Shaping the future of our industry10 min read

Fundamental changes are happening to our industry – and faster than ever before. We are at the beginning of the “Fourth Industrial Revolution”, where the rapid pace and scale of digital disruption is unprecedented. Digital companies can now reach new customers immediately and at virtually zero marginal cost. They can compete in new sectors by collaborating with peers and competitors, and they can massively improve quality and productivity by converging technologies and data sources.

Data and customer experience lies at the heart of this digital revolution. The volume of data continues to double every three years as information pours in from digital platforms, wireless sensors, virtual-reality applications, and billions of mobile phones. Data-storage capacity has increased, whilst cost has plummeted, and new advanced algorithms and machine learning are being introduced to effectively utilise available data. Leading companies – such as Google, Facebook and Amazon – are using this to improve core operations and launch entirely new business models. Combined with a truly customer oriented approach – i.e. placing user needs and usability first, this has proven highly successful in driving rapid adoption rates on a global scale.

In our industry, we find that technology is maturing whilst market dynamics are changing customer expectations and how we interact through digital channels. In addition, changing regulatory legislations provide new parameters for what we can and cannot do. We know that to succeed in our business – and be able to help customers back to a life of sustainable spending – we need to be where our customers are. Therefore, we need to offer modern and efficient services and continue to develop solutions that will help people manage credit.

We aim to be the forerunner in all the markets we are present in, driving innovation and pushing the boundaries of what is possible in order to give the best customer service to our clients and customers. That is why our ambition is to be digital by default.

A new competitive environment for our clients

The FinTech sector represents digital disruption in practice, and has rapidly emerged as a result of i) higher customer expectations demanding more personalized and digital experiences, ii) increased access to Venture Capital funding, iii) reduced barriers to entry, and iv) accelerated advancements in technology. Where traditional financial services firms are burdened by legacy systems and financial regulations, FinTech firms have been able to take advantage of next-generation technology and new cloud based services.

Similar developments are taking place in a number of other sectors. This digital revolution has already disrupted entire industries such as Travel, Music and Media, and over half of the Fortune 500 companies have disappeared since year 2000 – many as a result of digitalization. Financial Services is seen as the next digital frontier, but also industries like Telecommunication, Retail and Utilities are now being strongly impacted by digital disruption.

To respond to these changes, our clients are seeking strong partners who can help drive the digital agenda. Many expect a seamless multichannel experience, require integrated self-service solutions and expect value-added information services, “white labelling”, reporting dash-boards and advanced analytics to increase business value. The expectation is that all services are to be delivered fast, with a good user experience and high accessibility.

In Intrum, we have started this journey together with our clients. For our large and medium sized corporate clients, the new web portal provides easy access to Intrum products and services as well as insight regarding credit management trends. This is also the gateway to the Access portal where clients can use the products and services they need in a secure way. Moving forward, we are looking to further improve this user-interface and service offering.

We are also on the verge of launching a new global collection solution with a modern user-interface and a set-up that supports cross-border client needs. This solution will also include a new reporting dashboard where our clients can track key performance indicators for their respective portfolios. In parallel, we are developing a new solution for the SME segment to make collection simple. Moving forward, we will be looking to add new, innovative credit management products and services that help reshape our industry as we know it.

Creating a seamless customer experience

Building a digital business starts with us understanding the needs of our customers and clients. We are aware of the fact that different people need different things, and that they want to access our services in different ways. That is why we are designing our channels and services based on “personas”; where “Oscar occasional” wants a fully digital service, whilst “Rita Rescue” needs personal support and guidance. Nevertheless, they must both be able to access the services they require by using our digital channels as a starting point.

With 50 % of the world population being Internet users (3.77 billion) and two-thirds of all humans using cell phones (4.9 billion users), the adoption of digital solutions is growing fast. User-experience is key to success, and studies of the FinTech sector shows ease-of-use is the main reason why consumers sign-up for new innovative services .This past year, we have significantly changed our customer channels to make them more user-friendly. Our focus has been on improving the customer journey, making it easy for all our customers to use and understand our services. The ultimate goal is to get them back to a life of sustainable spending.

Our new web portal was launched in May, and it is designed to help our customers find the information they require quickly and let them perform the tasks they need. The most frequent requests we receive from our customers are placed on the front page, and easy navigation takes them directly to the correct service – whether it is online or by phone. We are currently enriching this concept with web-forms where customers can submit requests without logging-in. In addition, we are giving them access to readily available payment services (such as iDeal) and chat services connected to our call center agents. We are also looking to renew our secured customer portal – Lindorff 24, providing an improved user-interface and new features.

As one of the first companies in Europe, Intrum launched a Visual IVR – a smart phone self-service menu that enables better support for customers calling our contact centers. When calling, the customers are offered access to online services where they quickly can resolve their queries. Alternatively, they can choose to hold the line and reach one of our contact center agents for support. This solution helps bridge the gap between digital and traditional channels, and offers an efficient and customer friendly user experience.

