Default Rates Are Going Up As Bad Collection Practices Continue to Ignore Debtors

By on June 28th, 2017 in Compliance, Industry Insights
TrueAccord Blog

The US economy has taken a turn for the better in the past year. Unemployment has plummeted, the Federal Reserve is raising rates, and the stock market is soaring. However, for the past two quarters, several issuers reported an increase in charge off rates. While banks may be changing their underwriting standards to encourage growth, there is another contributing factor: a fundamental shift in the way consumers live and work, one that the credit card industry has failed to adjust to.

2008-2009 was a turning point for the US economy. Millions of jobs were lost across all industries, without much hope of recovery. College grads joined a crippled job market, and felt like they needed to “hustle” and find alternative means to sustain themselves. Uber, founded in 2009, created an opportunity as standard-bearer of the gig economy and many others have followed suit. At the same time, social media became prevalent as Facebook went international in 2007. These processes created  new consumers – the millennial cohort. Millennials are on the move, working several unsteady jobs, managing their own time and relying heavily on social media and digital communications. They use traditional financial solutions like credit cards, but the dominance of mobile and digital in their life is driving their preferences for communications and interactions with people and businesses. However, if they default, they are effectively sent back to the stone age, where in time to a world that knows nothing about them, and does little to service them effectively. When a system that “always worked” faces a new type of consumer behavior, it breaks – and leads to increased defaults and losses.

Consumers expect a better user experience – even in collections

As digital, always connected users, millennials expect their bank – or the bank’s collection vendor – to fit their lifestyle and preferences. Unfortunately, the debt collection and recovery industry hasn’t changed in decades. There has been little investment in moving away from phone calls and letters to a more digital and technology driven process,  that can deliver a better user experience for those in debt.

Contact through digital channels is table stakes for the digital consumer. Many have never  visited a bank branch and most will not answer a call from an unidentified number, or respond to a letter. According to Accenture’s “Banking Customer 2020”, 58% of consumers use their mobile device when seeking support from their bank, 53% report going to their online banking center at least once per year to sort an issue; 78% report doing so to make a payment. More than half of the population has adopted  digital channels to manage their lives, and will not respond to cold calls and letters in nondescript white envelopes. Call center-based collection approaches fail to get these consumers on the phone, and debts make their way to charge off without any meaningful engagement from the consumer.

Once contacted, millennials expect clear communications. The common disclosures used in debt collection, for example, feel onerous and obscure – causing them to disengage (the CFPB recognized that and is planning a survey regarding disclosures). The dispute process, asking for more information about their debt, is onerous and slow. Consumers need, and deserve, communication that drives them to action rather than intimidates and coerces them. Collectors are pressured to cold call and create instant rapport with unwilling debtors – and they are failing this task in growing numbers.

Finally, consumers need flexible payment options that fit their work schedules. As Robert Reich notes, while 1099 workers may make slightly higher hourly salary when working, their hours are irregular and difficult to schedule. This means irregular paychecks that can vary in size and resulting disposable income. A consumer might be able to pay $100 this pay period, $150 next time and only $50 the following one. Traditional approaches fail to adjust to these realities, focusing on steady payment plans that these consumers cannot always keep up with.

Fintech Companies Are Learning to Work with Regulators

By on April 24th, 2017 in Compliance, Industry Insights
TrueAccord Blog

This article, written by our In House Counsel Adam Gottlieb, first appeared in the RMA Insights Magazine

The word “startup” conjures images of stereotypical open offices, complete with ping pong tables, standing desks, and people in hoodies feverishly hammering at keyboards. Startups are often associated with high risk, scrappiness, and the ability to break things and move fast–all a stark contrast to the bureaucratic and highly-regulated environment that most debt buyers and collectors operate in. Yet, as startups begin venturing into the area of financial technology, they have had to adjust to new operating principles and new stakeholders, with the government chief among them.

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On American Banker: Real issue for debt collectors is the irrelevance of telephones

By on February 10th, 2017 in Compliance, Industry Insights
TrueAccord Blog

In a recent American Banker article, our team is saying: the regulatory discussion around phone calls in debt collection is rapidly becoming irrelevant for one very important reason: consumers don’t answer their phones.

