Obtaining Consent In Digital Debt Collection

By on December 13th, 2017 in Compliance, Debt Collection, Industry Insights

There are few industries left that are as ripe for disruption as the collections industry is right now. In the case of collections, the old adage of “if ain’t broke don’t fix it” has guided the process for collection agencies for the better part of 40 years. Collectors knew that they could reliably collect on past due accounts by simply sending a letter or two and calling debtors repeatedly until they made contact and then convincing the debtor to pay off the account. Creditors built their customer contracts knowing that the collections model of phone and letter outreach was well established. Today, things are changing and they’re changing fast. Nearly 77% of American consumers own a smartphone. Naturally, consumer preferences on how they want to be communicated with have evolved, and at TrueAccord we’re working hard to stay on top of this trend, while maintaining the highest standard of compliance, and pushing the industry to catch up to the times.

The collections practices set out by the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) were designed primarily to protect consumers from abusive contact by collectors in person, by phone, and by letter, but gave little thought to new technologies or how they would be used by consumers. It was only last year that the new proposed rules on debt collection were announced by the CFPB referencing new digital communications methods. This announcement has been creating waves for both creditors and debt collectors and now is the time to start thinking about consumer communications preferences and how to leverage new communications tools to contact your customers, even in collections.

The legal standards for how to obtain consent to contact a debtor is outlined in regulations and in basic agency law. In almost all cases consent to contact a consumer transfers to an agency. Most creditors have added to their contracts provisions allowing for consumer contact by mail and phone with some forward thinking creditors including consent language for the creditor to service the account using email or even better, digital communication channels. However, not many contracts underlying a debt that gets placed in collections anticipated a collector wanting to contact a debtor by email or text message.  With new rules coming, now is the time to anticipate this change and create broad consents that incorporate digital channels that currently exist, and that may be created. An example of a broad consent in a contract might look like:

“If we need to contact you to service your account or to collect amounts you owe, you authorize us (and our affiliates, agents, contractors and third party servicers) to contact you at any number you provide, from which you call us, or at which we believe we can reach you, at any email address you provide to us or at which we believe we can reach you, or through any social media or other digital communications platform you may use. We may contact by calling or texting. We may contact you using an automated dialer or prerecorded messages. We may contact you on a mobile, wireless or similar device, even if you are charged for it.”

This clause incorporates phone, email, text, social media, and leaves the door open for new technology like push notices.  Even though there is some uncertainty around the ability to contact consumers using all of these new channels it’s important to think ahead for when the laws catch up to consumer preferences. It’s not uncommon for a consumer to reach out to TrueAccord and ask for us to text them account details and we wouldn’t be surprised if a consumer asked us to contact them using other messaging apps like Whatsapp or Facebook Messenger. With the consent language above a collector could respond to consumer demand and use these channels to contact a consumer in the way they want to be reached. Respecting consumer preferences will open the door to more successful collections opportunities benefiting consumers, collectors, and creditors.

I’m Excited to Join the CFPB’s Consumer Advisory Board

By on November 28th, 2017 in Company News, Debt Collection, Industry Insights
TrueAccord Blog

I’m very honored to have been appointed to the CFPB’s Consumer Advisory Board. With this appointment, the CFPB is sending a strong message about how it views technology’s role in shaping the future of consumer finance in general, and debt collection in particular. I’m proud to be able to represent the industry’s point of view while making sure we usher in a new era of great user experience and technology innovation. Even with Director Cordray’s planned departure, the CFPB remains a strong and active regulator. While some of the weight is likely to move to State level examinations, keeping in touch with Federal regulators remains a top priority as a way to contribute to consumer protection broadly, and to support TrueAccord’s long-term mission.

Anyone can apply to be a CAB member through the CFPB’s site. I applied and was appointed earlier this year. I did so because at TrueAccord we believe in the Bureau’s mission – protecting consumers – and also that engaging with your regulator is the smart thing to do. I was humbled and excited to be sworn in, because there is still so much in financial services in the US that can be improved, and innovation to be encouraged. I truly believe in the role of the CAB in informing the CFPB on important trends and how to support consumer protection and choice. I am lucky to be serving alongside academics such as Prof. Lisa Servon, consumer advocates such as Chi Chi Wu from the NCLC, and industry leaders such as Max Levchin. It’s a broad set of experiences and opinions that foster great discussions and set us up for the challenges in front of us.

