Helsinki. The company is described as ‘the collection company of the new age’. A more solution-oriented approach has given them not only more satisfied customers, but also more settled invoices.
A hundred or so listeners have gathered in Finlandiahuset, many of them wanting to ask questions when Jennie Flink has finished talking.
"Debt collection companies used to focus solely on the creditor, but this has changed. We’re now just as much the debtor’s representative. We want to help people to get their finances under control," she says.
The value of money increasingly abstract
In recent years there has been an increase in the number of people experiencing payment difficulties in Finland, not least among young people. One reason is believed to be that the value of money is perceived to be something increasingly abstract as cash disappears and more and more payments are made electronically. But also that financial knowledge is lacking.
"The new Finnish curriculum places more focus on issues relating to private finance, which we believe is good. We need to help each other so that the problem doesn’t escalate," says Jennie Flink.
A good start is to reduce the threshold for people to be willing to ask for help. All communication targeted at customers involves active work to remove the sense of shame associated with payment problems. Jennie Flink believes that many people would be amazed if they knew how common it is to fall into debt. As one of the biggest credit companies in Finland, they have more than half a million active debt collection cases. But it is still something that not many talk about, even to friends and family.
For people who find it difficult to pay their bills, they almost always manage to find a solution. They can, for example, help to draw up a settlement plan if you are unable to pay the whole debt at once.
The aim is that OK Perintä shall contribute to reducing the number of records of non-payment in Finland.
"There’s a major taboo associated with payment difficulties in many countries, and we notice that it’s bigger in Finland than in Sweden, for example. Finns are more reserved and proud. If you experience problems, it can feel as though you’ve failed."
As a debt collection company, one of their most important tasks is now to encourage people to be bold enough to get in touch before they end up in the hands of the Enforcement Authority. As one element of this, they have an active presence in social media, not least on Facebook, where they are happy to discuss and respond to questions in the comments fields. There is also a chat function where debtors can ask questions about personal matters.
The invoice is the most important channel
The first contact with the debtor often takes the form of a reminder being sent out following an unpaid invoice. This places tough demands on clarity and a good tone of voice, both to communicate the company’s values and to avoid unnecessary calls to customer service.
If you, like many of the younger debtors in their register, have never before been in contact with debt collection, you have to understand what it is and how it works.
In connection with OK Perintä engaging PostNord Stralfors as a supplier, an eye tracking analysis was performed of the company’s mailings. This meant that they found out how the customer receives their particular information and which details were difficult to locate on the invoice. The most important information has now been positioned more prominently by means of small adjustments to the layout.
They have now also chosen to perform some segmentation in their mailings. The first letter sent out looks more or less the same for everyone. But in cases where OK Perintä needs to send additional reminders, the letters have been given an even clearer focus on encouraging the customer to make contact with customer service. In some cases, a suggested personal settlement plan is also sent.
"We get really good feedback on that."
The customer now also has an opportunity to receive invoices and notifications digitally. As a complement to paper mailings, OK Perintä uses both email and text messages. This can, for example, involve reminders when the due date on the invoice is approaching.
Many older people want all communication on paper, while young people appreciate being able to pay with their mobile.
Jennie Flink believes that at the moment we have only seen the beginning of the development of mobile payment solutions. For the good of young people, she also hopes that the future brings smooth, integrated budgeting tools that make it easy to get finances under control.
"If people think that private finances are boring, they must at least be easy," says Jennie Flink.