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It’s time to stop using commission-based compensation in collections

By on January 18th, 2017 in Compliance, Industry Insights
TrueAccord Blog

Many collection agencies and departments use commission-based compensation for their collection agents. This model is perceived as the only way to “make it” in collections: margins are slim to none, agencies themselves are compensated only for dollars collected, and commission-based compensation lets them hire cheap labor and have great performers rise to the top. In fact, this is a broken model, based on a flawed premise that only humans can collect from humans. It’s not only the Wells Fargo case that should alarm collectors and creditors who use them; it’s the conflict of interest that’s inherent to commissions in collections, and the legal and moral risks it introduces. With new technologies maturing and beating traditional call centers, it’s time to reconsider.

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Debt collection and President Trump: not much will change

By on November 29th, 2016 in Compliance, Industry Insights
TrueAccord Blog

We’ve heard varying sentiments about the November 8th election results. Behind the scenes, many in the debt collection industry are excited and happy for them. They believe a Trump presidency will put an end to regulation in debt collection, and put the industry “back in business”. This is a short sighted view, focused on the wrong drivers of change for the industry. Debt collection and President Trump may not be the great allies some believe they will be.

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TrueAccord at the Debt Collection Field Hearing

By on October 21st, 2016 in Compliance
TrueAccord Blog

The CFPB put the full video from their debt collection field hearing on their YouTube channel. Participants were allowed 2 minutes to respond, and our CEO took that opportunity (watch here).

His comments:

Thank you for the time today. My name is Ohad, I’m CEO of TrueAccord, a company that uses data and machine learning to fundamentally change the consumer experience in debt collection. We’ve been studying the new proposal since yesterday. We believe it is a big step towards improving consumer protection. Weeding out bad actors is going to level the playing field and create a race to the top that will benefit everyone.

When finalizing the rule, we think the CFPB should continue to encourage innovation in this space by providing clear and unambiguous guidelines on how to use new technology in the collections process. As a data-driven startup company, we have empirical evidence showing hat using new technologies in the collection space – text, email, social media, digitizing the dispute process – significantly improves consumer protection.

One, it improves protection measured by consumer feedback and a marked reduction in consumer complaints. Consumers understand and react to our personalized, targeted communication.

Two, it significantly reduces communication frequency; reduces call frequency by up to 95%, well under the limitations proposed in this new proposal, using channels that consumers feel are much less intrusive.

Finally, it does all of the above while meeting or exceeding traditional performance in liquidation. Nobody is going to go out of business by using new technology (and we’ll add here: versus continuing to insist on hardly-compliant calling tactics).

Again, the CFPB should considering supporting innovation by providing clear guidance for the use of technology. It will improve consumer protection and will help he industry as a whole. We look forward to cooperating with the CFPB and policymakers on this shared goal.

The CFPB’s proposal outline and SBREFA panel

By on August 31st, 2016 in Compliance, Industry Insights
TrueAccord Blog

The CFPB’s proposal outline and SBREFA panel

Last week, TrueAccord participated in the SBREFA panel for the CFPB’s proposal outline for upcoming debt collection rule. The CFPB invited Small Entity Representatives (SERs) to discuss how the outline could influence their businesses. The industry expects a more fleshed out proposal quite early in 2017. One thing is clear: this rule will change the debt collection industry forever. Creditors, collectors and buyers should take note and start adapting to, rather than fighting the rule.

While this isn’t the final proposal, we can observe hints of the huge changes to come; it’s such a departure from current practices that applying this proposal retroactively may erase the majority of the debt buying industry. We don’t believe this is what the CFPB is aiming for. We see true desire to change operating principles in the debt collection and buying space, while showing a path forward. The outline included explicit references to new technologies, and some discussion of proper use of email. It also signaled the CFPB’s intent to provide safe harbor where it can, promoting best practices in the process. You can read our initial response here.

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New white paper: code driven compliance keeps you safe

By on August 8th, 2016 in Compliance, Industry Insights
code driven compliance keeps you safe

Compliance is top of mind for the debt collection industry. Highly regulated at the State and Federal levels, collectors are subject to dozens of laws and regulations that govern every aspect of their operations. A highly litigious culture based on strict liability laws means a constant threat of lawsuits, resulting in shifts in courts’ interpretations of various statutes. To pile on, debt collectors are subject to active enforcement and rulemaking activity and attention by lawmakers, leading to ongoing updates in debt collection laws. What can debt collectors do to get ahead of them curve? At TrueAccord, we know code driven compliance is the answer.