The CAB looks at financial services in general, but my I cannot disregard my own backyard. In tricky, regulated markets like debt collection, with its active rulemaking process, it is even more important to take part in crafting fair and forward-looking rules that protect consumers. Any work I can do to ensure innovation can finally reach the debt collection market is a net positive for consumers and the industry.

The meeting span three full days in Tampa, Florida, and culminated in a public session with comments about the new PayDay rule. Bureau staff kept a tight schedule presenting latest developments in regulation, consumer education initiatives, and for first time members – an intro to the Bureau and its divisions. During the third day, I was also asked to give a 45-minute presentation on trends in the debt collection market. I used it to discuss the transformative role technology has in making the debt collection process customer-centric and digital first, creating better experiences with less friction and stress for consumers.

 

All in all, my first meeting was an incredibly positive experience. Staff turned out to be a diverse group of intelligent and thoughtful people, and the (now ex-)director a highly engaged and knowledgeable person. CAB members bring impressive backgrounds and facilitate an effective discussion, especially when they disagree. I am already looking forward to our next meeting, and reviewing developments we’ll see until then. I personally expect the debt collection rule to be one of them, though Bureau staff gave no formal guidance on this matter.

The Voice of the Consumer: Motivation to Pay Off the Debt

By on October 31st, 2017 in Debt Collection, Industry Insights, User Experience

Today, data science and analytics are empowering organizations to analyze user behavior and create better user experiences that drive success.  Big data and scale are top of mind as companies compete for market share and aim to deliver the best user experience possible. While powerful tools and testing can tell us a lot about what users want and how they interact with applications, features, and content, neither tells the whole story. It is still important to talk to your users in a traditional sense, by picking up the phone and having a conversation to understand how they feel and ask questions that data cannot fully answer. 

At TrueAccord we touch millions of consumers by empowering them to pay off their debt and reach financial health through a personalized, digital, self-managed process.  We are providing a powerful platform that is connecting our customers and consumers in debt during a sensitive process.  We are constantly testing and improving our product for better engagement and conversion, but when it comes to questions like, “how does it feel to be in this situation?” or “did you experience collections with other agencies? If yes, what was the process like and how did it make you feel?”, the only way to get valuable feedback is to have a conversation with consumers.  Their answers help us form an understanding of our users’ needs and shape more quantitative research. We want to understand how our users think and feel so we can better serve them. 

Meet a few of the consumers that have recently used TrueAccord for their debt repayment process:

Stacy: from suspicion to delight

Tell me a bit about yourself.

Stacy is a 29-year-old, married woman with one child and works in the medical field.

Do you remember when you received your first TrueAccord Email?

I was surprised to get an email, it wasn’t the usual process that I had experienced with other collections agencies.  So at first I ignored them and didn’t open them, but when I finally opened and read it, and did a little research on the company, I realized how easy this was going to be.  I could see my total balance, pick a payment plan and do everything online. It was so refreshing to have an easy and friendly process.  I love that it was digital, that’s what I’m used to with other services, and it really made it stress-free to manage the process myself and not to have to talk to anyone.

Have you ever dealt with traditional agencies?

Yes, I had previous debt, I got letters in the mail, so I called in good faith, I know I owed the money and wanted to pay it off, and they made everything so difficult and were incredibly unprofessional.  I wasted more than 30 minutes of my time talking to them, it was so frustrating.  

What can we do better?

It would be great to have some tools and content to learn how to manage my credit and budget. Sometimes when you’re in debt you may not know where to start and then it’s easy to just ignore the problem.  There are a lot of tools out there, it’s just making it top of mind is important.

Josh: sometimes all you need is a reminder

Tell me a bit about yourself.

Josh is 27 years old, engaged, lives in Colorado Springs, has a 4-year degree and works in digital marketing.

Can you tell me a bit about the situation you were in?

It was a dispute with a ticket reseller, and I was going back and forth with them regarding the issue, but it was taking a while and getting frustrating.  It was an honest mistake on my part that just turned out to be expensive. Then all of a sudden, I received an email from TrueAccord.

What did it feel like to receive the first TrueAccord email?

