Using Regulation F to Maximize Recovery: Highlights from CBANC Webinar with Kelly Knepper-Stephens

By on October 20th, 2022 in Compliance, Industry Insights, Industry Interviews, Webinars

Just as technology has evolved leaps and bounds, so have consumer communication preferences with that technology, especially when it comes to debt collection. So in 2021, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) rolled out Regulation F under the existing Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA). Regulation F seeks to provide additional clarity around the key FDCPA prohibitions covering everything from harassment, such as the 7-in-7 call caps, to sample language for the initial communication with enhanced disclosures and information to help consumers identify their accounts.

Now, one year after Regulation F has gone into effect, some organizations and lenders still have questions about these new rules and how they can impact their business overall.

To help elucidate the matter, TrueAccord’s Chief Compliance Officer and General Counsel, Kelly Knepper-Stephens, sat down with the CBANC Network to discuss Using Regulation F to Maximize Recovery.

Below are just a few highlights from the in-depth discussion, but we encourage you to watch the full on-demand webinar to learn more about:

  • Safe Harbors in Regulation F (and if they are worth it)
  • Social Media communication best practices
  • Rules on contacting consumers including from other laws like the TRACED Act
  • State and municipal laws applicable to debt collection
  • and more!

Watch the the full webinar Using Regulation F to Maximize Recovery here»»

Highlights from “Using Regulation F to Maximize Recovery” with Kelly Knepper-Stephens*

We have found at TrueAccord that maintaining strong compliance with Regulation F doesn’t decrease your ability to recover defaulted debts from consumers. We know that consumers like digital collections, because we primarily communicate using digital channels. 

At TrueAccord, we find that 65% of consumers are opening at least one email—and 35% click on the link in the email that directs the customer to the webpages with information about the account settlement offers and payment plans, how to dispute, et cetera. For TrueAccord, 96% of consumers resolve their account without any human interaction whatsoever because they find the information that they need through the self-serve platform.

The regulators understand the growing preference for digital and self-service methods, and have acknowledged in Regulation F that it is permissible for a debt collector to communicate with consumers via these digital channels, including adding rules about how to use social media in debt collection. 

TrueAccord was very active in the CFPB’s Regulation F rulemaking process for this reason. We served on the small entity review board business panel in order to provide feedback as to the potential impacts of the draft proposal on our small business. We also provided a lot of data and information on how we designed our digital communications, such as having unsubscribe links in all email communications. This was important because at the time TrueAccord was one of the only companies in the industry using digital. The end result actually mimicked some of our best-practices practices.

Engaging the consumer is the fastest path to resolution, so no matter the channel—email, text message, phone calls, et cetera—using all channels compliantly to identify the right time, right channel, right message to engage the consumer is the ticket to success. 

Watch the on-demand webinar, Using Regulation F to Maximize Recovery, to learn more»»

*Kelly serves as TrueAccord’s Chief Compliance Officer and General Counsel. This blog is not legal advice. Legal advice must be tailored to the particular facts and circumstances of each unique matter.

Top Five Compliance Questions Answered by TrueAccord Compliance & Collections Professionals

By on October 11th, 2022 in Compliance, Industry Insights, Industry Interviews

Whether you’re a startup or an established organization, understanding the laws and regulations that apply to debt collection can be overwhelming. Compliance is always evolving as new laws and regulations are passed, new technology is introduced, consumer preferences shift, and court decisions or regulatory guidance suggest modifications to best practices. Fortunately, the knowledgeable team at TrueAccord is here to help break down some of the top questions around compliance in the collections industry.

The Questions:

  1. What are the major regulations lenders need to know about?
  2. What are the consequences of non-compliance?
  3. What kinds of businesses need to comply with these regulations?
  4. What are the top challenges that you see ahead for compliance in collection?
  5. What keeps a legal or compliance professional in collections up at night?

We asked some of the TrueAccord compliance professionals to provide insight to these top questions.*

*This blog is not legal advice. Legal advice must be tailored to the particular facts and circumstances of each unique matter

1. What are the major laws and regulations lenders need to know that govern debt collection (and debt collection service providers)?

Steve Zahn [SZ]: Right off the bat, obviously the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, or the FDCPA, is the major law lenders need to know about for debt collection. There are also some similar state laws, but the FDCPA is the big one that governs debt collection activity.

Kelly Knepper-Stephens [KKS]: The CFPB just finished a rulemaking in 2021 related to the FDCPA, referred to as Regulation F, in an effort to modernize and work through some of the issues that occurred and played out in the courts over the last 45 years since the FDCPA took effect. The TCPA—the Telephone Consumer Protection Act—is another law that impacts debt collection. It doesn’t just regulate phone calls. It also regulates text messaging and it regulates leaving pre-recorded messages for consumers. So it’s important to be aware of how that impacts the types of consumer communications that a business will be using.

Lauren Valenzuela [LV]: One of the most important laws that sometimes gets overlooked is the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act. This is what created the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the CFPB. It’s also what created what we know as UDAAP—Unfair, Deceptive, or Abusive Acts or Practices. The CFPB gets its UDAAP authority from that particular law, and it also gave the CFPB authority to interpret and make rules for the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act.There are other laws that impact our work as well, such as the Fair Credit Reporting Act, the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act, Electronic Signatures in Global and National Commerce Act, known as the E-Sign Act, among others.

Leana Lares [LL]: Additionally, if a business is working with consumer personally identifiable information, private information, then they should definitely know about all of the different federal and state privacy and data security laws.

2. What are the consequences of non-compliance?

LV: Consequences of non-compliance are very vast. Non-compliance can lead to increased consumer complaints. It could also lead to enforcement by state or federal regulators, which could result in fines and penalties. It could result in consumer litigation. Non-compliance can also jeopardize an agency’s collection license and ability to conduct business in a particular state or locality. But most importantly, the consequences of non-compliance is erosion of consumer trust and also your client’s trust. So compliance is incredibly important for everybody and especially for us here at TrueAccord.

