Debt Collection for Commercial Transactions in Latin America

To collect overdue payments owed in connection with a commercial transaction in Latin America, it is important to follow a step-by-step approach. Below are the stages of debt collection the foreign creditor should take into consideration.

Amicable debt collection for commercial transactions

The first step is to attempt to collect the debt amicably, generally on a contingency basis. This means that the foreign creditor will contract a debt collection agency. The creditor does not run any financial risk, as the agency will only charge commission in case of success. For the debtor, the involvement of a debt collector may imply to push needed towards a solution, which is full payment or a payment plan. Usually, a debt collection agency takes a couple of months to attempt to obtain an amicable solution for the overdue payment on the commercial transaction.

Mediation in case of disputes

Latin America commercial mediationIf amicable collections do not achieve payment or otherwise lead to a settlement, a pre-legal option could be mediation. If there is contact with the debtor but debtor does not pay the overdue amount, either because there is a dispute with respect to the quality of products or services delivered by the creditor in connection with the commercial transaction, there might be an interest on both sides to mediate and look for an alternative settlement. This may especially be the case if both parties have a continuous commercial relationship which they desire to maintain.

Claim assessment for the foreign creditor

In case amicable debt collection and if applicable, mediation do not result in payment, a payment plan or otherwise a settlement agreement between creditor and debtor, it is important to assess the claim for potential legal steps. At this stage, the presence and quality of a contract, order forms, confirmations, correspondence between the parties, and invoices regarding the commercial transaction is vital to determine legal potential.

Credit registration in Latin America

As a step in between pre-legal and legal, and to put pressure on the debtor, in some countries in Latin America it is possible to formally register the foreign debt at a public, semi-public or private watch dog. This can be a trigger for the debtor to pay or to come (or return) to the negotiation table.

Legal proceedings to enforce payment

Latin America commercial transaction legalShould credit registration not work either, or not be a possibility, and should the claim be solid enough to enforce payment of the overdue amount legally, then the final alternative to collect a debt on behalf of a foreign creditor is to start legal proceedings against the debtor. Legal proceedings should be started in the country of residence of the debtor. In addition to an assessment whether the claim is solid, creditor must also look if it is worth proceeding from a cost-perspective.

The stages a foreign creditor should follow to collect an overdue payment on a commercial transaction in Latin America are: amicable debt collection, mediation, claim assessment, credit registration, and legal proceedings.

David Zannoni

If you are a foreign creditor and interested in learning more on debt collection in Latin America for commercial transactions, please reach out to Cobroamericas, on Linked-In or follow us on Twitter.

To participate in conversations about debt collection in Latin America please join the Linked-In Group Debt Collection Latin America.

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International Debt Recovery: Mediation

When negotiations about an international debt have not lead to an agreement, the parties may end up in a situation where either the international debt remains unsettled (and practically, the debt will become a write off for the claimant), or the claimant will have to start legal proceedings and go to court over the claim.

Debt unsettled or legal proceedings? Think twice

mediation and debt recoveryThese alternatives are rather unattractive: the creditor will not like to remain with an unpaid or unsettled debt, and eventually, a write off, and the debtor might not like this situation either as it stands in the way of recovering the commercial relationship with creditor and it may harm debtor’s reputation in the business. And none of the parties will look forward to legal proceedings given the costs and time involved.

Mediation as alternative in international debt recovery

A serious alternative is mediation: provided that both parties agree, creditor and debtor appoint an independent mediator who will assess the situation regarding the international debt and work towards a mutually acceptable settlement agreement. Recommendable is to appoint a mediator with broad experience in and knowledge of international debt recovery.

The mediation process: sessions with creditor and debtor

mediation debt recoveryDuring the mediation process, the mediator will have joint sessions with creditor and debtor, and / or separate sessions with each of them, to understand the situation regarding the international debt or the dispute from each side’s point of view, and to learn about what each of the parties propose as solutions for the situation or the dispute. The sessions can with today’s technology, and depending on the size of the international debt, be organized in person or by teleconference.

