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I get asked a lot about data washes, normally people just want to know what a data wash actually does. One of the most common questions asked is “Does a data wash offer any real value?”
The short answer to this is “Yes”! A more complete answer is that there are many different types of data washes available. For the debt collection and investigation industries the most common data washes are used to append newer customer information and to clean customer name and address details.
For debt collection, it is common to wash new files sent from clients to ensure the addresses provided are correct and to append DPID’s (Delivery Point Identifier).
This process is called ‘Data Cleansing’. There are a number of companies offering data cleansing, but there are different levels of data cleansing with address cleansing being the most common.

Name cleansing and data append are other levels of data cleansing but are not offered by all providers. Name cleansing washes can correct spelling for customer names, even if
the middle name and first names are in the incorrect fields. Name cleansing can assist with fraud detection in the application process and also make sure details are correct prior to sending the application off for credit checks.

Data append washes will typically include both address and name cleansing and once
this has been completed a data append can start. A data append is where your old customer data will be washed against a database that contains newer details.

The data appended will normally include additional information such as:

• New mobile numbers
• New landline numbers
• Email addresses
• New address
• Relatives
• Scores
• Bankruptcy applications
• Companies

The above list details the most common items appended to data washes, however, some data providers may only provide new phone numbers or addresses. Scores that are appended are usually unique to the company that completes the wash for you. Scores can be used to prioritise your workflow.

For example, if you have a ‘probability to pay’ score available, you would then be in a position to work the files with a higher probability to pay first in order to help increase the collections revenue.

The ‘real value’ you will get from a data wash is knowing you have the correct information on a customer. As most in the collections and investigations sector will appreciate, if you start working a file with incorrect information you can very easily start searching for the wrong person this costs time and money and also increases the risks of breaching privacy and other compliance obligations.

The cost of a data washes varies some companies will charge you for address cleansing while others may provide this for free as part of a data append wash.

What is the process?

Once you have chosen the data provider to wash your files, you will generally need to provide them with an Excel spreadsheet of all your files. Your spreadsheet should be formatted to include column headers like: name; address; date of birth; and any other information you may have on file that can help identify an individual. Each row in your spreadsheet should contain details on only one individual you should not try and put two people (for example a couple) in one row.

Once you provide the spreadsheet to the data provider for your data wash, the process can generally be completed within a day. In some cases, it might take longer if the provider is to conduct a more complex wash.

A more complex wash would include your files being washed against multiple databases or data sources. This could be against publicly available government databases, other private databases and social media. Once you have the return file from the data provider, you will be able to load the results into your database so your staff can start working the new information.

If you have a data append wash, this new information should be treated as being leads and not as current information. It is recommended that you have a separate section in your database into which to load wash return data.

If a data append wash returns a new address, this should be treated as a ‘lead’ and letters should not be sent out to this address until you have first spoken to the customer and verified this is the customer’s new address if you send a letter to a new address provided by a data wash without first verifying it relates to your customer you could be in breach of the collection guidelines and the APP’s.