SZ: In litigation, penalties can include: (a) statutory damages, e.g., up to $1,000 for the FDCPA or $500-$1,500 per violation for TCPA; (b) actual damages, e.g., physical manifestations that are the result of emotional distress; and/or (c) punitive damages, if the conduct is so outrageous or intentional that it gives rise to addition damages designed to punish. In addition, the court or regulatory agency can award costs and attorney fees to the prevailing party and can also enter an order prohibiting or requiring certain conduct in the future. Finally, regulatory agencies have the ability to order disgorgement of funds collected and/or an award of damages to the agency itself.

3. What kinds of businesses need to comply with these regulations?

LV: Third party debt collectors need to comply with these laws and regulations, and sometimes so do servicers and first party debt collectors in some form or fashion.

For example, creditors are exempt from some of the laws, such as the federal FDCPA, and sometimes they’re not (such as the case with some state debt collection laws). So it really just depends on the specific law, but needless to say, everyone should really be aware of the laws and regulations that apply to this particular type of line of business. Because even if you don’t have to follow it, sometimes there’s a lot of best practices that can be found in these laws and regulations as well.

KKS: Not just debt collectors. It really depends on the type of work that a particular business conducts and whether or not a statute covers that conduct. For example, the TCPA governs entities making phone calls, sending text messages, or leaving pre-recorded messages for consumers, so it regulates any entity, public or private, using these forms of communication. For the FDCPA, it regulates the collection of a debt, so a business needs to look at what is the definition of “debt” and are these accounts “debts” under that definition. As well as, whether the activities of the business fall under the statute’s definition of a “debt collector” or any of the exemptions?

4. What are the top challenges that you see ahead for compliance in collection?

LL: Some of the top challenges that we see ahead in compliance definitely has to do with the ever-changing landscape of our industry. For example, consumer privacy laws are popping up everywhere. Here in the United States, many of the privacy laws borrow aspects of the GDPR. California adapted their privacy law, the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA), to mirror the concept of transparency and granting individuals new rights over their personal information. We are seeing many different states implement privacy laws and all the different states have different rules (e.g., California, Virginia, Utah, Colorado, Connecticut). Some of them parallel each other, some of them are drastically different. So it’s very important to keep up with all of these things, and TrueAccord does a great job of that. 

LV: We’re seeing compliance professionals have to partner more and more with information security. It’s not a challenge so much as an area where I think compliance professionals in the industry are really going to have to increase their knowledge and competencies in the information security discipline. Also, making sure that they’re just staying ahead of the curve when it comes to best practices with cybersecurity and data privacy. We need information in order to conduct our business and to do it effectively;so making sure that you have all the necessary safeguards in place is of paramount importance. 

Another top challenge for the collections industry at large is figuring out how to best use machine learning (a subset of AI)—not only learning how to use it, but also how to mature your compliance management system (CMS) so that it accounts for your use of it. If you’re using any type of analytics or algorithms, or if your service providers are using any type of analytics or algorithms, you need to evaluate your CMS to make sure you have proper oversight of that technology.

5. What keeps a legal or compliance professional in collections up at night?

KKS: Uncertainty with changing regulatory rules. It’s relatively easy to provide legal and compliance advice when you have clear rules of the road. But when there are statutes with different interpretations, regulators with different approaches, or a patchwork of differing court opinions on a given topic it is more challenging. 

LV: The ability for a company to stay nimble while avoiding compliance fatigue. You have to be a cheerleader for compliance and keep up the energy, make sure everybody understands their compliance obligations so that they can adapt to it and operationalize it. Sometimes there can be ambiguity in the application of a certain law or a regulation to a particular set of facts or a particular technology or system. We often need to create clarity from ambiguity, while also doing what is best for consumers, what’s best for business, and lead the way in creating best practices when there may be ambiguity. 

SZ: As an Associate General Counsel at TrueAccord, not much keeps me up at night. We have a tremendous system, compliance program, and corporate culture of compliance and striving to be polite and friendly with consumers.

Learn more in Compliance & Collections Resource Center or schedule a consultation today!

The Future of Collections & Compliance: A Conversation with TrueAccord’s Associate General Counsel and Director of User Experience

By on October 5th, 2022 in Compliance, Customer Experience, Industry Insights, Industry Interviews, Product and Technology, User Experience, Webinars

Delivering communications to your customers has always been a compliance challenge with the plethora of laws, regulations, court decisions, and regulatory guidance in the debt collection space. Today with more communication channels available and regular communication from debt collection regulators—via consent orders, compliance bulletins, supervisory highlights, and even press releases—your compliance management systems and design must be flexible and easy to update.

To get expert insights on the newest compliance issues and opportunities that need to be front of mind when sending digital communications to effectively engage your customers, Associate General Counsel Lauren Valenzuela and Director of User Experience Shannon Brown teamed up to discuss the Future of Collections & Compliance in TrueAccord’s latest webinar.

Watch the full webinar on-demand here»»

Below are some of the key takeaways from their discussion, plus attendee poll results on top compliance questions.

*This blog is not legal advice. Legal advice must be tailored to the particular facts and circumstances of each unique matter.

The Current State of Compliance

Lauren Valenzuela [LV]: Needless to say, over the last 10 years the CFPB has fundamentally changed how we think about and approach compliance. That has really influenced our industry and how we think about communications in debt collection.

LV: Over the last decade the CFPB has taught us that compliance is an evolving thing. It’s not something that you can set and forget. It is something that is dynamic and that must constantly evolve and mature in order to be effective, because our environment is constantly changing.