Honestly, I was surprised that they sent me to collections so fast, but I liked the fact that I could take care of it online, it felt more professional and user-friendly.  I paid it off right away, I didn’t want to have it impact my credit in a negative way.  

Have you dealt with other collections agencies, what was the process like?

I had medical debt previously that I had to deal with, it was a very frustrating process, they called me all the time, sent letters, called my employer, it felt like there ware no limits on what they could do. I needed someone to work with me and help me through the process.  

What was your experience with TrueAccord?

I was very impressed with TrueAccord, it was so easy to use, everything was digital and the communications were professional.  I could see my account overview, decide how and when to pay and do everything online. Getting a phone call in this age is so outdated, and easy to ignore.  The fact that I could do it online motivated me to pay faster.

Do you have any feedback for us?

Continue to do what you’re doing, keep it easy and digital, adding humans to the process adds an embarrassing element and frustration, it just adds emotion that is not helpful during this process.  People respond to being treated well and respected and given options that are on their terms.

What about learning more about how to manage debt?

I think when you’re younger you need to understand more about credit, if not managed well it can negatively impact your finances, so having more information on the site would be a great opportunity to help educate people.  

Vera: a positive process in hard times

Tell me a bit about yourself.

Vera is 30 years old, single, lives in Flower Mound, Texas, and works in digital advertising.

Tell me a bit more about the debt?

It was a payday loan, and I hit a rough time and couldn’t make the payments.  I’ve had other times where I was in debt, it’s not a great feeling, it hangs over you.

Did the original creditor try to collect from you?

They did, it wasn’t easy, they called me and I ignored the calls, in order to pay I had to call them, and I just didn’t feel like it.  

What happened when you were contacted by TrueAccord?

When I received my first email from TrueAccord, I began paying within a week.  The fact that it was digital had a lot to do with it, the process was positive, easy and I was ready to pay and put the debt behind me. Not having to talk to someone makes it a better experience. I use a lot of other apps, it’s just what I expect these days.

Have you used other resources for learning about debt or managing finances?

I use several apps: Credit Karma, Credit Sesame, WalletHub, I also like the Reddit forums, there is a lot of information about debt out there, and it’s easy to talk to strangers online where you’re anonymous.  For me, debt is a private issue so it’s not something I would widely talk about, just with close friends and family.

Richard: ease of use made the difference

Tell me a bit about yourself.

Richard, 35 years old, single, lives in Seattle and works in technology

Do you remember getting your first TrueAccord email?

I got an email and I paid my debt within the week.  It’s not a great feeling to be in debt, no matter how small the amount is.  

What was your experience with other agencies?

The process is always so time-consuming and difficult, they always call or just sent letters in the mail, these days that is not an experience I want to deal with.

How was your experience with TrueAccord?

TrueAccord was spectacular, I could just sit in front of my computer and take care of it.

Do you have any feedback for us?

Continue to work with people, help them if they need it.  Giving them the ability to do things online is easy to manage and convenient.  I think having options is helpful, choosing payment plan vs paying it off in a lump sum, flexibility is so important.

This is the first time I have ever had a call from an agency after having debt, it feels great to be asked for feedback.  Shows you genuinely care about what you’re doing and the people you work with.

What other financial services do you use or like?

I use Mint, Credit Karma, and my bank’s financial management tools.  I know how to manage my debt, but sometimes you can still get into trouble.  The are also a lot of blogs out there, so the content is there, but sharing with people during this time might be a good way to help them, people don’t always want to talk about this issue, or have someone to talk to.

Our users have strong opinions

From these conversations, it’s clear how much digital, self-managed experiences drive a more positive, trusted, and easy interaction for both sides.  How we feel has a lot to do with how we act, and by empowering consumers to make their own decisions and giving them the control and flexibility they want, we see they are more motivated to engage and pay.  Continuing the conversation, testing, and data analysis are at the forefront of what we do.   We are going to continue to bring great user experiences and new features to improve and enhance the TrueAccord experience to help consumers reach financial health.  