Working towards a settlement for the international debt

mediation debt collectionThe next stage is what is defined in mediation literature as “caucuses”: the mediator will start separate sessions and discussions with each of creditor and debtor to learn about their core interest, which elements of a settlement would be acceptable, and which are “no-go’s” or “deal breakers” for either creditor or debtor towards settlement of the international debt. The mediator will subsequently go back and forth between creditor and debtor with ideas, suggestions and proposals with the aim of finding a mutually acceptable settlement agreement. The mediator’s leverage here is that, although a settlement agreement will never 100% satisfy any of the parties, the alternatives – an unsettled international debt and loss of the commercial relationship and harm to a business reputation, or expensive and time consuming legal proceedings, are even less tempting.

Consider mediation if all amicable options run out

Have you considered mediation as an alternative during international debt recovery, when your debtor is not paying, or if there is a dispute between debtor and creditor? If all negotiations between creditor and debtor fail, mediation might be the only serious or costs efficient alternative to an unsettled international debt (and at some point, a certain write off for the creditor) or legal proceedings.

If you are interested in learning more about mediation solutions for international debt recovery, please connect with Cobroamericas on Linked-In or follow us on Twitter.

To participate in the conversation about debt collection in Latin America please join the Linked-In Group Debt Collection Latin America.

Leverage In International Debt Collection

Leverage can be vital to achieve success in international debt collection. The existence of leverage is often a vital ingredient to negotiate payment or settlement of outstanding debts and mediation in international claims.

Leverage can be defined as “influence or power used to achieve a desired result”. What kind of leverage may a creditor, its legal representatives or a debt collection agency have when collecting an international, commercial debt?

Existence of a commercial relationship

international debt collection leverageIf the international debt is between two businesses, both the creditor and the debtor may have an interest in maintaining the commercial relationship and solve any financial issues between them. This means that the debtor may be willing to pay and the creditor may be in a position to agree to a settlement of the debt, if necessary. We consider the existence of a commercial relationship and the importance of maintaining the commercial relationship as probably the most important leverage the side of the creditor may have during an international debt collection process.

Legal alternatives for payment of international debt

international debt collection legal actionAnother important leverage the creditor may have is the alternative to start legal proceedings against debtor and to legally enforce payment of an outstanding debt. In reality though, often this alternative may be relative as legal alternatives for international debts are either limited, and / or time-consuming, and / or expensive. On the other hand, the fact that legal proceedings are time consuming and expensive also goes for the debtor, and this in itself may be sufficient leverage to push debtor to pay or except settlement.

Personal relationships between creditor and debtor

international debt collection relationshipsNot unusually, creditor and debtor have been in business together a while and personal relationships have been established across departments and management. This may be another type of leverage the creditor may turn on when collecting a debt internationally. Depending on the size of businesses, there may be several people involved in the business relationship between creditor and debtor, and people may feel committed and may be willing to continue their personal relationships and avoid any personal issues as a result of the outstanding international debt. This leverage can also be used when attempting to collect an international debt, by involving in the negotiation people with a personal interest in the business relationship and personal relationships between them.

Importance of the industry reputation of debtor

international debt collection reputationThe importance of debtor’s industry reputation may also mean leverage for the creditor, when collecting an international debt. Debtor may feel that the existence of the international debt, and disruption of the commercial relationship because of the debt, if it becomes known within debtor’s industry, would damage debtor’s reputation. Some industries have warning lists for bad payers. The creditor, its legal representatives or its debt collection agency should definitely use this leverage, if present.

Leverage in international debt collection

In this post we discussed the important of leverage during negotiations over an international debt. We mentioned the following types of leverage: the existence of a commercial relationship, legal alternatives to enforce payment, personal relationships between creditor and debtor, and the importance of the industry reputation of debtor.

If you are interested in learning more on the subject of leverage in international debt collection, please connect with Cobroamericas on Linked-In or follow us on Twitter.

To participate in the conversation about debt collection in Latin America please join the Linked-In Group Debt Collection Latin America.