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On American Banker: CFPB Needs a Rule to Regulate Debt Collection

By on June 10th, 2016 in Compliance, Industry Insights
CFPB

Debt collection is a regulated industry, but as our thought piece on American Banker states, there’s room for more – positive – guidance.

In the last few years, collection suit numbers have soared and the CFPB has responded by closing or fining what they call “lawsuit mills.”

Still, most collection agencies follow the law and will still find a technological way to file large volumes of lawsuits without violating federal measures. Consumers will still end up losing by being subjected to aggressive yet absolutely legal tactics in the collection process.

Read more here.

Industry experts talk progress, offer same old solutions

By on May 10th, 2016 in Compliance
TrueAccord Blog

We’re all about innovation at TrueAccord, and so were pleased to find this article from AccountsRecovery.net titled “Industry Experts Share Tips On How Agencies Should Modernize“. We were a bit surprised to find old ideas reiterated, with a focus on problems and compliance challenges rather than solutions.

This study was sponsored by Castel, a provider of solutions to call centers; furthermore, the experts interviewed have built successful businesses using call center technology. Therefore the focus on call solutions makes sense. We also understand that the TCPA is vague, that consent is an issue and that consumer attorneys are putting compliance teams on edge. As a licensed agency, we’re in the same boat. However times are changing, and it’s high time that we embrace the change.

What technology solutions is the discussion raising? Mostly solutions to manually dial phone numbers, maybe a way to place a voice mail without a ring. The discussion offers little other options other than the iterated duo: those who don’t believe in technology, and those who deem it too risky.

The school of “technology won’t work”

The collection industry has been around for decades, and many of the businesses that comprise it were started long ago by “old school” collectors. That’s why the following quote didn’t surprise us.

“We’ve looked at technology like online chat interface,” said Christian Lehr with Healthcare Collections in Phoenix. “But we haven’t moved forward because it’s a business decision, not a compliance decision. I’m not sure it is the best way to serve the consumer. Much like with emails or text messages, it can be hard to understand context. And there is a time lag for communication. We may be able to serve the consumer faster on a phone call.”

As a company that uses machine learning to develop hybrid collection systems that collect better than call centers, we understand the sentiment but beg to differ. We also have the data to back this disagreement. Not only are email, text and website more effective for collections (from 30% better to 5 times better for low balance debts), consumers prefer them. More than 50% of TrueAccord’s traffic is from mobile devices; more than 35% of payments are made on a mobile device; 25% of interactions with our system happen in non-FDCPA hours. If this isn’t a “better way to service customers”, what is?

The school of “we need permission”

Collectors have been trained by regulators and lawyers to be very compliance minded. This makes them pessimistic about any new technology that hasn’t been tested by courts and lawyers. We hear a lot of the following from agency leaders.

“The only way we can move forward and success is to embrace technologies that are available to us,” Strausser said. “We should be looking at contemporary means of communication and exploring how to pull the trigger when and we are granted approval.”

We’d like to challenge this approach from two directions.

First, when thinking about texting and emails, compliance minded collectors are worried agents on the floor are going to abuse these new tools. However email and texts can be pre-written, optimized, and sent at exactly the right moment. They actually present a much stronger compliance framework when handled properly.

Second, collectors won’t adopt new technologies without explicit approval form the CFPB, but hold on to old call center technology even though the FTC clearly signals it’s all but forbidden. Is explicit approval, which the CFPB rarely provides, the thing to stop us – or can we have an honest analysis of the FDCPA to show us what reasonably can and cannot be done? Are we holding on to old and challenged technology due to inertia?

Bottom line: progress

There is much to do in debt collection. Consumer expectations, client requirements and regulatory pressure are mounting. The right thing to do is take a hard look at the old ways of doing business, and realize that the days of hiring to fight turnover and living off thin margins are almost over. Technology can help us service consumers at scale, provide great customer service, and get results that are better than anything we’d forecast based on old paradigms. We are excited to partner with some of the biggest financial institutions in investigating this possible future.