 

Consumer in Crisis: What To Do When Disaster Strikes

By on October 24th, 2017 in Company News, Culture, Debt Collection, Industry Insights, User Experience

Hurricanes, wildfires, floods. We’ve certainly seen our fair share of natural disasters in the past few months. Sometimes, disasters are more personal such as losing a job, losing a loved one or facing an unexpected medical condition. When these crises happen, financial institutions and debt collectors want to do whatever they can to ease the burden, if only for a short time. The key? Communicating early, communicating often, and asking for relief whenever it is available.

It may be hard to imagine that our bank or lender cares about our circumstances. That is often not true. Financial institutions work within communities and understand the need to support them. That’s true for debt collection as well.

The premise we work with is that people want to pay their debt, they just need the right tools. They also need to be treated like people which is why we offer personalized approaches to each customers’ unique situation.

When paying debt is not possible, it’s in everyone’s interest to find other solutions. At TrueAccord, many clients proactively ask us to stop collecting in crisis-struck areas, and we often do so ourselves. Hardship programs allow us to provide longer and even more flexible payment plans, delay collection attempts and sometimes pause collection efforts for a long period of time.

Many consumers don’t hear about these options – or even consider that there may be another solution available to them – because they choose to disengage with financial institutions and debt collectors. This can make a bad situation worse. We, and your bank, may not be aware of your situation. We understand that calling us may be the last thing on your mind. That’s why you can email us, and in some cases text or write to us on social media. Reaching out will allow you to get in front of the situation early. For your financial institution, it will help them support you sooner and more effectively.

If you are in a crisis, talk to your bank, talk to TrueAccord, and explore your options. While we may not be able to solve every problem, we’re here to help as much as we can.

 

Introducing Account Dashboard To Enable Flexibility and Control for Consumers

By on October 4th, 2017 in Debt Collection, Product and Technology, Testing, User Experience

We are very excited to announce the release of a new feature in the TrueAccord Collections Platform, the Account Dashboard.  The dashboard gives a consumer a comprehensive view of their individual account, enabling consumers to manage their account in real-time, including view balance, payment plans, disputes, and access to financial resources.  This is going to significantly improve consumer experience by giving consumers more control and flexibility to manage their account and their financial obligations in a flexible way, according to their needs.

Our product and data science teams are always looking at ways to improve user experience and engagement by A/B testing new ideas and collecting user feedback.  Our machine learning platform is powered by a decision engine that draws upon millions of previous interactions to deliver digital, personalized experiences for each consumer. Sometimes, the result is a change in contact strategy for a specific set of accounts, but often we also see an impact on the way we design our user experience. This is one of these times.

A time for shifting paradigms

When we started TrueAccord, we were focused on creating a variety of contact strategies and the flexibility to deliver personalized consumer experiences and gather data that we could learn from and make actionable over time. So, we created a wide variety of offers and developed many landing pages with different value propositions, each of which was promoting a particular “offer”, as well as ways to attract consumers to look at those offers and act on them.  While it was simple for our team to create many pages and A/B test offers, we began to realize we were providing an “e-commerce” experience to consumers.

The “e-commerce” experience created a one-way relationship between TrueAccord and the consumer that responded in a limited way to changing consumer habits such as the use of digital technology to self-serve and a desire for individualized products and services. As consumers started getting familiar with the TrueAccord brand and our algorithms became more accurate, it was obvious that an ongoing relationship model better serves the consumer and yields better results, because consumers appreciate the transparency and feeling of control over their financial health.  Counterintuitively, they were starting to trust us, the collection agency. We also started to get feedback from our engagement team that consumers wanted to take advantage of offers they had previously received via email, but now couldn’t easily access. They were starting to think about TrueAccord like any account-based financial services firm they interact with.

We had to take a step back and ask a few key questions:

  • What was the market demanding from us?
  • What was our vision for the TrueAccord consumer experience?
  • Was the experience we were providing reflective of our vision and market needs?  

We realized that our first goal for the product was achieved: consumers don’t think about us as “the bad guys who chase me”. They think of us as a service provider that helps them with a part of their financial lives, and they want more: more engagement, more context, more options.  Consumers wanted the ability to login and view an account page, make payments, adjustments, etc. Part of TrueAccord’s mission is to become a platform for empowering financial health, through digital, data-driven, personalized experiences. So, a redesign was in order.

