Interview: The Tug-and-Pull between Technology and Talent

Though his company is about to launch a blockchain-based business credit-worthiness reporting system, the human touch will always be essential, says WNRS’ Nicolas Recalde.

Many industries have yet to warm up to blockchain. But that’s not the case at WNRS, which is using it to revolutionize how they manage the way credit is issued and reported.

That’s just one side of how the company is leveraging technology. In this interview, WNRS Accounts Director Nicolas Recalde shares more details about using blockchain, as well as how they’re using artificial intelligence to help smooth processes, what the new generations of financial executives are bringing to the table, and how they are keeping all their data secure, among others.

Miami-based WNRS is a leading global provider of customized debt collection and accounts receivable management services, with presences in Brazil, Ecuador, Mexico, Panama, and Spain.

AS/COA: How are you innovating at WNRS?

Recalde: As a background, what we do at WNRS is accounts receivable for multinationals and government: early stage collection, late stage collection, and legal debt collections.

In terms of innovation, we’ve seen more and more that our clients want as much information at their fingertips as possible. So, we’ve developed tools to allow them to have access to their cases and have access to the information that they’re searching online. They can see in real-time the progress of their collection cases 24/7.

From the debtor side, we’ve made a similar tool where they can check their accounts, make payments, initiate disputes or anything they need, all online through the platform. More and more people now prefer to do that than actually speak to a human being. That’s what we’ve seen with regards to how we conduct our specific approach.

In the first quarter of 2020, we’re launching a new product called Crediblocks, which ties into innovation and blockchain.

We’re also experimenting with artificial intelligence. Google has some great APIs that our team works with. What this AI does is help with some of the initial work that our collectors would normally do, for example the initial phone calls where you share what kind of debts are open, where they can get that information, basic emails, etc. All of that right now is done through AI, so we now have agent-less calls that sound like real humans who are informing debtors, at least on the first call, of what is outstanding. It’s used for the first few calls and then a human gets involved. We are still experimenting with it. Some people prefer to chat online so we also have chatbots that can answer questions based on different categories.

With regards to data transfer, for example, when we receive data from our clients, obviously that all has to be PCI compliant and is all encrypted.

AS/COA: What new technologies are you planning to use?

Recalde: About a year and a half ago we hired an expert in blockchain using the Ethereum framework. What we want to do is revolutionize the whole way credit is issued and credit is reported with respect to businesses. If you’re a company and you want to issue credit to another company—you have to issue credit to stay competitive—when you issue credit, how can you be sure that the company you’re issuing credit to is creditworthy? Especially if they’re small or medium companies, you don’t necessarily have that information.

So what we’re doing with our new product Crediblock is incentivizing companies to share the information of what companies they’ve issued credit to and what they’re repayment patterns are like. This information is all mapped through the blockchain technology, and it’s not centralized. The more you share on the platform, the more they get tokens and they can use those tokens to buy reports for whenever they need to check the credit of another company. Basically, it’s a global business credit-worthiness reporting platform built on the Ethereum platform with features such as smart contracts. Eventually, we see it as a platform where the debtors can also go in and make payments on their open credit or check their credit worthiness all in an open way, rather than a centralized, monopolized way.

AS/COA: What are you doing in terms of cybersecurity?

Recalde: All the data that our clients send us is encrypted; there is no human involved. From server to server it goes through VPN tunnels and our firewalls are configured from our end and our clients’ end. So, just from the transferring of data, cybersecurity is essential.

Our IT team and CTO are working around the clock in terms of defense. All our firewalls are always up to date.

In terms of data centers, some are ours and others are cloud-based. With the cloud-based data centers things are a little easier. For example, when we have data on the Amazon Web Services, we use a relational database service. For some of our other services, we use Microsoft Azure. In general, with cloud-based architecture it’s a lot easier because they take care of a lot of things.

Something that I think is often overlooked is that not only should your IT team and CTO be well trained, but also your daily employees, the operational staff, people who may not be so tech-savvy. Make sure they know what to look out for, for example with a phishing email, look at the domains, the attachment, the language of the email, if it’s written in a way that seems different to normal. There are some phishing emails now that tap into your system, look at the type of language that you mostly deal with, they find the keywords you use most frequently and then try to mimic that language to incentivize you to open the attachment or malware. So, make sure to train people to look out for these things, because you can have the best IT team in the world, but all it takes is one email and one attachment to breach the access to your systems.

AS/COA: How will the financial executive role change in the future?

Recalde: CFOs will have to rely much more on their team and their system. Sometimes the system and the data they’re relying on is not 100 percent accurate, that’s a big challenge. So, the traditional role of the CFO of being the guardian of the company’s assets and making sure the auditing and reporting is done on time, that role still exists, but nowadays the CFO is more on the offense. I’d describe today’s CFO almost as a second CEO in the sense that they’re trying to put together everything they’re seeing, from the numbers side to the profits, to see how they can be more effective and help in the company’s strategy. Whether it’s scouting for talent or implementing new technology to help with some of the processes, I think that’s where the role of the CFO is going.

Another thing that’s already been happening for years is outsourcing. CFOs are always seeing how they can drive costs down, so they want to outsource certain non-core, repetitive functions where it may cost less. The problem comes into play when the cost is the cheapest but it may not be the best talent. So that’s one tug-and-pull I’ve seen happening, especially in our industry when you’re dealing with complex commercial debt disputes, mediations, someone may not have the skill to resolve the case. They might not have the legal or political background and experience, so that’s a detriment I see with certain business centers that are set up with our multinational clients. From an efficiency and cost standpoint it’s fine, but from a talent standpoint sometimes there are issues.

AS/COA: What are the main differences you are seeing in the new generation of financial executives?

Recalde: The new generations, we’re talking about how kids in their first years of school are learning to code and how to use Python, so imagine what’s going to happen in 20 years. So, what I’ve seen coming in in terms of college graduates is that they’re a lot more tech savvy. We look for certain skills in programming because they might be able to write a quick script that may resolve a huge operational process that was otherwise labor intensive. They have more technology skills that can help, especially when it comes to accounts receivable, reporting. There’s a lot a computer can do for you, but in the end, it requires a human to double check it. The computer won’t take over the humans’ jobs—it will just be another tool that they have.

This interview was conducted by Latin Trade for Council of the Americas.