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The difference between credit collection and credit management

by Giacomo De Felice
credit management

The need

Many clients initially use our services just to collect cash. This fundamental activity is often not fully understood to be “core”, in the context of their technical and commercial know-how and focus. Almost always, Sagres is identified and chosen because of our greatly different approach to this crucial service. In particular, we always try to customise our services, tailoring them to the characteristics and special needs of each business. We develop an ad hoc project for each client by “taking the measurements before cutting the cloth”. Sagres professionals are the tailors of “credit management”, not “just” cash collectors. As such, the first step is always to analyse the types and characteristics of the services/products sold, profiling the end customer and the past-due amounts accumulated over time. We need to put ourselves in the position of our clients, and are happy to do so, whether they are utilities delivering power/electricity/gas, wineries, manufacturers, installers or maintenance providers. This is because each business has specific features, organisational flows and end customers with their own special characteristics. As a consequence, we seek to bring together two forces that often seem to be in conflict: Finance and Sales. Our mission since the very beginning, has been to minimise the dissatisfaction of debtor customers while achieving the financial objectives of the business. This means finding the perfect mix among the relevant balance sheet indicators: from the Bad Debts Allowance to Net Working Capital

The solution

Starting from the precept that, as an objective, the end-customer risks faced by our clients must be mirrored by those accepted by Sagres, the key move is to listen very carefully to the debtors that do not pay, understanding their reasons and seeking to break deadlocks that could lead to long and costly legal disputes. This approach, the work flows designed and the resulting operational phases result, in 76% of our cases, in saving the relationship between our clients and their customers, creating increased mutual satisfaction after an initial period of tension. Sagres initially works with clients to achieve the agreed credit collection objectives, but the real added-value perceived comes from the close teamwork between our people and theirs. Accordingly, in order to establish pro-active credit management right from the time of invoicing, we always dedicate much care and attention to “customer education” in the area of payments. Supported by telephone calls and other messages, they feel supported by someone ready to listen and help with the resolution of their payment difficulties. Efforts range from the re-issue of mislaid invoices to the management of repayment plans. Legal collectors also play an important role in this solution, primarily by adopting a pragmatic approach to collections that privileges effective dialogue and the resolution of technical and/or administrative issues, while retaining legal action against the debtor as a last resort. Supported by our vocation to serve business partners, the Sagres solution results, in 63% of cases, in full integration of the two organisations: our operators collaborate in every respect with their front office “colleagues”, as if working for the same firm, in order to ensure the successful outcome of the credit management project, firstly from an organisational standpoint and then financially and economically. It is crystal clear that sharing the same business objectives and related risks rests at the heart of the client relationship, leading very often to virtuous, two-way OTJ training between Sagres operators, specialised in listening to debtors and the commercial and/or technical personnel of our clients. This symbiosis results in improved operations and increased customer satisfaction, as confirmed by achievement of the collection objectives to which the Sagres performance bonuses are tied by contract.

The results

In Italy, this represents a total reversal of the trend compared to ordinary credit collection services. In 2020, the collection performance of Sagres frequently came close to equalling the value of annual sales, thus even managing to recover problem amounts that became past due in prior years. Even more surprising is the drastic reduction in legal expenses, with less frequent recourse to court action that, in some cases, has been limited to less than 5% of the total outstanding debtor balance. This approach, based on the co-creation of solutions over the years and the continuous achievement of results, has of course strengthened relationships and increased the range of services provided. Sagres is a privileged strategic partner for most of our clients, which have relied on us continually over the past 10 years, renewing their trust or assigning us new projects related to managing or consolidating the loyalty of their customer base.

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