Become a Bank Debt Collections Specialist
Collections specialists are the employees in the trenches. They are usually the ones on the phones most of the day, conversing with account holders, and seeking to recover unpaid debt. They must listen to the account holder and work with him or her in order to recover the funds.
Collections specialists need to possess and use a unique combination of services to the customer. Some customers become past due because they have an unresolved question or problem related to their account. They may have attempted to get the answer from customer service representatives but were unable to get through or get a satisfactory answer. Collectors may have to try to solve the customer's problem or answer his or her question in order to collect the past due funds. Collectors also have to be problem-solvers, in that he or she may need to look at an account holder's overall financial picture and come up with ways he or she can repay the debt without creating further financial dilemmas for the customer. The overall goal is ALWAYS to collect the debt. However, there may be some situations where collection specialists must be able to use specialized listening skills, good customer service, and problem-solving abilities to collect the past due funds.
As previously mentioned, collection specialists may need to be thick-skinned. Account holders often start out unhappy that they are even receiving a phone call asking for payment. They can also be frustrated with the bank for other reasons, and will take it out on the collector. Collection specialists must learn to diffuse the customer's anger in a way that is productive, and gently lead the conversation back into solving the ultimate problem: how to pay the bill.
Collection specialists may also write and send letters to clients, and advanced specialists may work on the hardest-to-collect accounts. In these cases, account holders may have relocated without notifying the bank, or be refusing to pay the bank for different reasons. Experienced, advanced collectors will be trained to work with these extra tough cases. After exhausting many attempts to collect, some banks will turn the accounts over to collection agencies or perform skip-traces, while others may proceed to tougher internal actions, like recommending repossession of a vehicle or foreclosure of a home. These more advanced collection specialists must know, understand, and follow federal guidelines for these actions.
Being a collection specialist may mean working odd hours and spending most of your time on the phone with customers. It can be an emotionally draining task, but also emotionally rewarding, when you work with a financially challenged customer and find a way to save his or her home. As mentioned before, many people do not choose collections as a career, but after working in the field discover that its unique challenges and opportunities make it a rewarding career choice. Also, collectors can receive commission on monies they recover, making this an economically attractive choice of career and providing them with an incentive to work with the customer.
This is also a career that will have plenty of room for growth and new opportunities in the future. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of bill and account collectors in general is projected to grow by about 19 by 2018, which is faster than average for all occupations. This is for all collectors, not specifically for those working at financial institutions. However, the Bureau also says that the two biggest industries that will be hiring these employees will be healthcare and financial services industries, which often have delinquent accounts.
Most banks require collection specialists to have a high school diploma or GED for entry level positions. Most collection specialists will receive on the job training in collection and customer service techniques, as well as computer and phone system training. Some banks also look for employees who have had previous collections experience, usually a minimum of one year. Some banks or financial institutions may prefer candidates who have taken some college course. Advanced collection positions may require a bachelor's degree, or several years of equivalent experience. Some employers may look for candidates that have a combination of previous experience in the banking industry along with an associate's degree in business.
Knowledge, Skills, and Abilities
The primary knowledge a collections specialist should have is in-depth knowledge of the bank's products and collection processes and policies. Collections specialists must have the knowledge to handle many different situations with a customer, whether it's resolving a dispute, stopping payment on a check, or answering a complex question. Collections specialists will also need to have extensive knowledge of government regulations associated with collections, repossession, and foreclosure.
Collectors need to be assertive enough to ask for payment, while maintaining a professional, courteous attitude. That can be difficult with some customers. Collection specialists are trained and learn through on the job experience, how to handle difficult customers and complete a not-so-pleasant interaction. Collectors need to be patient, have excellent listening skills, and the ability to withstand customer complaints and negative opinions.
Collection specialists also need to possess excellent communication and people skills, as well as organizational skills. They should have basic knowledge of automated telecommunication systems, and have good computer skills and the ability to work on all office equipment.
Collectors earn a salary, and most are also awarded commissions or bonuses based on the amount of debt they are able to collect over a designated time period, usually monthly. Talented collection specialists can earn a higher salary than those who struggle in this challenging career. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, collection specialists earn an average yearly salary of $30,000. This salary can vary widely, depending on the size of the banking institution and its location. Salary.com cites an average annual salary for collectors at $35,000 per year. Here's the latest salary information:
Potential Career Paths
Successful collectors have several career paths to choose from. Entry level collectors can be promoted to higher level positions or accounts. Collectors in the credit card department can earn promotions to vehicle loan collections or mortgage loan collections. Once in these departments, collection specialists can be promoted to more advanced positions and eventually become supervisors and managers.
Because collectors must also provide excellent customer service and work with customers on the phone, they can also choose to transfer into customer service departments, where they can also earn promotions and become supervisors and managers.
Eventually, these employees can become higher level managers or directors of several customer service or collections departments.