Phil Siarri talks to Mirko Krauel, CEO of collectAI, a Hamburg-based company that provides collection services to help clients manage receivables, balance between collection rates, costs and customer retention. collectAI is part of Germany’s ecommerce retailer Otto Group.
Can you tell us a little about your professional background?
Having worked in the area of innovation and financial services for more than a decade, I developed a passion and lots of experience in the field of fintech and digitisation, from both a startup and corporate perspective. Prior to joining collectAI, I was a principal at EY Innovalue, consulting larger banks and payment providers in regards to their digitisation strategy and execution. Before that, I advised clients in their realignment after the financial crisis at PwC.
I started off my career as a “traditional” banker, so I do claim to bring in a great deal of knowledge as to why innovation in financial services is necessary, and how to tackle it. What motivates me are colleagues with a high level of individual responsibility and passion for what collectAI does. I personally have always lived up to working hard and never giving up.
What is collectAI, and what’s the company’s mission?
The idea of collectAI is to digitise receivable management. The AI-driven technology comes into place very early in the process, right after the purchase of a product or service. It focuses on the idea to centre the process around the needs of the customers, observing and continuously optimising messages, timing and tone of voice. Our services are a win-win-situation for companies (our clients) and end consumers (their customers).
What drives us is the philosophy that a customer worth serving is a customer worth keeping. Unfortunately due to sometimes outdated or manual processes, we think customers aren’t served well enough during the invoicing, dunning and debt collection processes. And even worse, usually not even an e-invoice is in place. Focusing on the customer relationship, therefore the ultimate goal to increase customer retention, collectAI’s technology is changing this situation. On a modular basis, we cover the e-invoicing, dunning and debt collection processes on behalf of our clients.
As a result, we have experienced a reduction of debt collection cases at up to 30%. This also has the positive effect that the number of returning customers increases.
Debt collection is an industry that often gets a bad rep. How does collectAI address such?
True — you could say the same about AI. Our overall goal is also to eliminate, where we find it, the bad reputation of debt collections. This also helps the whole industry. We claim that calling someone a ‘debtor’ is wrong. From our point of view, you should consider everyone as a good customer. If one doesn’t reply to your payment reminders, you may not have used the right messaging channel, tone of voice and timing.
Most of our clients have very traditional processes in terms of e-invoicing and dunning that are not only highly manual, but also unable to adapt to customers’ needs. Automated dispute resolution, as aforementioned, lowers the debt collection cases and aims to revolutionise a still very stiff collection process, putting the customer in the centre of the service.
Being part of a large ecommerce group, have you been able to explore certain synergies with other entities?
It’s great being a subsidiary of the Otto Group. We found our first clients within the Otto Group and this boosted the start for us. Nevertheless, we are a market-oriented company. The majority of our clients are unrelated to Otto.
What’s next for collectAI?
Growth! As with every startup company, our aim is to multiply our revenues and customer base. At the same time, we focus on fostering a great company culture. With a fantastic team of over 35 ambitious colleagues, very international, highly talented, we hope to continue that path of combining growing success with a lot of fun at work!