Creating a consumer-focused collection experience

It sounds counter-intuitive when it shouldn’t. Debt collection is an activity focused on recouping money that consumers owe but didn’t pay, but it can just as much be focused on helping consumers pay the money they owe. In fact, most consumers want to pay but are unable to for a variety of reasons. Creating a consumer-focused experience means providing a seamless, targeted, customized interface that is easy to manage and works with their day to day needs.

The Dashboard allows TrueAccord to show a consumer their available offers and options, while consumers, through their actions and feedback, let TrueAccord know what is or isn’t useful or helpful. It is truly a big step up in realizing our original vision for the product: introduce a system that puts consumers at the helm, in control of their lives and finances, and on the path to financial health.

Mobile

In some cases, more than 70% of traffic to TrueAccord’s web app is from mobile devices. We needed to make sure our new interface is easily accessible and navigable via mobile devices. The new dashboard interface is better optimized for mobile to meet consumer preferences. Consumers can access their account information at any time, from anywhere, giving them a reliable way to stay up to date with their account and to contact us if they have any questions or concerns.

Payment Plans

One of TrueAccord’s most popular payment options is our payment plans. 84% of consumers with debt balances over $300 choose to pay via a payment plan. Unfortunately, a large number of consumers set up plans but drop off before completely paying off their debt. Sometimes it’s because the payment plan amounts are too high, or dates don’t correspond well with the consumers pay days when they have money to pay. By developing a relationship with the consumer, TrueAccord is able to mitigate difficulties and provide solutions to help them get back on track.

Our goal is to be a platform for financial health that empowers consumers to get out of debt by giving them the control and flexibility of paying off their debt in a way that works for them.  This feature is a huge step in that direction.

Yelp Partners with TrueAccord to Deliver Digital Collections and Streamline Data Loop for Customer Engagement

By on September 28th, 2017 in Company News, Debt Collection, Industry Insights, User Experience

Highlights:

“TrueAccord saved our collections team tons of time, the integration with their system was fast and easy, without needing to do tedious, manual tasks.”

“Our company goal is to grow a large, loyal and happy customer base. TrueAccord’s digital collections process supports our goals by extending a great user experience to the collections process.”

“Digital, personalized collections are driving high engagement rate.”

“With TrueAccord we have timely data into customer standing.”

Challenge:

Yelp was founded in 2004 and is now one of the largest platforms to connect people with great local businesses. Traditional agencies required a lot of man-hours and manual processes.  Yelp faced several challenges with the traditional agencies; first, they required a manual process to transfer debt accounts, which was both time-consuming and tedious, requiring lots of forms and faxes being sent, lacking automation and data tracking functionality that Yelp required for business success.  Second, the agencies were employing traditional collections tactics that did not adhere to Yelp’s values.

 Why TrueAccord:

Yelp was looking for a collections agency that would increase recovery rates and help the collections team save time by automating the account transfer process as well as deliver great consumer experiences to support their brand and customer satisfaction. They needed a data-driven collections process that would streamline the visibility into consumer account status, so they could better serve their customers and run their business.

“TrueAccord’s digital collections process was a natural fit for Yelp,” says Parker Asche, Senior Collections Analyst. Yelp’s customers are used to digital interaction, and TrueAccord’s consumer-centric, digital collections process was an extension of our business practices.

Benefits:

“TrueAccord saved our collections team tons of time, the integration with their system is fast and easy, without needing to do tedious, manual tasks.” TrueAccord makes it easy for Yelp to continuously feed new account data into the system, without burdening their collections team with paperwork, saving the team time to focus on business objectives.  The quick transfer and collections process helps their business to continuously keep their customers engaged.

Consumer preferences are changing, and they demand a modern approach to communications. TrueAccord enabled Yelp to reach their customers via a communication method they prefer and engage with, and empower them with the ability to self-service themselves. Yelp is using TrueAccord to deliver engaging digital user experiences for their customers.

About Yelp:

Yelp Inc. (NYSE: YELP) connects people with great local businesses. Yelp was founded in San Francisco in July 2004. Since then, Yelp communities have taken root in major metros across 32 countries. By the end of Q2 2017, Yelpers had written approximately 135 million rich, local reviews, making Yelp the leading local guide for real word-of-mouth on everything from boutiques and mechanics to restaurants and dentists. Approximately 28 million unique devices* accessed Yelp via the Yelp app, approximately 74 million unique visitors visited Yelp via mobile web** and approximately 83 million unique visitors visited Yelp via desktop*** on a monthly average basis during the Q2 2017. For more information, please visit http://www.yelp.com or send an email to press@yelp.com.