Attendee Poll Question: What is the biggest compliance issue you face when trying to engage with your customers?

Changing Consumer Preferences for Collection Communications

LV: The CFPB recently published a blog and shared that it is a “mobile first” agency, meaning that most people who visit its website are using mobile devices or smartphones. Here at TrueAccord, what does our information show about mobile usage?

Shannon Brown [SB]: Consumer mobile use has skyrocketed. In 2016, about a quarter of our consumers were using their phones to read emails and visit our website—and that number has increased to consistently above 80%. We’ve put a lot of effort into making sure our emails and website are responsive to make sure we’re meeting the needs of our consumers who are overwhelmingly on mobile. We’ve made sure our pages are able to load faster for consumers that have less stable cell connections and really made sure our interactive elements are big and optimized for tapping with a finger instead of clicking with a mouse. As far as communications, our consumer research has really shown that most consumers don’t answer the phone and want to be contacted through digital channels—they want a multi-channel experience.

LV: So we’re seeing consumers increase use in mobile phones. Even the Bureau has seen that, and we’re seeing banks increase their use of digital technologies to communicate and facilitate transactions and engage with their consumers as well.

What’s the Role of the Legal Team in Your Collections Strategy?

LV: There needs to be a partnership between compliance and pretty much all core functions, and especially at a fintech company like TrueAccord where our technology and our digital communications platform are the center of what we do to help consumers. It’s really neat to see compliance interwoven, and I think that’s reflective of its compliance management system and company culture.

Compliance Management System Evolution

LV: Ten years ago, many collection agencies were likely in the undisciplined stage, where there was some type of compliance ongoing, but it didn’t have much structure—processes may be undocumented, potential exposure to vulnerabilities that expose themselves on lawsuits, for example.

The next iteration is reactive, meaning there is development of some policies and procedures, controls are identified, and the company is responding to issues and incidents reactively.

The next level is calculative. At this level, leadership is actively engaging the organization in compliance, risk assessment processes are maturing, corrective action plans are being developed and executed to remediate deficiencies.

This next level is proactive, meaning employees are trained and following clear policies and procedures, and such procedures have built in intentional redundancies. The organization is being proactive in identifying and responding to issues and incidents and is self-identifying deficiencies and essentially executing on comprehensive corrective action plans.

Generative means that there’s continuous improvement towards challenging goals, which are driven by data analysis. There’s critical evaluation of policies and procedures and controls, and risk is integrated in operations. Issues and incidents resolutions are driven by stakeholders and really enhanced controls.

Attendee Poll Question: Which category does your Compliance Management System (CMS) fall under today?

LV: So no matter where you’re at within your compliance management system and no matter what maturity level, the important thing to remember is that you don’t have to stay there—you can evolve. We can’t stress this enough. Compliance is an evolving and dynamic thing, and should be constantly evolving to stay effective in whatever environment it is in.

The fact that TrueAccord has a well-oiled compliance management system allows us to study that climate and then figure out how to translate it and make tangible improvements in our consumers’ experience. That’s something we encourage everyone to do: think about the consumer experience and the environment you’re collecting in, because it looks remarkably different than it did five years ago for example, and we should all be evolving.

The Product Perspective

LV: How has the CFPB influenced how we develop our products here at TrueAccord?

SB: Compliance has been built into our product development life cycle. Besides frequent meetings with our compliance team for feedback and approvals throughout the life cycle, we’ve designed and built our product so we can be nimble in responding to regulatory changes, which we know happen a lot.

LV: There are numerous federal, state, and local laws. Can you give some insight into how we at TrueAccord keep up with all of that?

SB: One of the ways we efficiently keep up with the requirements is through our code-driven approach.

But what does that mean practically? It means, for example, that for any phone call coming in, our agent knows exactly what disclosures need to be given to that consumer via our system, and then gives them an opportunity to log it. It means that any email that goes out has all the necessary disclosures appended, such as out of statute disclosures, state disclosures, et cetera, and these are all kept in our code base. Not only does it take the guesswork out of the equation for our agents and our content team that’s sending communication, it reduces human error. It also means that anytime anything needs to be updated, for example, a wording in a disclosure or when a new disclosure needs to be added, we can do it in one place instead of across a variety of templates and areas of the website. We can do it in one place and then that change propagates throughout the system. This helps us to react to changes really quickly.

Our compliance team is involved in every aspect of the process. They start as educators for the whole product team—we’re all aware of regulatory considerations and know where and when we need to ask for feedback and approvals from our compliance team. So they aren’t just making sure that agents are acting compliantly, but that the product team has that knowledge as well.

And as a product team, we have this wonderful research function that’s constantly talking to consumers and trying to understand their needs and asking for feedback, which we share with our compliance team so that they can go and advocate for consumers when they are talking with regulators and legislators

Future Forecast: Where is Compliance Heading in the Collections Industry?

LV: The next iteration of compliance can be seen in some of the recent CFPB and FTC activity. Last year in 2021 for example, the CFPB published a new section of its supervision and examination manual, specifically an information technology focused compliance management review section. The Bureau is looking at any type of technologies that you may employ, like machine learning models, algorithms, or analytics.

If you’re using any kind of algorithms or machine learning to help inform any aspect of your collection strategy—or if any of your service providers are using any type of algorithms or machine learning to help provide a service to you—you must pay attention to this section of the manual because it’s incredibly informative. We’re seeing the CFPB and the FTC addressing companies’ use of data and technology, wanting to make sure that companies have proper governance and oversight of it.

All of this recent activity shows how compliance within any company, more than ever before, must really take a cross functional approach to its work in order to keep up with the evolving environment. The compliance function should not be siloed. It really needs to be in partnership with all different disciplines and functions within the organization. We’re seeing right here and now and into the future, your information technology professionals, your information security professionals, your product professionals, your engineers, your data scientists, anybody who looks, touches, thinks about data and technology should all be working with compliance

Attendee Poll Question: Which of the following are you most interested in for the future of compliance and collections?

