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.
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).
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
Are you a member of the California Bar, or just interested in ethics in debt collection? Join and hear a talk by our General Counsel, Avital Gertner-Samet.
Date and Time: January 21, 2016, 11:45 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.
Committee secretary Avital Samet, General Counsel at TrueAccord, will lead the presentation covering potential ethical conflicts to be aware of and avoid while practicing debt collection law. The attorney’s loyalty and confidentiality duties to his client will be juxtaposed against the attorney’s duty as an officer of the court and duties owed to the consumer. These aspects are relevant both to third party and first party debt collectors as well as to counsels that advise to creditors and consumers alike. She will be joined by Matt Loker (Kazerouni Law Group, APC) and Jeffrey Ehrlich (Consumer Financial Protection Bureau).
To attend, please use the following dial-in number at 11:45 a.m.
Dial-in: (855) 520-7605
Passcode: 908 506 2381
TrueAccord has been refining the debt dispute process since our inception in 2013. Offering digital disputes streamlines the conversation between consumers and collectors while also reducing compliance risk. Engagement of consumers in debt-related discussions have decreased complaints quickly leading conversations into debt resolution.
Consumers who owe debts are often confused, angry and scared – sometimes unaware of the full details of what they owe and to whom. Though the FDCPA was written to protect the average American consumer, aspects of it, including the mini Miranda and debt validation notice are written in formal legalese. As a result, consumers filing a formal debt dispute tend to skip over reading the information or misunderstand the language, leading them to miss remedies immediately available to them. For example, consumers often miss the allotted 30-day dispute window after the initial communication, during which time they can dispute the debt, while asking for additional verification.
We’ve discussed the advantages of machine learning based collections before, that’s because cost to collect drops significantly, the system’s flexibility allows more thorough and diligent handling of accounts, and—when done well—is better at liquidation than a call center. These systems have another advantage: they inherently provide better collection compliance than call centers. Why?
Continue reading “Three reasons your collection compliance officer will love machine learning based collections”
On September 9th the CFPB released consent orders for Encore Capital Group of San Diego, CA and Portfolio Recovery Associates (PRA) of Norfolk, VA following an investigation uncovering their attempts to collect debt that they knew or should have suspected were invalid. Hitting the US’s two largest debt buyers and collectors with a combined settlement of $72 million in refunds and penalties (as well as the inability to collect on an additional $128 million in debt) for using deceptive tactics, sends a clear message about best practices surrounding debt substantiation in the collections industry.