Abe Syed is part detective, part psychologist, part data analyst, and part customer service specialist.
As senior credit analyst at Alpharetta, Georgia-based Argos USA LLC, a supplier of cement and ready-mixed concrete, Syed oversees a Florida credit portfolio totaling nearly $40 million. Argos USA is part of Colombia-based conglomerate Grupo Argos, which posted U.S. revenue of $350 million in the first quarter of 2020.
In Syed’s world, it takes some psychological instincts to figure out why, for instance, a customer keeps making late payments on invoices.
“In some cases, they have a reason for it,” he said. “But in most cases, it’s just a behavior — they don’t care about a late payment.”
According to Syed, those psychology skills — supplemented by a high level of emotional intelligence — are coupled with investigation of a customer’s bill-paying habits and scrutiny of customer data. Such data, which can be hard to unearth, is useful for all credit managers; Levelset supplies loads of data that benefits credit managers in the effort to collect invoice payments.
“The hottest commodity in the tech world is data,” Syed said, “and data is worth billions and trillions of dollars.”
On top of the examination of payment habits and customer data, Syed and his colleagues must adhere to a customer service mindset. “It’s the service that matters,” he said.
Syed said his company’s use of Levelset software frees up time to focus more on the customer service aspect of credit management. Levelset’s software takes care of the time-consuming task of sending out notices about mechanics liens, he said. Syed views Levelset and mechanics lien laws as financial safeguards, helping Argos recover money in the event that a bill goes unpaid.
“This is more or less like when you get in the car and put on a seatbelt — that seatbelt is protecting you,” Syed said.
That type of protection is proving to be critical during the twin crises of the coronavirus pandemic and the economic downturn. As contractors continue to feel pressures from these crises, projects are regularly starting and stopping, according to the National Law Review.
A June 2020 survey by Associated General Contractors of America found only 32% of U.S. contractors had not been directed to halt or cancel current or upcoming projects. These interruptions, along with the disrupted economy, can increase the risk of nonpayment.
Syed estimated that 90% of the bills he handles get paid without any trouble. It’s the remaining 10% that benefit from this “seatbelt.” Many construction companies don’t put on that seatbelt, though. Results of a Levelset survey taken this spring indicated 36% of construction companies rarely or never protect their lien rights on a project.
Syed said the process of sending lien and pre-lien notices provides a “safety net” that “keeps everyone honest,” helping cement a strong relationship between his company and its customers. Even in states that don’t mandate lien notices, sending voluntary notices can get your invoices prioritized and help avoid nonpayment.
When it comes to getting paid, Syed said invoicing has changed a lot during his 25 years in credit management. “Back in the day,” he said, “we used to kill trees like there was no tomorrow. Invoices were mailed. Now, we email them.”
Lien notice procedures also have changed dramatically during his credit management career.
“Back in the day, believe it or not, these notices were typed and mailed by somebody in their office, and people used to hire one or two people in their office to just do that,” he recalled.
Twenty-five years ago, Syed employed a couple of assistants who spent their time typing up those notices, stuffing them in envelopes and carting them off to the post office.
Today, Levelset’s software takes care of that job, allowing Syed and his team to build relationships with customers and deliver better customer service. “That’s not really something that software can do,” he said. Ultimately, this technology allows more time to ensure Argos’ payment system runs as smoothly as possible.
A well-oiled payment machine can create harmony by reducing conflict with sales, management, operations and customers, according to Syed. “Sales is a courtship,” he said, “and credit is a marriage.”