Three Key Takeaways

LV: Compliance is more than a department, it’s more than a program, it’s more than a system. It should be part of an organization’s cultural DNA. So when you think about compliance, wherever you are within an organization, think about how you can make it part of your organization’s DNA.

SB: Concentrate on building your tools to be nimble to the regulatory changes. Things like the design systems and the component libraries that allow you to make those changes quickly and easily, and make sure that they’re made everywhere across the system so you don’t have those older disclosures hanging out somewhere that someone forgot to change. Build your tools so you can make changes in one place efficiently.

LV: As our environments get more sophisticated around us, compliance professionals need to collaborate cross functionally more and more with other disciplines within a company to be effective and stay ahead of the evolution.The more the industry uses data and technology, we have a responsibility to make sure that it is being used in accordance with the law and best practices.

Have more questions about compliance in collections? Schedule a consultation with TrueAccord to learn more»»

Q&A: Code-Based Compliance for Collections

By on September 27th, 2022 in Compliance, Industry Insights, Industry Interviews, Product and Technology

Just as technology has evolved leaps and bounds, so have consumer communication preferences, especially when it comes to debt collection. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) recognized in Regulation F—rules updating the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA)—that consumers in debt want to communicate with debt collectors through digital channels, like email and SMS.

Under the FDCPA, Regulation F, and other state laws, these digital channels have the same compliance requirements as calls, such as no harassment or abuse, no false or misleading representations, and no unfair practices. Even though these additional channels have the similar compliance requirements, businesses must still manage these requirements across all channels and have the capacity to update requirements as new laws are passed, new cases come out, and new guidance is released from regulators causing a need to change in a compliance practice. How can businesses ensure compliance through the evolving regulatory landscape?

Code-based compliance is a critical component for the debt collection industry.

We interviewed five key stakeholders in this process to get different perspectives on what code-based compliance is and how it benefits businesses, lenders, consumers, and auditors. Read below for insights from: Eric Nevels, Director Operational Excellence; Hal Eisen, VP Engineering; Kelly Knepper-Stephens, Chief Compliance Officer and General Counsel; Michael Lemoine, Director Client Success; and Milo Onken, Director Quality Assurance.

What is Code-Based Compliance?

Eric Nevels: When an algorithm is used to help make decisions on consumer communications in debt collection, a code-based compliance system would be coded into that algorithm or work side-by-side with the algorithm to ensure that all digital communications fall within federal and state laws and regulations.

Michael Lemoine: Here’s an analogy to help explain code-based compliance: You lace up your new running shoes. You scoured all the online reviews and this pair provides the best ankle support. You ate a light but fuel packed breakfast, no mid run slump for you. You eyed the weather app on your phone, all clear and perfect temp. Hydrated, check. Headphones, check. Mood, great! You’ve got this, everything is under control and accounted for. Off…you… go!

Even if you’re not a big runner this sounds like a safe and productive way to start a day. But what if instead of checking for rain and eating a little oatmeal to make sure you had a good jog, you had to manually complete a full body diagnostic and perform microsecond electrical and chemical adjustments to your body just so you didn’t become disabled or even die while getting a little exercise? Not so safe and productive now. Is the risk of immediate death worth the effort and small reward of a single run?

Every second your body automatically, without thought or effort, reads your current condition and reviews thousands of risks and initiates controls, responses, and actions to keep you alive—called the autonomic nervous system. Code-based compliance is the autonomic nervous system of an organization’s risk and control program. Now, it’s not as dramatic as life and death, but code-based compliance can supercharge any compliance management system because once the code has been programmed and deployed the system always follows the programmed rules leading to consistency and accuracy.

How is Code-Based Compliance Different From More Traditional Approaches to Compliance?

Eric Nevels: In the absence of code, human beings would need to check against the various restrictions on communications. Anytime humans are involved, even with rules and procedures in place, it is possible for errors to occur. With a code-based system, it is impossible for that action to take place.

Kelly Knepper-Stephens: Certainly it’s better than manual compliance because with manual compliance you have an opportunity for human error. But it doesn’t mean that code-based compliance is “code it and forget it.” Your coders need a process to quality check the code. And your compliance team or a front line control team needs to monitor to make sure the coded compliance rules are working as you intended them to work.

How Does This Approach Benefit Collection Compliance Strategies?

Hal Eisen: Code-based compliance is great because it never gets tired or distracted and is not subject to any of the other human frailties. Done correctly, it can be efficiently applied to a wide range of software products without needing additional investment. Most compliance rules were written for the benefit of consumers. The better we comply, the safer consumers are. Consumers should have accurate disclosures, fewer annoying interactions and feel better about the whole experience.

Eric Nevels: Lowers operational risk and ensures compliance with regulations. Additionally, it is much easier to update the code when regulations are changed. It helps ensure that they are being treated within the bounds of the law, which is their benefit.

Milo Onken: The code-based approach ensures accuracy and tangible evidence for compliance audits. Collaboration with different internal teams and Legal ensures we check, implement, and follow industry compliance directives.

A Code-Driven Future for Debt Collection

Code-based compliance offers predictable and consistent collections methods when coupled with digital platforms. New technology can be mistaken as a risky investment, but digital debt collection systems offer more compliance security and more transparency—for consumers and creditors. Digital collection solutions not only evolve to meet consumer needs, but they can also continually adapt to changing regulations and quickly meet compliance requirements.

Beyond code-based compliance, what are compliance issues unique to collections that need to be front of mind when sending digital communications to effectively engage your customers?

