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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Settlement Negotiations In Latin America

You may have been in a situation that, while doing business in Latin America, your Latin American client refuses to pay because of issues.

Provided that your client is a professional party with good intentions, there may be plenty of reasons not to go for hardline collections or legal measures, but rather take on the approach of settlement negotiations.

The following are in our experience the most common categories of issues that may be the reason Latin American companies default on payments with foreign business partners.

Your Client May Have Financial Issues

Latin America financial issuesYour counter party might have stopped or slowed down with payments because it encounters financial issues. This could be because of business specific situations, including bad commercial decisions, mismanagement, start-up difficulties and therefore struggles with cashflow, or just bad luck with its products or services.

Sometimes the issues are sector related, and a whole sector may suffer because of natural disasters (epidemies, earthquakes, draught or wildfires), technological development with products or servicing becoming less needed or completely out of use, or otherwise.

And finally, your business partner in Latin America may suffer financially because of a whole nation or region being in an economic crisis. This can be de result of national economic circumstances (Brazil), political decisions (Venezuela), or national disasters (earthquakes in Mexico and hurricanes affecting Caribbean nations).

Exchange Rate Issues In Latin America

It could be that your debtor in Latin America is facing exchange rate issues.

This can be the result of economic factors, or political decisions. In recent years we have seen Colombia, Mexico, Brazil, Argentina and Venezuela, all to a larger or lesser extent, been affected by exchange rate fluctuations, especially the exchange rates with the US Dollar and the Euro, two of the main trading currencies for Latin American companies that do business internationally.

For companies that import from abroad, or use global services, prices of international products may rise substantially in a short period. If the volume is considerable, and especially if their markets are local and they earn in local currencies, unable to compensate for the increase in import costs, companies in Latin America may face serious issues because of changing exchange rates.

For more info on exchange rate issues in Latin America check out our previous blog post.

Product Or Service Related Issues

Latin America product issuesYour debtors in Latin America may have genuine issues with your products or services provided. Now this can be the result of bad expectation management on the debtor’s side, or mistakes in commercial communication between both parties. It can also be that the local markets, unexpectedly, do not embrace your products and your counter part in Latin America, being the middle man, fails to sell the products. Or your counter part feels it is experiencing problems with the delivered products or provided services.

If any of these issues apply to your debtor in Latin America, it is very important to consider settlement negotiations as opposed to hardline collections or legal proceedings, and here are five arguments why.

 Avoiding Legal Proceedings In Latin America

 Settlement negotiations are aimed at finding an amicable solution. By doing so, you will avoid going legal. This is highly recommendable as legal measures in Latin America are in general expensive, slow and often impractical or even impossible. Please read for more info our previous blog post about legal proceedings in Latin America.

Settlement Negotiations Reduce Costs

Focusing on settlement negotiations mean that the parties will intent to find an amicable solution within a limited period of time. This will not only avoid legal fees and costs, but also costs you would incur during the whole amicable collection process.

Settlement Negotiations Reduce Time Spent

Collection procedures in Latin America can be very slow and time consuming. By focusing on settlement negotiations, you will reduce the time spent substantially and therefore, you will have more time to dedicate on other, perhaps more rewarding activities.

Concrete Solution For The Outstanding Debt

The outcome of settlement negotiations should be a concrete solution, which is to be signed off by both your debtor in Latin America, and yourself. Concrete solutions reduce or even eliminate future misunderstanding and room for interpretation and discussion.

Solution Driven Approach May Save Commercial Relationships

Latin America trade issue solutionGoing for the solution driven approach of settlement negotiations, as opposed to hardline collections and legal, substantially increases the chances of saving the commercial relationship with your business partner in Latin America. This means you will not only collect outstanding amounts, but you will also continue to do business and earn money on your Latin American business partner.

The reason that your Latin American client slows down or stops paying your invoices, may be because they face financial issues, exchange rate issues or issues related to delivered products and services.

If the relationship between your client and yourself is genuine, it is recommendable to take on the approach of settlement negotiations. Five arguments in favor of settlement negotiations as opposed to hardline collections are: avoiding legal, reductions of costs, reduction of time spent, focus on obtaining a concrete solution, and a solution driven approach may save commercial relationships.

If you are interested in learning more about settlement negotiations in Latin America for outstanding debts and commercial issues, 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.

