Friday, November 6, 2015

Bits and Bytes: An Open Letter of Apology to the CIO

Top 10 Violations of a Repentant Ops Guy

Dear I.T. Professionals of My Past,

During the first dozen years of my banking career I was a user… an end-user, an ops guy or leader of ops people.  As your internal client, I had very little appreciation for the nature of your work, the constraints you operated within, didn’t care to educate myself, and should have been a better team player.  Now that I have walked a mile in your shoes working on the tech side of the business, let me say…. mea culpa bro. 

Below are the top 10 violations for which I am sorry.  Regrettably, I know I am not alone on these and observe the same behaviors today in even the most respected institutions.

 1)       I didn’t understand the nature of data but behaved as though I did.

“If the distance between apples and oranges is greater than the sea’s altitude, then display odd numbered vowels only during the customer journey.  Oh… and make sure my data is big, I need big data."

2)       I rejected every estimate provided in hourly increments as absurd measurements intended to obfuscate and delay getting to my needs.

“170 hours? That’s ridiculous.  I could build this by myself in one month using excel.”

3)       I gave business requirements the middle finger then I gave you the middle finger when you built the thing I asked for.

“I required a complete set of left handed golf clubs - how can I be any clearer?  Of course you should have known to include a squash racket, I’m a member at Bushwood.”

4)       I assumed to know what was a big effort and what was a little effort –and quite confidently, but had written no more code than you had forecasted losses.

“This should be pretty easy for the developer to handle.  All they need to do is….”

5)       I did not appreciate that you had limited capacity to serve multiple needy internal clients including marketing in the same way that my customers were waiting in a queue to be answered by a limited number of call center associates.

“If it’s not a compliance issue it won’t see the light of day – all we need to do is to get Compliance to call it an issue and it will move up the priority list – sweet.”

6)       I dropped passive aggressive threats that were unfounded in reality.

“Ok sure.  We can do without that feature for Phase 1… our roll rates are going to melt the polar ice caps but that’s fine… let’s move to the next must-have item on the list.”

7)       I expected you to completely eliminate human error instead of setting a higher bar for my staff.

“You’d be surprised, but I’ve got several employees who can’t remember their name when logging in.  You can automate that right?”

8)       I was captain obvious, schooling you on the need to provide good service and lower credit losses – as if you did not already know that.

“Now Bob.  You’ve got to understand that if our customers have a poor experience on the web site, they might go to our competition – right?”

9)       I made sarcastic remarks about how long it would take for you to get something done.

“We’ve got to log an IT work ticket?  Great… that will get done when the Eagles win the Super Bowl.”

10)   I assumed that the root cause of every production issue was a “testing miss”.

“Come on man! Who did you have testing this thing – let me guess, OFFSHORE?”

So what have I learned? 

Every c-suite executive worth their salt is forced to make difficult trade-off decisions – to maximize enterprise value making the most of limited resources; the CIO is no different.  If you think of yourself as a high performing operations executive and a member of a high performing team – you are well served to acquire some understanding of how software, hardware, and data work at the most basic level.  Finally - you have a choice to treat your technology department as a “vendor” or you can treat them as a partner.  You can probably guess which of those behaviors will get that business critical feature you need moved up that never ending priority list.

My bad… it won’t happen again.

Love always,


Monday, June 16, 2014

Branching Out: The Value of Self-Service

I recently came upon some interesting statistics showing exactly how mobile we’ve become as a society. First, we’re now seeing that the majority of customers prefer shopping online rather than in stores. While that fact may not be earth shattering (except for brick and mortar retailers), a few others I recently saw did catch me by surprise. For example, there are almost 3 billion people worldwide using the internet. And did you know that, starting in 2013, there are now more smartphone and/or tablets shipping than PCs? And the most compelling, to me, is that there are currently more mobile subscribers than there are people on the planet!  

While it’s clear that customers like to browse and discover in self-service environments, are we clear on exactly what that means to us in Collections operations? Well, for starters this isn’t something that is going to go away. We know this, but what we might not be anticipating is how quickly our other, more traditional, forms of customer interactions are going to diminish, or even disappear. It also means that simply providing a means for our customers to conduct bare-minimum-banking is not going to cut it any more. Customers expect (not just want) the same experiences and capabilities online, even on their phones, as they expect to be able to do in person or on the phone with our agents. Finally, have we thought about how our current online self-service offerings and experience impact our customers’ loyalty? Studies reported by Informatica in the UK have shown that satisfied customers are 83% more likely to be loyal, and that customer ascribe a high amount of their customer satisfaction to how their service providers handle them in online and social media transactions. We need to be able to interact with, and satisfy, our customers in their online interactions with us. 