Join us Thursday September 29th at 1pm ET for our interactive webinar, The Future of Collections & Compliance, hosted by TrueAccord Associate General Counsel Lauren Valenzuela and Director User Experience Shannon Brown.

Reserve your space now for an interactive discussion on:

  • Cutting edge digital collection compliance
  • The role of the legal team in creating a digital collection strategy
  • How compliance drives collection revenue
  • The future of digital compliance

Register now for the upcoming webinar»»

*This blog is not legal advice. Legal advice must be tailored to the particular facts and circumstances of each unique matter.

Who’s on First (and Who’s on Third) for Your Debt Collection?

By on September 1st, 2022 in Customer Experience, Industry Insights, Product and Technology, User Experience

What is your core business? It probably isn’t chasing down delinquent accounts—and it shouldn’t be. Attention, resources, and bandwidth should be dedicated to what drives revenue and pushes your company’s goals forward.

But delinquencies are a reality for any business that handles payments. And when a customer misses a payment on the due date, you shouldn’t let their delinquency slide for too long, otherwise before you know it, that delinquent account will eventually get charged off and considered a loss.

While charge offs aren’t completely unavoidable, ineffective recovery efforts on those defaulted, post-charge off accounts (typically handled by a third-party partner) are completely avoidable. Effective pre-charge off (also known as first-party) collection efforts are just as important as well. For today’s consumers, that means engaging with them in more innovative ways outside the traditional call-and-collect methods and moving into a more digital approach.

But without a consumer-centric strategy for both pre- and post-charge off accounts, digital outreach can stumble just as easily as an inexperienced call center rep on their first day—ineffective or even damaging to customer relations.

So what do effective strategies look like for first-party and for third-party debt collection? Let’s first take a look at the nuances to consider between first-party and third-party collections.

First-Party vs Third-Party Collections—What’s the Difference?

First-Party
First-party refers to using the creditor’s brand in customer communications. The focus is on remediation of newly delinquent accounts and getting the customer back on track. The communications address the part of the loan that is late, which is often not the whole amount, and refer the customers back to the creditor’s call center, payment portal, or online account system.

Third-Party
Third-party refers to outsourcing collections through a third-party partner on the entire balance of the account. At this point, many creditors believe the customer relationship has been lost—but this does not have to be the case with the right digital strategy!

First or Third—Customer Engagement is Key to a Homerun in Collections
For both first- and third-party collections, success hangs on reaching each customer with the right message, through the right channel at the right time. This can be no small feat for smaller in-house teams attempting to recoup pre-charge off debts. And how can you trust that your third-party partner is actually engaging with customers in the best way possible?

So Who’s on First and Who’s on Third for Your Debt Collection?

It may seem like a silly question: who is on top of your first-party, early delinquency collection communications? Many companies assume that they must handle pre-charge off collection efforts completely by themselves or by outsourcing with a first-party company, but there are communication alternatives such as TrueAccord’s Retain. Retain is the client-branded pre-charge off digital engagement product, directing customers back to you enabling your customers to choose the right time, place and channel to contact you. Improve your cash flow, reducing losses and allowing you to spend more time and energy on core business objectives.

Learn more about first-party communications, including the top 10 questions to evaluate your current strategy, in our new eBook the Buyer’s Guide to Digitally Engage Your Past-Due Customers»»

While third-party, post-charge off collections may feel more “out of sight, out of mind” than first-party since organizations outsource to third-party vendors, it’s still crucial to have a comprehensive digital communication strategy that aligns with individual business standards. TrueAccord goes above and beyond with Recover, our late-stage collection solution that proves digital-first delivers: 96% of consumers who resolve with Recover do so using only self-serve digital tools.

Learn how to evaluate your third-party collection partners, including the top 10 questions to ask vendors, in our new eBook the Buyer’s Guide to Effective Third-Party Collections»»

TrueAccord’s mission to help organizations recover more (from happier consumers) is comprehensive for both first-party, pre-charge off and third-party, post-charge off, whether using one or both intelligent digital-first solutions together.

Elevate Your Collection Strategy with Machine Learning and HeartBeat

By on July 7th, 2022 in Industry Insights, Machine Learning, Product and Technology

Debt recovery and collection look quite different in 2022 than it did ten, five, even just a year ago: new channels to reach consumers, larger data sets to analyze, complex regulations that can vary state by state, and so much more.

So when it comes to deciding the best way to engage consumers and effectively recover debt, has your strategy evolved to keep up? Machine learning, artificial intelligence, data science—these terms are thrown around a lot, and for good reason.

But how does it tactically improve the experience for both lenders and members?

Decoding Machine Learning for Debt Collection and Recovery

To help decipher real differences between a machine learning strategy versus the traditional call-and-collect, we have designed a highly visual guide to cut through the jargon and help you understand the basics of machine learning in collections. Decoding Machine Learning for Debt Recovery and Collection provides straightforward definitions, clear diagrams, and bottom line benefits make this eBook your at-a-glance guide to machine learning in debt collection.

Download your complimentary copy of the new eBook Decoding Machine Learning for Debt Recovery and Collection here»

From delivering a better experience in-line with what consumers expect from businesses to streamline communications, machine learning has gone from a “nice to have” to a “must have” for collection efforts.

Upgrade Debt Recovery & Collection With HeartBeat

Although this type of technology is a step in the right direction, it’s only one step forward—your debt collection strategy can go even further with TrueAccord’s patented decision engine, HeartBeat.

Integrating machine learning into your practice is certainly important—but how does this technology know what the best choice is to engage all of your delinquent accounts now and in the future?

Say hello to HeartBeat, our intelligent decision engine, and say goodbye to missed debt recovery opportunities left on the table by basic machine learning models. See exactly how HeartBeat upgrades your collection strategy in our new eBook, Upgrade Debt Recovery & Collection With HeartBeat—the more in-depth companion piece to our visual guide to machine learning (detailed above).