International Debt Recovery: Negotiation

Negotiation is an essential component of international debt recovery. The international debt collector will often need to negotiate in order to collect (part of) a debt. Below we are discussing seven elements of negotiation during international debt recovery which we believe are essential for achieving a solution which is satisfactory to your client, the creditor.

Understand the circumstances of the international debt

international debt recovery financial issuesBefore you start negotiating, be sure you understand the circumstances of the debt. Why does debtor not pay? Is the creditor’s claim disputed or acknowledged? Does debtor have financial issues, short-term or long-term? Are financial issues business-related, sector-related or because of domestic economic, social, political or monetary problems (currently Brazil with an economy in regression, or several other Latin American countries like Colombia, Mexico and again Brazil who are dealing with heavy currency devaluations)? Can debtor not pay because they are subject to foreign currency controls (like Argentina or Venezuela)? Which alternatives do you possibly have if you do not accept to negotiate the international debt (insistence on full and immediate payment, legal proceedings to enforce payment, or a write off and end of commercial relationship)?

Set goals: what do you want to achieve with negotiation?

Once you understand the circumstances of the debt, define what your goals are during the debt recovery process. A payment plan or a settlement, or a combination? (partial) waiver of debt in exchange for return of goods? Which target amounts or percentages will you go for and what is the very minimum you will accept for settlement or instalments?

Be realistic about chances of debt recovery

When you set your goals for debt recovery and your negotiations with debtor, be realistic about what can be achieved. What may be realistic is defined by the circumstances of the debt, how much flexibility creditor shows, your negotiations skills and to what extent you can convince debtor but also creditor. Chances for success for negotiations in international debt recovery increase substantially if you are able to find the right balance between what the circumstances of the debt allow you to do, and how far creditor is prepared to go to recover (part of) the international debt.

Show empathy for the debtor

During negotiations with the aim to collect an international debt, it is important that you show empathy for the debtor. You have to understand debtor’s position and take concerns, issues, problems and proposals seriously, and give debtor the feeling that you are negotiating with debtor with the aim to find a mutually satisfactory solution for the international debt. You will have to do this without ever abandoning your position as representative of the creditor, and keeping in mind always what would be the best outcome for the creditor.

Be straight in your communication with creditor

international debt collection communication skillsEqually as important as showing empathy for the debtor, is being straight in your communication with creditor. Never forget: you represent the creditor and your ultimate goal should be to gain as possible as possible from your negotiations during international debt recovery. From your negotiations, case by case, you will learn what the best possible achievement will be during the international debt recovery process. You should constantly communicate with creditor; explain to creditor the steps you are taking. What according to you is possible to achieve under the circumstances, and why. And which goals you set when you negotiate with debtor about the international debt.

Be settlement-minded during negotiations

Having read the above, it goes almost without saying that you should be settlement-minded when you negotiate during the international debt recovery process. You may often take as a fact that you will never get a hundred percent of what you are claiming on behalf of creditor. At the same time, you should want to achieve as much as possible. Perhaps that “as much as possible” is a settlement amount of 80%. Sometimes it will be 50%, or 25%.  Or a payment plan of six months, twelve months, or five years. The definition of a satisfactory settlement during international debt recovery is, as already pointed out above, determined by the circumstances of the debt, and the flexibility of the creditor.

Close a clear agreement about the international debt

international debt recovery agreementOnce you have reached a settlement, or you agreed with creditor and debtor on a payment plan, put the agreement on paper and make sure what the terms and conditions are, what is expected from debtor, and what debtor may expect from the creditor and from you if the agreement is honored and also when the agreement is not honored. It is important to give and take. Meaning that if debtor complies with the settlement payment or payment plan, he or she receives an official release letter and perhaps the door is open again for business between creditor and debtor. On the other hand, if debtor does not honor the agreement, it may mean that the full debt is claimed again by creditor, legal proceedings against debtor are started (if possible at all) or the commercial relationship between creditor and debtor is fully terminated.

In this article we discussed seven elements of negotiation during international debt recovery which we believe are essential: understanding the circumstances of the international debt,

Setting your goals as to what do you want to achieve with negotiation, being realistic about chances of debt recovery, showing empathy for the debtor, being straight in your communication with creditor, being settlement-minded during negotiations, and closing a clear agreement about the international debt.

If you are interested in learning more about how to negotiate in order to recover an international debt, 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.