The brand new coeo podcast: Will AI take over collections completely?

Welcome to the launch of coeo’s first-ever podcast. As a business that sees the benefit of sharing its knowledge and findings with our industry, we felt that it was appropriate to add another great channel to our communications output, the Podcast!


At top level we enjoy a collective 150 years of traditional industry experience which we couple with an ever-evolving culture of embracing new technologies and processes. At our recent event ‘Collections in the Digital Age’ we covered a huge range of subjects discussing everything from industry trends, what tools customers and clients were using and preferring to how technology is impacting the collections.

One of our features of the day was the open panel discussion we had with a first-class line-up of experts, we labelled ‘The Big Questions’ in the collections industry and as such we felt this was the best place to start our podcast by bringing you those questions and the panels direct responses.

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Before we get into it, the panel consisted of:

  • Gary Grey (GG) Head of Collections at Spark Energy
  • Caroline Burston (CB) Operations Director at coeo
  • Tony Gunderson (TG) 30 years + experience in financial services
  • Lisa Beeching (LB) Head of Supplier Management and Quality Assurance at 1st Central

And the day’s host…

  • James Squires (JS) Business Development Director at coeo

Today’s podcast discussed the first question tackled on the afternoon ‘Will AI take over collections completely?’

JS: “Let’s start with the introductions…”

GG: “My name’s Gary Grey I work for Spark Energy previously at First Utility also at EON and British Gas. I’ve also worked within the financial services industry for around about 5 years, always in collections primarily around strategy, insight and change. So that’s me.”

CB: “I’m Caroline Burston, I’m the Operations Director at coeo. So I look after the collections, the back office and the finance teams and i also dabble in managing our sister company AJJB Law.”

TG: “Hi, good afternoon, Tony Gunderson. I’ve worked in financial services for about 30 years now from the prime sector through to the high cost short-term sector and everything in-between. So that’s me”

LB: “I’m Lisa Beeching I’ve worked in financial services for about 20 years, specialising in the insurance industry as part of that bringing finance in-house for our company and then using outsource and white-label as part of that journey.”

JS: “Thank you for that guys. So, the format we’re going to take for this session is: we’ve prepared a number of pre-agreed questions, as we’re calling them ‘The Big Questions’ for the collections industry. But just to keep these guys on their toes, what I hope that we could do is still continue to use Slido (Q&A audience interaction platform) and what I’ll do is I’ll keep a track of the time and I’ll promise you at least 10 minutes at the end where you can ask difficult questions directly to the panel. So hopefully we’ll get some great ones from you like we did with Tom this morning. So, the first question it’s a real difficult one and I’m going to pick Tony if you don’t mind answering this one it’s a technology question and it’s a question that was posed around the office the other day.”

JS: “Will AI take over collections completely?”

TG: “Whether it will take over completely? it certainly presents a number of different opportunities. Firstly, I suppose if you’re in a business that’s looking to grow then you’ve got the opportunity to grow far more quickly without the costly headcount. It can certainly improve efficiency, so if you’ve got that combination of less headcount more efficiency, opportunity to grow revenue without all the costs attached then there’s got to be benefits there. But I suppose if you break it down into two things probably and that is your AI capable of being rational in terms of its understanding and approach to things but also can it have that human side? So the humanity that’s required when people are looking for guidance help or just information. I suppose in summary it’s at this stage more of an opportunity than being able to definitely say it’s going to take over I think it’s unlikely to totally take over but it’s certainly going to have a big say in what happens going forward.”

JS: “Thank you Tony, Gary you look like you wanted to add to that?” 

GG: “One of the things I notice every time I visit coeo is that I know that their client base is increasing but every time I go up there, they’ve still got the same number of staff working on the phones. So, you think to yourself you guys have really harnessed the ability to use AI. I suppose the only question mark I would have is, the whole vulnerability element you know and being able to understand vulnerability. Part of our collections process means that we go out to customers property and field reps will eyeball a property to understand if there’s any signs of vulnerability. When I think of that sort of example, I think to myself well how could you get something that was automated effectively to replicate the same thing. I think there are pockets of areas of difficulty.”

JS: “Caroline?”

CB: “I agree with Gary. There will always be the element of the human touch required especially around vulnerable customers and financial hardships and to establish whether its long-term or short-term. Whether in our case the account is to return to the client or if it’s just a short term and needs breathing space. There’s still a human touch that will always be required.”

JS: “I think that’s been a consistent theme across today actually hasn’t it. that absolutely no it probably won’t, it can aid and speed things up but it won’t replace the human altogether.”

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