What’s also apparent is that our legacy processes in place for collecting customer data will no longer be able to tell the full story. We need to broaden how we learn about and react to our customers’ buying patterns and transacting patterns, especially for those in collections: being able to effectively use this “metadata” directly affects our cost of collection. Without this information, we are not equipped to truly understand our customers, discern what motivates them and causes them to behave in a certain way so we can hopefully guide them toward the outcomes we want. Being able to gain this greater understanding of our customers, using both their data and this metadata to drive our strategies dynamically, is where we derive our competitive advantage. 

This is, of course, the fundamental value proposition that only a fully unified approach like CMC can deliver. Being able to capture the data and metadata within your automated business process workflows and to make real-time decisions as new information comes in, as you can do with CredAgility-based solutions, gives you both the flexibility and power to drive superior effectiveness and results. See your CMC representative or contact us at to discover how to unleash the effectiveness and efficiency gains that our clients are enjoying, all while improving their ability to conduct provably compliant operations. We’d love to talk to you about it.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

When “good enough to get by…” no longer is

How many collections executives have been frustrated in the past by their top management’s assessment that a further investment in collections efficiency or effectiveness is “unwarranted at this time, given other more pressing priorities” (a recently heard description of a series of past decisions by a major bank in choosing to defer maintenance and investment in new collections and dialer technologies over several years)? Judging from conversations we have had across the industry for years, this is by no means an isolated example.

Why is this? For one, overall loss rates tend to cycle up and down more as a function of the overall economy, as well as specific lending risk decisions made by each bank, than by the specific actions and investments of the collections operation – or at least, that is the perception. Another perception is that “we can always throw bodies at it if the problem gets acute”.

The advent of zero-tolerance compliance expectation from our regulators changes all that. No longer can we live with a manual surge – the “compliance tax” of extra people needed to manually manage the letters, individualized consent capture, non-automated contact and other reporting requirements now makes a cover-it-with-people strategy unaffordable (and, by the way, these manual approaches actually fail to reduce the risk of an enforcement action anyway).

Another factor is that borrowers don’t want to talk to agents to the extent they used to, making it so much more expensive to chase them with more callers as to be questionably cost-justified; but having the coordination and control over self-service and digital strategies needed to really affect the collections unit’s performance requires an investment in technology and organization and operational strategy.

What used to be good enough simply no longer is – it’s time to re-think the “old dependable” strategy for dealing with an expected upsurge in delinquencies…

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Toward a Customer Experience Management “Ecosystem”

More and more companies today are touting "superior customer experience management" capabilities. Some are talking about new contact center software, others website visitor tracking and analysis software, still others are describing omnichannel delivery platforms, and some are mentioning “CXM” in the contact of development platforms or CRM databases. Clearly they're focused on the customers' experience of THEIR part of the dialogue! What they aren't doing is addressing the entire dialogue that a bank is having with their customers. 

The customer dialogue is composed of much more than just the contact channel touch points – while contact management is in itself a complex challenge (i.e. trying to make a seamless "omnichannel" experience across web, chat, email, text, IVR, letter, dialer and manually-dialed interactions), it doesn’t begin to describe the customer’s full dialogue with the bank. The customer’s experience also includes:

· the content of letters/emails/texts/web pages that they see; 

· the content of offers (whether cross/up-sell or specific collections- or recovery-oriented delinquency resolution programs) and the enrollment/fulfillment management and tracking of programs; 

· the information provided in disclosures that are made by agents and in written materials; 

· the specific tasks that customers encounter when they work through a business process, including questions they are asked to answer for the bank; and 

· the particular handling (sorting into queues, to then be worked by agents) of their questions, requests, and other issues that remain to be resolved.

The complexity of this all-encompassing dialogue speaks to the need for something more than a system that "does it all" (which may never be built/installed in our lifetime). What is needed is a comprehensive customer experience management (CXM) infrastructure that is built, ground up, to accommodate a multitude of potential inputs and outputs. Such a system, to be valuable, would allow the bank to control and monitor/manage all customer-facing elements of their experience -- even if some of the elements were not in-built parts of the CXM, per se. Being able to present a single, unified view of the customer and all their experiences, similarly, would be extremely valuable. Finally, it would be invaluable to have the wherewithal to execute the centrally-controlled strategy from the CXM interface, capturing the data into the unified view and therefore be able to not only prove what was done, to whom/ when/how, but to also prove what could not have been done.