While HeartBeat utilizes machine learning in its decision-making process, it is not limited to it. This decision engine is continuously evaluated for performance, and adjusted to align with the current economic situation, changes in consumer behavior, and updates to compliance rules.

If you are switching from a more traditional outbound approach then a basic machine learning model can provide a short-term lift in recovery rates, but will hit a dead end when it comes to optimizing, adapting, and improving over time. HeartBeat is set up for the long game and recovers more because of it.

Download your complimentary copy of the new eBook Upgrade Debt Recovery & Collection With HeartBeat to learn how to start recovering more»

Elevate Engagement, Recover More

Together, these two companion eBooks, Decoding Machine Learning for Debt Recovery & Collection and Upgrade Debt Recovery & Collection With HeartBeat, serve to be the ideal introduction into machine learning in debt collection and then a deeper look beyond the basics to see what even more advanced technology can do for your recovery operation.

Discover how an intelligent, digital-first collection strategy drives overall improved performance, better member experience, and the more effective recovery of delinquent funds—without implementing more manual processes or adding headcount to your team.

Schedule a consultation today with one of our experts today to learn more about how you can elevate your debt collection practice today.

CFPB Issues $4M in Penalties and Permanent Bans Against Predatory Collection Ring

By on May 26th, 2022 in Industry Insights

On May 23, 2022, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), in partnership with the New York Attorney General, filed a proposed judgment against a debt collection enterprise with a history of deception and harassment to pay $4 million and be permanently banned from the debt collection industry.

This follows the September 2020 Federal Trade Commission (FTC) initiative “Operation Corrupt Collector” to protect consumers. The FTC, along with more than 50 federal and state law enforcement partners, focused on several predatory collection methods, including “phantom debt collection,” a practice where companies were trying to collect debts they cannot legally collect or that a consumer does not owe.

According to federal regulators in the 2022 case, the group of debt collectors in upstate New York went after their targets by calling friends, family and employers and orchestrating “smear campaigns” against people they claimed owed money—only one part of the predatory practices the debt collection ring employed.

Predatory Practices in Debt Collection

The collection industry has long been scrutinized for the methods used to engage and recover debts, but technology and social media have created new avenues for predatory practices to evolve. In addition to the smear campaigns, other illegal tactics to collect debt outlined in the CFPB lawsuit include:

  • Falsely claiming arrest and imprisonment
  • Lying about legal action
  • Inflating and misrepresenting debt amounts owed
  • Harassing people with repeated phone calls
  • Failing to provide legally mandated disclosures

Contacting to Collect Via Social Media

As of November 30, 2021, debt collectors can now contact consumers on social media. This change to the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) did include specific rules for social media communications:

  • The message must be private
  • The debt collector must identify themself
  • The debt collector must provide a way for the consumer to opt-out of social media communications

In addition to these new rules under the FDCPA, collectors who abuse or harass consumers via social media violate the Dodd Frank Act’s prohibition against unfair deceptive abusive acts or practices (UDAAPs). The CFPB and FTC through Operation Collection Protection, also look to prosecute UDAAPs in their protection of consumers

Compassion Collects More (and Protects Against Penalties)

Although the majority of collectors do not go as far as committing “emotional terrorism,” as one social media smear campaign victim described in the 2022 lawsuit, finding the appropriate way to connect with today’s consumers to recover delinquent funds can seem nebulous—and nerve-racking with the potential for hefty penalties.

Even as communication channels expand and new regulations are handed down, best practices to engage with consumers remain the same: friendly, humane messages will empower and motivate customers to pay more effectively than aggressive outreach and threats. TrueAccord has proven that this compassionate approach works with more than 16 million customers served, 4.7 on Google reviews, A+ rating with the BBB, overwhelmingly positive customer feedback, and industry-leading recovery results.

Discover how you can flip the script on your collection communication with TrueAccord and protect your business and customers. Schedule a consultation today to get started»

Reaching Consumers Beyond Outbound Calling: Insights and Learnings from Collection Experts

By on May 16th, 2022 in Industry Insights, Webinars

If transforming the way you reach customers to recover delinquent accounts isn’t on your radar in 2022, a year where projected delinquencies are expected to soar, you’re at risk.

Fortunately, we recently rounded up a panel of experts to share their insights and experiences taking those first steps away from outbound calling and toward better consumer communication in our webinar “What Labor Shortage, Wage Inflation, and Regulatory Restrictions Mean for Your Call Center”—available to watch on-demand now»

Heather Bentley, Citizens Bank | John Craven Sr, Cox Communication | Jennifer Masterson, PNC | Richelle Rocazella, TrueAccord
Heather Bentley, Citizens Bank | John Craven Sr, Cox Communication | Jennifer Masterson, PNC | Richelle Rocazella, TrueAccord

Below are some of the top questions, answers, and first-hand accounts from our discussion (plus some attendee poll results):

What percentage of contacting consumers is done via phone vs other channels?

Heather Bentley [HB]: Overall a little bit above 50%, but that includes outbound calling from live agents and interactive self-serve calls, which really is more the digital channel.

John Craven Sr [JC]: Live agent we’re at 0%. We do use a virtual agent, so I would say we use that virtual agent probably 40% to 45% of the time.

Jennifer Masterson [JM]: We’re close to 50/50. We will always be taking phone calls, but we are doing a lot more now in the digital space trying to contact people.

Richelle Rocazella [RR]: Less than 1% of our communication is via phone. And that is all inbound when we do engage with our customers. We will only make an attempt to reach a customer via phone if they have requested a call.

What does outbound calling versus an omnichannel strategy look like at your organization? 

