Now, U.S. outsourcing debt collection to India

Friday, 25 April 2008, 13:09 Hrs   |    7 Comments
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New York: U.S. debt collection agencies are the newest to start outsourcing their work to India and are satisfied with the results produced by the polite but persistent Indian callers.

After insurance claims and credit card sales, debt collection is a growing business for outsourcing companies at a time of downturn in the US economy when consumers struggle to pay for their purchases, The New York Times reported Thursday.

Debt collectors in India may cost as little as one-quarter the price of their US counterparts and are often better at the job, debt collection company executives say.

"India will be the only place we grow this year," said J. Brandon Black, chief executive of the Encore Capital Group, a San Diego based debt collection company.

The company has half its collection force of more than 300 in India, including at a Gurgaon call centre.

Credit card, auto and other debt are prime candidates for collection overseas but mortgage loans, which involve complex state and national laws, are almost always handled by agents within the US.

Delinquent consumer debt up for collection in the US amounted to $141 billion in 2005, as estimated by PriceWaterhouseCoopers. Debt collection agencies collected $51 billion that year, keeping almost a quarter of that in profits.

By now only about five percent of US debt collection work is estimated to have been outsourced, but new business is round the corner, the Times said.

Genpact, the BPO offshoot of General Electric that has roots in India, works with lenders to get customers to pay, rather than buying loans directly like Encore.

It employs thousands of debt collectors in India and other countries such as Romania, Mexico and the Philippines, and is hiring more in these locations.

Contrary to the stereotype of a collector with chains and a cut-off shirt, collectors in India are "very polite, very respectful, and they don't raise their voice", Encore's Black was quoted as saying by the Times.

Telephone debt collection represents new, more aggressive territory for India, said Mark Hughes, an analyst with Sun Trust Robinson Humphrey who covers the industry.

"This is really a sales job," he told the newspaper. "It is commission-intensive, and you're paid on your ability to collect."

The new pool of phone professionals are trained for the job, get regular pep talks and are given commissions and bonuses on collections.

Encore's collectors at the Gurgaon call centre, for example, were updated recently about the intricacies of American tax policy and told that 130 million US families will get a tax rebate this season as part of the new economic stimulus package by the federal government, a good time to start bringing up the rebate during calls.

Credit counsellors in the US say more and more of their clients are being contacted by debt collectors based in India.

Debt collection, no matter who does it, can have a devastating impact on people's lives, Bill Druliner, a counsellor for GreenPath Debt Solutions in Milwaukee, told the Times but conceded that he had not run into any specific problems with overseas debt collectors.

"They may lack in authority or ability to handle slang, but they do handle the process very well and are very well spoken," he said.
Source: IANS
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