* Calculated as the number of unique devices accessing the app on a monthly average basis over a given three-month period, according to internal Yelp logs.
** Calculated as the number of “users,” as measured by Google Analytics, accessing Yelp via mobile website on a monthly average basis over a given three-month period.
*** Calculated as the number of “users,” as measured by Google Analytics, accessing Yelp via desktop computer on an average monthly basis over a given three-month period.

Industry Expert Says: Phone Calls Are Dying

By on September 12th, 2017 in Compliance, Debt Collection, Industry Insights, Machine Learning

Yesterday, in an article on InsideARM.com, Tim Bauer, the President of InsideARM, described a somber state of affairs:

The TCPA and the 2015 FCC Rules interpreting the act have effectively eliminated the use of technology to efficiently call cell phones. Land line usage is dropping like an anchor. The CFPB is on the brink of announcing proposed debt collection rules that are likely to reduce the number of call attempts that can be made. Now, add this latest call blocking technology and the industry is challenged again.

This is a strong statement from a prominent thought leader in the debt collection industry. Mr. Bauer pointed out many efforts by different regulatory agencies and how they impact call centers: “anecdotal reports of right party connects down by 15-30%”, as the FCC includes debt collection calls as an “unwanted call” category in it’s “robocall” blocking initiatives.

At TrueAccord, we agree. The industry has been seeing tremendous pressure on its ability to call consumers efficiently, not only because of regulatory pressure – this pressure is driven by consumer preference, and the fact that consumers often opt to not pick up the phone, not to mention opening a letter. As strong advocates for technology in debt collection, with our CEO now part of the CFPB’s Consumer Advisory Board, we will continue to support forward thinkers such as Mr. Bauer and others who call for the use of new technologies in debt collection. It is the consumer friendly, smart, and efficient approach for the 21st century, and we strongly encourage our peers in this industry to begin adopting and utilizing these channels in preparation for the CFPB’s expected Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, expected later this year.

Debt Collection 101: Where to Begin

By on August 7th, 2017 in Debt Collection, Industry Insights

The heydays of 2015 are over, and investors are looking at business operations and growth before opening up their checkbook for the next round of funding. They are pushing for better margins and cash flow. In the past, you focused on top line growth and knew that there’s another round coming. You can’t do that anymore.

You talk to your CFO and it’s obvious that chargebacks and late payments are a bigger line item than you’d want them to be. You don’t need to be a lender for that. You could have chargebacks from people who regret their purchase (but somehow forget to return the item). Some are on post-paid plans but their cards expire. Some use your product, incur penalties, and never pay them. Simply writing off the debt is not an option.  

Why not do collections in-house? You may decide to try an in-house collections department. Your customer service people aren’t too excited about the new tasks, so they make a few calls and send an email, but no one responds. Those that do pick up the phone are sometimes aggressive and your agents can’t handle them. You realize that collections and customer service are not complimentary job functions and need to be separated. You try to hire a collections professional and are shocked by the cultural mismatch. This isn’t going to work. You’re not going to invest a lot upfront in the hopes of recovering 2% of what’s owed to you.

You decide to work with an outside collection agency. These folks don’t speak your language. They don’t even know what an API is. They outsource their collection activity to Guatemala because that’s how they can make 6 calls per day per customer, cheap. They become defensive when you mention your customers don’t like being called and prefer digital channels like email and text. You want them to care about your brand and customers but their agents make commissions on every dollar collected and if they can’t make their numbers, they get booted. You see where this is going. It’s not going to work.

Here’s the thing: debt collection is part of the business lifecycle, and when implemented correctly, can help you get paid while maintaining your brand and customer engagement. It’s possible to collect and keep your customers satisfied. Collections can use digital channels and a self-service system that gives people the payment flexibility they need, improves your chances of recovery, and reduces the time it takes them to commit to a payment. We’ve seen collection rates as high as 27% for eCommerce companies, because many of your customers who fall behind want to pay. They just needed to be treated correctly – in the same targeted, data driven, UX-first approach that you use for the rest of your product. That’s what we spend a lot of time building.