JM: An omnichannel strategy triggers customers to get them to self-serve and frees up our agents to talk to customers that need more help or more assistance. That’s really where the more valuable conversations happen. 

HB: It’s really about putting the two pieces together [outbound and other channels], and trying to find the sweet spot of customer experience and collection effectiveness. Pulling those two things together – so if we find customers who are responding to a specific channel like text, but then if they go past the point we would normally see in delinquency, we can say, “Wait a minute, something’s different. Now we need to call this customer.” 

JC: When you take a person that’s spending a good portion of their day making outbound calls, and you turn them into an inbound agent where they’re talking to a customer almost every time that the phone rings, the maximization of your employee’s time puts you into a completely different realm of being able to perform.

Was COVID or labor shortage and wage inflation a driving factor in the shift to a more digital approach and self-service approach? 

JM: We started before COVID because consumer behavior was dictating it. It’s really hard to get someone to pick up the phone. The number of times that you actually connect to somebody live on dials is really low. That’s really what drove us to start going down the digital path. Now, I think there’s a ton of benefits to be gained from that, things like when COVID happened, this labor shortage. Once you have the channels in place, it becomes easier to ramp them up or down depending on what’s happening in the economy. 

Once you have the channels in place, it becomes easier to ramp them up or down depending on what’s happening in the economy. 

Jennifer Masterson, Executive Vice President, Retail Lending Solutions, PNC

How did you get started?

HB: We started individual channels at times with easy things like virtual messages, then interactive messaging and email and text, and then moved into two-way in those channels. And we’re still working so that you could have the same experience in that digital space that you’d have with an agent on the phone.

JC: In 2014 [Cox Communications] started texting customers and then we added email around 2017, but we didn’t have a digital platform at that time. We implemented a digital platform in early 2020, and fortunately we were able to go full omnichannel with integrated channels that we were able to roll out. 

What are some of the challenges to building an omni-channel strategy?

RR: Making sure all channels are integrated to develop a full customer experience journey. Also ensuring service levels are maintained as more channels are added.

HB: If you’re not sequencing [the channels] and working them together, it can be like bombing your customers again. If you’re bombing them with calls and now you’re bombing with text and with email and it’s just, “Hey, we’ll just try everything.” You quickly desensitize your customers to your communications.

JC: We set up all the channels and then we went on a journey to bring them all in and orchestrate them so they were working together. If I can suggest anything to those that are using the phone strategy, if you’re ready to start your digital journey, start with a journey that is an orchestrated journey, instead of building out the channels and then trying to bring them all together. You’ll get so much further ahead and a quicker response to digital integration.

From a self-serve standpoint for debt collection and recovery, what are some of the compliance or regulatory challenges to keep in mind?

HB: As we move to digital channels, [regulators] move their focus to what happens in email and on your website and in text messages, because before their focus has been about calling over the last 10 years. So as an industry we have to stay ahead of that and think both like a customer and like a regulator. Be a bit conservative in some of your interpretations of how far and wide your communications go.

JC: From the risk side of things, if you’re moving from an analog or non-digital traditional approach to a digital approach, think how to digitize your compliance rules that may have some risk mitigation in it. Don’t create a new reality—make sure that you replicate what you have already in place to make sure you have safeguards.

JM: On the phone side you’re dealing with agents that have to remember to say things right. But coming out of COVID a lot of the banks and other financial institutions put hardship assistance online just as an example, and I think the regulators like that because everybody’s essentially getting the same experience. I think it’s easier to be in compliance and meet all the regulatory requirements in a channel like that, than it is with agents. 

As an industry, we have think both like a customer and like a regulator.

Heather Bentley, Senior Vice President Head of Consumer Specialty Operations, Citizens Bank

What was the best way organizations should have prepared to meet the guidelines for the CFPB’s Regulation F to move to a more omnichannel approach?

RR: The best thing any organization could have done for Reg F would be to have a strong legal and compliance group that you work with. While it’s not something that drives revenue, it is a must in every organization.

Where would be an ideal place to start exploring or considering if you’re moving away from the outbound call center and looking to integrate more channels?

JC: Whatever your strategy is, you need to set yourself on a path making sure that your digital journey has a brain. Recognize that different profile customers react differently to different contact channels. As you use your omnichannel approach, having that brain mentality. Knowing what your customers’ preferences are and then leveraging those preferences will set you on a great path to performance.

JM: Every company is different in terms of what capabilities you have or don’t have. While texting and emailing made sense for PNC at first, maybe there’s another channel that a company can easily plug into. Start wherever you can because consumers don’t want to pick up the phone and call. Whether it’s the ideal option or not, give consumers another path and another option. Start somewhere and then build off of that in whatever way makes sense for your organization.

RR: For businesses in the early stages of adopting a more omnichannel approach for collections, email or text would be a good place to start.

Knowing what your customers’ preferences are and then leveraging those preferences will set you on a great path to performance.

John Craven Sr,  Enterprise Center of Excellence Call Center Director, Cox Communication

Watch the full webinar for even more insights, advice, and answers to even more audience questions»

Ready to get started on the digital transformation of your collection strategy? Schedule a consultation to learn how you can take the first steps»

Say R.I.P. to Traditional Call Centers (But Don’t Be Sad)

By on April 25th, 2022 in Industry Insights

“Death of the call center”—you may have heard this phrase before, but today’s labor shortage, wage inflation, regulatory risks, and changing consumer behavior are all nails in the coffin of this once sure-fire business tactic.

But don’t say a final farewell to the call center just yet. There is a way to utilize those phones to more effectively reach your business goals—especially when it comes to recovery and collection operations.

