Transformation: why is it important to international debt collection?

4 min.

This article is dedicated to transformation. This is a subject that currently applies to every field of study. In the credit management sector, but also in the legal profession.

Law and the legal profession are constantly changing. It is therefore not surprising that lawyers must attend courses and obtain training points every year. After all, lawyers really need to know what they’re advising or litigating about.

From generalist to specialist

Lawyers used to do everything and therefore coined the name generalists. However, the village lawyer who practices family law, criminal law and administrative law, but also deals with commercial disputes, is almost non-existent nowadays. The areas of law and cases have become too extensive. Lawyers therefore need to specialise. At Bierens Lawyers, this is done by focusing on commercial disputes. And that specialisation is also necessary. After all, it is not only the law that changes, situations also change.

Conducting business internationally

Where previously there was local trade and later national trade, more and more companies conduct business across the border. This, too, requires specialist knowledge. Different languages, different cultures and also different legal systems. Each country has its own legislation with its own laws and regulations. As a lawyer, you can't hold on to what it used to be like or rely on what you know about certain areas of law or your own country. You have to keep up.

Cooperation between departments

Good cooperation is important here. Both the Dutch and Belgian editions of the Credit Summer Event emphasized the importance of cooperation between different departments. Transformation is only possible through good cooperation between different departments. This also applies to our office.

We assist companies with their collections and commercial disputes throughout Europe. Because it is virtually impossible to have sufficient knowledge of all European cultures, languages and legal systems, all our international lawyers work together. For example, we have set up a French, German and Belgian desk. In these teams, attorneys at law work together, sometimes even with two Dutch attorneys, depending on the law of the country in question.

Working like this, lawyers have a fixed point of contact and can specialise in each other's areas of law. For example, by presenting on how things are going in their own country. At the French desk, for example, we meet every two weeks. In addition, we provide updates to each other about once a month. For example, which proceedings can be conducted in France and which ones in the Netherlands, and interest and collection costs in the respective countries.

Communicating in your own language

Besides the fact that this cooperation works fine internally, it also works for our customers. This means that we can almost always help our customers in their own language. Should a Dutch customer have a dispute in France, communication can take place in Dutch.

Although the world is becoming increasingly international and English is the official language, or secondary language, in most countries, it is still better to express yourself in your own language. Certainly, when it comes to the use of legal language, which is sometimes difficult to follow even in your own language.

Lost in translation

When it comes to language, misunderstandings are always lurking. This was certainly the case when a client was outraged when they thought my French colleague understood the other party's point of view and took their side. This was not the case and certainly wasn’t the content of the e-mail we had sent. It merely stated that an “amicable settlement” had been sought. But the customer had read it as if my colleague thought the other party was an amicable man.

During another case, an Indian customer was very satisfied with the calls we had in English, but the German intermediary did not feel well informed at all. Afterwards, it turned out that his English was insufficient. Even today, there is still some embarrassment, albeit unjustified, on people’s English ability.

Contracts: which language?

Recently, I had to assess an agreement between two Dutch parties. The agreement was drawn up in English, which was odd and unclear. Of course, when conducting international business, it is good to have an English version of your contract available to avoid misunderstandings and confusion. But in this case a Dutch contract would have been better recommended.

The purpose of a contract is to prevent discussions and conflicts by making and recording clear agreements before they happen. And that is still best done in your own language. Should your contracts be in English or in Dutch? We always advise you to write contracts in your own language if both parties speak the same language. This ensures the content is clear to everyone.

Although a Dutch lawyer specialises in Dutch law, when translating it into English a term can be translated in a slightly different way, but this can have major consequences. And since it is not the daily job of a Dutch judge to interpret an English contract, the risks of such a contract are more difficult to assess and therefore greater.

Letters of formal notice in your own language

The use of your own language is also recommended when sending reminders. Can you send a standard reminder to all foreign debtors? No, you should definitely not do this. You’ll have more success if you send a reminder in the language of your debtor. So, if you have a debtor in France, send a French letter. Our experience shows that debtors are then much more inclined to pay. And that's what it's all about in the end.

This also applies to calling debtors. It is so much better if your debtor fully understands you and understands what you are saying. And this is best done when you speak the same language. But how do you do that? It is unrealistic to expect your accounts receivable manager or financial staff to suddenly speak multiple, different languages. When it comes to international debt recovery, it would be better if the account manager called the debtor. Of course, extra contact with your customer is never wrong but when it comes to chasing invoices, you want to get it right first time.

Again, if you want to transform, cooperation is important. Regardless of the field in which you work.

More information

Would you like more information about contracting and collecting debt abroad? Please feel free to contact me. I will be happy to help you.