The importance of social media as a digital communication and customer service channel is also increasing. There are now over 2.8 billion active social media users worldwide, an

increase of 21% since January 2016. Our customers are invited to reach us through social media, including Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook. We are also testing WhatsApp as a channel to better communicate with our customers. Internally, we have launched “Workplace by Facebook” as our global communication tool to stimulate best practice sharing and build a digital culture.

Robots as our new virtual colleagues

Robotics technology has been applied in the industrial sector for decades, but it is only now maturing as a software technology suitable for use in service-based businesses like ours. In the business world, we talk about two main types of Robots; i) Rules-based such as Robotic Process Automation (RPA) and ii) Cognitive Computing which includes Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Virtual Assistants (VA). In Intrum, we are exploring both.

Early adopter of Robotic Process Automation (RPA)

After exploring various macro script solutions over the years, we took a leap of faith and piloted BluePrism Robotic Process automation (RPA) during the spring of 2016. In October, we established our Robotics Center of Excellence in Wroclaw (Poland) and defined an operating model for global implementation. By January 2017 we had 5 pilot processes in production. This has now increased to 15 processes, and we are currently scaling up our implementation efforts with more than 100 new processes in the pipeline for automation.

In essence, the software robot acts as a virtual person, operating applications and completing tasks in the same way as a human employee. The difference between a human employee and a robot lies in the fact that the robot offers higher efficiency gains;

* Completes repetitive tasks 4-20 times faster than a human

* Train the robot once and it works 24/7

* High quality with activity logs and no human errors

This enables our human workforce to free up time to focus on more complex and value-adding tasks to help our clients and customers. So far, the results are very promising. Our robotics processes show an automation degree of 70 – 100% and time-savings of 35 – 80%.

By using simple process mapping tools, it currently takes us on average 4-6 weeks to automate a process. We expect to reduce the time it takes to automate processes to ~4 weeks, and aim to automate up to 30% of repetitive back-office & support tasks. Robotics also represents a good opportunity to drive standardization, efficiency and automation – thereby further improving our operational delivery model.

Exploring the potential of Virtual Assistants

Virtual Assistants (also known as “chatbots”) are more “intelligent software robots” that can perform tasks or services for a human user. They use natural language processing to convert user text, voice or picture input into actionable commands, and focus on collecting and analyzing information on behalf of a human. Many continuously learn using artificial intelligence techniques, incl. machine learning. Well-known examples of virtual assistants are Amazon’s “Alexa” and iPhone’s “Siri”.

This technology is mostly used for customer support purposes with the main incentive being to increase information availability and improve productivity. Although the use of chatbots is becoming more acceptable – with surveys showing that ~40 % of consumers globally rate their overall perception of chatbots as positive, the majority of consumers still prefer human assistance.

We are now gearing up to test this technology, and are currently piloting a Virtual Assistant – or “chatbot” – to explore the potential of Artificial Intelligence in credit management & collection. This solution is designed to manage a dialogue with customers on issues relating to our core operational activities and service offerings. 

Instead of taking a traditional approach, we are collaborating with a client to see how using a chatbot can improve service levels for invoice handling. By providing customers with one point of access to both client and Intrum information, we expect to reduce both handling time and cost whilst improving the customer experience.

Our first chatbot was launched in September 2017 together with one of our clients and it immediate showed great results. After 1 month we had approx. 30% of incoming communication going through the chatbot and 90% of all questions was answered correctly.

Now the plan is to scale this up as a service offering to all our clients across Europe. In parallel, we are also developing a collection chatbot to be used on our own webpages to give the best possible customer service.

Fail fast – succeed faster

The world of credit management services is still its digital infancy. Here, Intrum seeks to position itself as a leading digital player. The key success factors to compete in this new digital economy are;

* Openness: Engage with external technology solutions, knowledge capital and resources, and open up the organization’s own intellectual property, assets and expertise to outside innovators.

* Collaboration: Build ties with different clients and industries to identify new ways to generate value.

* Investment: Build insight and partnerships through venture investing and collaboration with start-ups.

Becoming digital-by-default relates to both how we do things and what we do. In Intrum, we have established a global team to drive digitalization projects and capitalize on best practices across our different European markets. By leveraging cross-functional digital teams – with IT and business-savvy colleagues as well as external partners and clients working closely together as one team – we are able to quickly pilot new ideas before rolling out the new concepts to all our clients and customers. We have also adopted an agile methodology based on piloting new concepts as minimum viable products, enabling us to fail fast – and succeed fast. With our development cycles closing in on 90 days, we are now well on our way towards becoming digital-by-default.

About Johan Hellberg Hannah Cook