Let’s take a look at how call centers operate today, what factors threaten their effectiveness, and what we can do to make them viable again. You can take an even deeper dive and read our full coverage of Outbound Calling Doesn’t Work, Here’s What Does” here»

Outbound Calling vs. Inbound Servicing

To understand how collections call centers can survive and remain profitable in recovering delinquent funds, we need to understand the difference between two basic functions of a call center: outbound calling vs. inbound servicing.

Outbound Calling: Call center agents dial out directly to customers

Inbound Servicing: Call center agents answer incoming calls made by customers

A 2020 survey showed the effectiveness (or ineffectiveness) of outbound phone calls to collect debts due for more than 30 days.

When we break it down, we can start to see that the outbound model to collect on delinquent accounts is truly on life support this time around.

So What are the Killers of Outbound Call Centers in 2022?

When the “Death of the Call Center” was first foretold back in the early 2000s, the culprit was firmly identified as the internet and technology taking over the call center career opportunities for people.

But a closer look shows this isn’t the case given today’s massive shifts in the labor market, regulations, and consumer behavior.

Labor Shortage & Wage Inflation
New technologies aren’t pushing people out of working in call centers—people just don’t want outbound calling jobs like they used to. Competition to hire is fierce and compounded by the Great Resignation sweeping through the market. Unfortunately, many outbound call centers already faced notoriously high (and costly) attrition rates as well.

On top of that, call center wages have increased by 15%+ since the pandemic began, an astounding spike even when every industry is riding the wave of wage inflation.

Regulations & Consumer Expectations
Outbound dialing platforms must comply with a long list of regulations—especially in the debt recovery and collection sector, like the TCPA, FDCPA, and Reg F—all before they can even start talking about recovering delinquent accounts…that is, if anyone even answers their call.

Consumer preferences have moved away from talking on the phone and moved towards self-service options online. Do a quick google search on how to stop debt collection calls and an endless amount of articles will pop up. But overall, consumers have found an even simpler solution: don’t answer the phone.

So can you actually connect with your customers through a call center?

A Second Chance for Call Centers

In the wake of changing labor markets, regulations, and consumer behavior, businesses must evolve to integrate digital-first solutions into call center operations to save manpower, regulatory compliance efforts, and customer satisfaction. We may be perpetuating the old trope, but 2022 really could spell the end for outbound call centers as we know them, and be the opportunity to transform them into inbound engagement centers.

Find out how in our full coverage of “Outbound Calling Doesn’t Work, Here’s What Does” here»

None of us should be sad to see it go. Not consumers, not employees, not businesses. It’s time to say R.I.P. to outbound calling for the betterment of all.

Reading Between the Student Loan Headlines: How to Engage Consumers with Multiple Debts

By on April 12th, 2022 in Industry Insights

The freeze on student loan payments has been a hot topic since the start of the pandemic—not just for borrowers, but for debt collection departments outside of the student loan debt sector. Although student loan borrowers get a reprieve for another few months, repaying other debts can still be a tricky issue for consumers to budget for today. Debt collectors need to find ways to start engaging with borrowers now before student loans get added back on to the balance.

The Freeze Continues Through the Summer

On April 6, 2022, only weeks before collections were set to resume in May 2022, the Biden administration announced another four-month extension on the freeze for federal student loan payments, interest, and collections. After granting several extensions due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, the decision to further extend the pause reflects the challenging economic landscape and unmanageable financial burden faced by many Americans.

While this is another round of relief for the approximate 42.9 million Americans with student loan debt, the proverbial can is just getting kicked farther down the road as the relief is only temporary. Additionally, uncertainty leading up to the announcement left many in what has become a familiar anxious limbo of whether or not they would be expected to restart their payments; and that uncertainty can have a broader impact for debt collections beyond student loans.

Don’t Forget the Debts that Don’t Have an Indefinite Moratorium

Student loan debt collection may be dominating the headlines, but it is often not the only financial burden borrowers are carrying. Out of the number of adults with student loans, about 23 million (69%) have at least one additional type of debt, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Looking at it even closer, surveys found that among those with student loans, consumers also had:

  • Credit card debt (52%)
  • Vehicle loans (33%)
  • Medical debt (18%)

The newscycle focus and the ongoing uncertainty of student loan repayments can be confusing to borrowers with multiple debts who are prioritizing based on their cash flow, putting them at an increased risk for delinquency. As noted in our Q1 Industry Insights, February marked the 9th month in a row with increasing 30+ delinquency rates on a unit basis across debt types, notably delinquency increases in first mortgages, second mortgage, auto leases and unsecured personal loans.

And with student loans once again receiving temporary relief, these consumers will likely focus on repaying their other debts. The key for collectors is to understand how to engage with consumers that have limited budgets through a variety of affordable repayment options.

Engaging Consumers Digitally with Repayment Options

The first step is to actually connect with consumers to stay top of mind. While phone calls can go unanswered and canned emails go ignored, reaching customers through customized, digital-first communications can help businesses recover more by reaching those that are ready to repay debts. Consumers already use these types of platforms to interact—surveys found that 46% of people exclusively use digital channels for their financial needs, including banking and bill paying.

The second step is to offer consumers repayment options and flexibility knowing they may be balancing multiple bills. With so many financial options at their disposal, consumers have to monitor an increasing number of accounts for banking, credit cards, autopay, recurring payments, installment plans and more. The ability to choose a payment date that aligns with paydays or to push back a payment when something unexpected comes up are invaluable for consumers and will actually lead to brand affinity and better customer experiences.

With so much uncertainty already swirling around student loans, businesses have a better chance of successfully reaching and recovering other debt payments if they do so in a way that is familiar to the borrower and provides flexible ways to manage repayment. TrueAccord helps reach consumers where they are when they need to be engaged with through a digital-first approach that cuts through the clutter of other communication channels.

Discover how to expand and customize your communication channels for each individual consumer and engage faster with better results. Schedule a consultation today»