It is possible to build such an ecosystem from the ground up using commercial products tied together with a carefully designed and executed middleware layer, or from a prescriptive starting point such as a BPM infrastructure automation product. It's just much harder to do it that way (and more expensive to build, maintain, and extend/enhance over time) than to buy a CXM execution infrastructure like CredAgilityTM and build the ecosystem around that platform. All of the resources saved by leveraging CMC's platform can then be productively engaged in optimizing the results of the customer-centric strategies over time, which has a much bigger impact to the bank's bottom line.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

The (High) Total Cost of Inflexibility

Many systems installed in today’s banks have the inherent advantage of being “sunk costs”, in that users and management alike find it difficult to justify the expense of a new system because the system it would be replacing was paid for so long ago that it is fully written off, or at most “we only pay maintenance fees”. This logic holds that, in order to generate the necessary savings to justify installing a new system, the displacement of people and other costs must be so much greater because the current system is essentially cost-free. 

The biggest fallacy in this reasoning (there are many, from an economist’s point of view in doing a completely cost-analysis comparison) is that it doesn’t take into account the cost of the things we’re not doing. The oft-used phrase “because that’s how we’ve always done it” is the flip-side of the single “these are the things we’ve never done” – which are usually the areas of highest cost and greatest opportunity for improvement. Just because something is inexpensive doesn’t mean it doesn’t actually cost us a lot. Some cases in point, from the recent past: 

1)      Banks in England were slammed this week by various ministers and government agencies, demanding that they account for how much they’re doing to help the unfortunate people who were dealing with record flooding of the river Thames.   Inflexible systems mean that merely accounting for who were the effected customers was difficult and required many to resort to manual calculations; politically-motivated promises of special handling and immediate changes to treatments, offers, etc. were made by top management while the operational execs scrambled to find ways to fulfill those promises reliably, repeatably and provably.  The net is that the cost of responding to this weather-created crisis will far exceed the actual benefits announced for victims.

2)      Banks in Australia are dealing with the impending onset of new credit reporting practices that will effectively multiply the number of customer complaints exponentially. The inflexibility of current operational systems renders them a non-option for responding to this new regimen, dictating that they spend large sums on new complaint and dispute capture and resolution processes. Even these new systems must be carefully vetted for adaptability and ease of use, as the growing body of regulations is sure to be modified as experience mounts. In sum, the cost of building entirely new systems arises from inflexibility that could have been avoided, were flexibility valued highly enough from the start.

3)      In the U.S., banks face stiff penalties for failing to adhere to the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) provisions on special treatments for veterans. Flexible systems would be able to add data elements about their customers to capture status data relating to military service, to create automated “scrubs” to mark customer records appropriately, to provide a simple way for customers to inspect their own data and  provide a standardized way for agents in any part of the bank to update a customer’s relevant information in a way that allows the system to automatically ensure compliance with the Act.  Inflexible systems make creating that new infrastructure so expensive an undertaking that some banks have consciously decided to take the risk of enforcement actions for failing to comply.

CMC’s CredAgility platform offers one thing above all: the powerful flexibility to adapt your operation’s execution to meet ever-changing needs and demands.










Monday, January 13, 2014

The Top 5 Things We’re Expecting to See in 2014

2014 already? Where did the time go? Every January, most of us are instilled with a renewed enthusiasm to make this year better than the last. Amid a number of accomplishments and wins in 2013, we are certainly aware of challenges the industry faces as we head into 2014! Here are the top 5 things we expect to see in 2014:

1. Regulators continue to drive (too) much of the agenda for banks in 2014

The OCC’s latest guidance of 10/31/13 on Third Party Vendor Monitoring will force even more stringent risk management principles to be applied, putting pressure on Vendor Management teams to come up with more, and more provable, ways to oversee third party vendors. And the CFPB’s ANPR of 11/30/13 will reappear as new regulatory guidelines that will further reshuffle the deck for creditors, third party agencies and debt buyers. Whereas the banks that invested heavily for the past 1-2 years in risk and compliance systems are struggling to get more business benefit out of those investments, others will come to realize that they can’t avoid biting that bullet any more.

2. Despite regulatory challenges, top management focus turns increasingly to efficiency and yield

Collections operations are being scrutinized once again for efficiency measures as the U.S. economy gains steam and lending begins returning … repeating a familiar cycle. This time, however, many organizations will also be facing vendor-induced decisions brought about by the end-of-life of some key collections and recovery package solutions. The good news, as told to us recently by a collections executive, is that it means the entire collections organization is available to participate in streamlining through new technologies as well as new thinking about transforming and automating manual- and paper-intensive business processes and workflows.

