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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Collecting Bad Debt in Latin America

Circumstances Affecting Collections Beyond Creditor’s Control

Collecting bad debt in Latin America often represents a challenge for foreign businesses.

There are several reasons to mention why businesses stop paying, which may be considered universal: bad economic circumstances, a company having liquidity issues, bad luck in business, mismanagement, and even bad intentions can be reasons causing bad debt anywhere one goes and does business.

However, there are a couple of circumstances which, maybe not exclusive to Latin America, do periodically characterize Latin American societies and economies, and therefore, affect businesses and ultimately also the collection of bad debt.

We will briefly discuss four of such circumstances.

Political Instability Causing Economic & Monetary Issues

Although this may vary substantially from country to country, and even within countries from region to region, political instability has been a common phenomenon in Latin America. Political instability may be visible through weakness of institutions, corruption, and policies imposed by the State contrary to the interests of the population, resulting in amongst others a lack of diversity in economy, underdevelopment in rural regions and impoverished urban areas, insufficient infrastructure, currency exchange controls and import / export tariffs in an attempt to protect the own economy. Political instability generally tempers economic growth and development and foreign investment. All these elements ultimately negatively affect the position of businesses, whether these are big corporations or small enterprises. Payment behavior may deteriorate and collecting bad debt may become more difficult. Countries like Argentina, Brazil, Venezuela, Mexico, Colombia, Ecuador, amongst others, have all been faced with some of these or similar issues.

Malfunctioning Judicial Systems Limiting Recovery of Bad Debt

Apart from a few exceptions, the legal systems in Latin America can in general be considered little accessible to foreign creditors.

From a foreign creditor’s point of view, judicial systems in Latin America can be perceived as complex, inefficient, closed minded, and incompatible. Often, there are no treaties in place between countries. This means that cross boarder issues are subject to local law in Latin America and the debtor’s jurisdiction applies if a foreign creditor wants to enforce payment of bad debt legally. In practice however, foreign claims are tough to enforce reducing the likelihood for collection and leaving the creditor with high, often unrecoverable legal expenses.

Infrastructure Missing Key Elements for Doing Business Globally

In several regions of Latin America, businesses are faced with a lack of infrastructure. This may include proper roads or airports, but also limited banking services and payment options, undeveloped educational institutions and professional support services, weak or absent authorities and limited or no access to the internet. Such business may be perceived as remote and difficult to reach for foreign creditors. Collecting bad debt can become a real challenge if debtors in more remote areas do not cooperate.

(Semi-)Informal Character of Business Preventing Sustainable Growth

The nature of doing business in Latin America can be very informal. This may allow a business to function locally but can cause issues when business is done internationally. For foreign creditors, the shadow side of the level of informality of businesses in Latin America can include: questionable financial management on the side of the debtor, limited options for local businesses to pay internationally, limited or no access for debtors to credit, and the fact that many business with a high level of informality are run based on a day to day strategy, without a long term vision. Because of this, the debtor lacks sustainable growth, which ultimately affect the creditor’s likelihood to collect bad debt.

In this post I mentioned four circumstances that may negatively affect collection of bad debts and which are typical for doing business in Latin America: economic downfall caused by political instability, malfunctioning of the judicial system, a lack of infrastructure, and the often (semi-)informal character of businesses in Latin America.

David Zannoni

 

If you are interested in learning more about typical circumstances that may negatively affect collecting bad debt in Latin America, 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.