The Debt Collection Rule is Coming in 2017 – Here’s What to Expect

By on August 7th, 2017 in Compliance, Debt Collection, Industry Insights

The CFPB just announced its 2017 rulemaking agenda. In its message, the CFPB states that it has “decided to issue a proposed rule later in 2017 concerning debt collectors’ communications practices and consumer disclosures.” InsideARM puts the date at September of this year. This is great news for consumers, creditors – and even collectors.

The rule is expected to focus on collector communication practices. Judging by the CFPB’s 2016 outline, that includes clarifications on the use of social media and emails for collections, as well as a cap on weekly contact attempts per account.

Emails and social media are consumers’ preferred channels for communication, even with debt collectors. We expect this rule to open the flood gates on responsible, consumer-centric, and scalable collection practices that will benefit everyone involved. We’ve written extensively on how machine learning based, digital first systems collect better than traditional solutions, and we expect these clarifications to greatly aid in giving consumers what they want.

Contact caps continue the trend of limiting the use of phone calls as means to communicate with consumers in the debt collection process. As we wrote before, the biggest challenge to the debt collection industry is that phone calls are becoming irrelevant. The CFPB is continuing the regulatory trends following consumer preference, and while it’s opening up new communication channels, it’s severely limiting phone calls. We expect this trend to worsen.

This rule is a boon for the collection industry. While it may be challenged by those who focus on getting the most profit out of old school technologies, those in the industry who embrace technology and want to help consumers can’t help but appreciate the trend. The regulator is paving the way towards better user experience, better cost adjusted technologies, and an ability to actually help consumers at scale. Industries like e-commerce, tech and fintech have been very focused on consumer experiences and cannot afford to subject their customers to traditional agency behavior.  And major banks and lenders realize that this revolution is coming, and many of them have already engaged in transforming their vendor network and internal operations to be future facing. This rule is another great step on that path.

Response to the FCC Notice of Inquiry (NOI)

By on July 31st, 2017 in Compliance, Debt Collection, Industry Insights

The FCC recently released a Notice Of Inquiry (NOI) on the topic of on-call authentication, and the debt collection industry is again up in arms about its past, rather than embracing its future. Collectors are having a hard time authenticating consumers’ identity on phone calls, and that leads to a lower number of productive conversations. In a detailed article on InsideARM, Stephanie Eidelman correctly states that “While [the proposal] is not aimed specifically at debt collection, the problem is significant in the industry. The next trick would be to assist in helping the consumer authenticate their identity to a legitimate collector, in a way that eliminates the need to share personal information.” Dear collectors, there are wonderful authentication solutions available to you. Put down that headset, turn off your dialer, and turn your attention to the online world.

Consumer preference is changing. 97% of business calls go unanswered, according to Neustar. Phone calls are real-time interactions, imposing on the consumer’s time and attention. Once consumers pick up, they start from deep suspicion towards the person on the other side, who now has to earn their trust while asking for personal information. It’s a stressful situation, especially for someone paid a commission for collected dollars. Often this devolves into a heated exchange between a stressed consumer and an equally stressed collector. Calls aren’t only bad for reaching consumers; they are bad for engaging them in a meaningful exchange, too.

Emails and digital communication channels provide a superior customer experience. Emails and social media apps are password protected, simplifying the authentication process. If you require added security, many established companies offer real time authentication solutions that keep the consumer engaged with your system. It is easy to quantify and improve the experience to keep consumers engaged, reviewing their options, until they find one that fits. Consumers can choose to engage in times that work for them, rather than times when collectors are available to take their call. As a result, using digital channels significantly cannibalizes the phone channel: on average, TrueAccord makes 5 call attempts to each account over a 90 day placement period, compared with up to 6-10 attempts per day in call center based operations, and still collects better with lower complaint rates.

Calls pose multiple challenges – from operational ones to legal ones. They are costly and complicated. The FCC’s ATDS ruling is disastrous and further limits the efficacy of phone calls. Yet collectors choose to focus on fighting phone-related regulation instead of finding new ways to communicate with consumers. It is starting to look as though some prefer a contact method that consumers think of as harassing and intrusive, because moving to digital communications is simply outside of their comfort zone.