3. More banks create digital/mobile/self-service initiatives

In addition to needing to find significant cost-efficiencies, banks are recognizing that changing consumer demands are providing an impetus for leveraging digital technologies better. As James Gordon of Needham bank put it, “We’re entering a society where before the phone was an add on, now the computer is becoming an add on”. Despite more and more hyperbole about how the world is going mobile, the larger trend toward creating a seamless series of interactions across all channels (labeled “omnichannel communications” by the analystgentsia) and incorporating dynamic offerings and treatments is what will occupy banks’ attention this year.

4. Banks seek to get closer to customers to gather information and personalize offers

Based on better data management (integration across systems and normalized for optimization) and analytics, banks will try to reach customers with more individualized offerings and treatments in an attempt to improve yield in marketing, collections and recovery efforts. We were surprised to hear a client executive predict that, in the not-too-distant future, the bank’s outbound calling efforts would be completely halted in favor of various synchronized digital communications aimed at driving customers to interact – by calling in, texting, emailing, going online or chatting or video chatting – and that they have to be prepared to manage that array of separate and parallel threads into a single productive dialogue with their customers. Individualized campaigns comprised of dynamic, interactive customer-facing enticements are already generating terrific results in automating credit line increase execution, and we expect that trend to expand into collections and recovery operations as well.

5. Banks who deployed short-term band-aids turn to more comprehensive, enduring solutions

The financial crisis was typified by creditors whose response to the crisis conditions and the uncertainty of the new regulators was to deploy short-term band-aid solutions involving large staff increases and system workarounds. Given the chance to take a breath, these banks are finding that there’s no time like now to replace piecemeal workarounds with more comprehensive, enduring systems and business transformations. Regulatory uncertainty and unknowns are largely becoming known and are no longer the deterrent to broader action that they were in years past. We expect to see a continuation, and in fact acceleration, of the trend toward banks gaining substantial efficiencies through automation of document management, workflow and business process management to replace time-consuming, paper and manual intensive business processes with simpler, web-based tasks.

What are you expecting in 2014? Click this link to add your thoughts on our blog.

CMC would love to help you be prepared for challenges in collections, recovery, regulatory compliance, agency and third party vendor management, marketing, and customer service. Automating customer-facing business processes with our comprehensive and unified solutions can be your key to getting out in front of the coming wave of new regulatory requirements, rising delinquency volumes, and “efficiency challenges” from top management.

To learn more, contact us at or call us at +1-302-830-9262.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Compliance "Provability" Achieves a Whole New Level

I was given pause recently when hearing a client tell me that they were ‘throwing bodies at the problem’ of putting the bank into position to be able to withstand upcoming audits. “What are all those people going to be doing?” I asked, naively. Turns out that even when the bank has expensive, high-tech systems in place to manage collections inventory, decisioning, letters, auto-dialing, email, text messaging, and IVR messaging…. they still need to manually reconstruct a view of each customer’s experience with the bank. These hoards of staff he mentioned were taking data from all the disparate systems and sources – they HAVE all the data, he assured me – and creating a normalized data set that then could be combed to find all instances of a particular customer’s experience and “paste them together” in a manner that was responsive to their audit examiner’s request. 

Proving a negative (“show me, by walking us through the experience of at least 100 customers, that your systems and people are consistently executing the policies and practices that you assured us are in place for your bank, 100% of the time”), it turns out, is much harder for the bank than it is for the examiner to find the one exception to the rule. The examiner therefore holds the high ground, until we can IN ONE PLACE, under the control of one system, easily step them through the entire experience of as many customers as they want to see, any time. And if we can also show them the strategy-writing and maintenance process we are following at the same time, in the same system… we win. CMC’s CredAgility offers just such a system, and with it the granularity needed to “provably” report on all activities at the individual account or customer level.

Prospects are always asking us to quantify the value of CMC’s comprehensive customer experience management automation platform. Viewed solely through the lens of staff avoidance, the savings can be very substantial during the peak staffing demands typically associated with an audit, and significant (if lower than at audit times) by making ongoing customer-facing business processes more efficient. There is also the effectiveness gain that occurs when a unified strategy is executed and customers’ experience improves, resulting in more resolutions: higher collections, higher issue resolution rates with less re-work needed, increased pull-through on complex processes like loan modifications. But the greatest value comes in the form of eliminating the dread fear of what an examiner might find and how much the ensuing enforcement action might cost the bank…