The Digest: January 2021

By on January 6th, 2021 in Industry Insights

We’re only one week into 2021, and it’s already an eventful year. The surging pandemic, lagging vaccine rollout, imminent political change, and turmoil in Washington are affecting every corner of the country, including the worlds of finance, fintech, and collections. Here are the articles we’re reading to help make sense of what this year may bring:

• Distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine in the US is much slower than expected, but economists are already looking ahead to what a post-vaccine economy could look like—especially in light of the recently passed $900B stimulus package. Economists surveyed by The Wall Street Journal foresee “tough sledding this winter, and then a rebound” in the spring. Likewise, Nobel laureate economist Paul Krugman predicts that “mass vaccination, pent-up demand, greater household savings, technological progress, and the Biden administration’s backing” will fuel a jobs boom later this year. Our fingers are crossed.


Part 2 of the CFPB’s new debt collection rule is here. New guidelines around validation notices, time-barred debt, and passive debt collection are all covered in this section. Kelly Knepper-Stephens, TrueAccord’s VP Legal & Compliance, will be sharing her insights on the new rule at the ACA Huddle Webinar this Friday 1/8 (ACA log-in required). If you want to go even deeper on Part 2 of the new rule, you can download all 354 pages here.


• If you’re still processing 2020, we recommend checking out Forbes’ round-up of the winners and losers in fintech and banking from the past year, as well as PYMNTS.com’s list of trends that shaped the digital-first economy in 2020. Unsurprisingly, the Buy Now, Pay Later boom and the meteoric rise of neobank Chime and payments startup Stripe were noted as standout events in the world of fintech this year.


• If you’d rather look forward than back, we recommend checking out Tearsheet’s expert panel on what banking will look like in 2021. As longtime proponents of consumer-focused financial services, we love this prediction in particular: “Banks will have to find a way to duplicate personal, in-person relationships–but at scale and with a digital-first approach. This will be a priority in 2021.” To learn about TrueAccord’s method for creating innovative, personalized experiences in collections, check out our webinar on the future of digital debt collections.


• Our founder and CEO Ohad Samet recently appeared on the Wharton Fintech podcast to talk about TrueAccord’s mission to change the debt collection industry by empowering consumers with flexible, personalized payment options. If you want to even know more about TrueAccord’s vision for 2021, check out our Digital Collections Roadmap, a collection of tools and resources to guide your collections strategy this year. For an even deeper dive, check out our ebook, The Buyer’s Guide to Digital Debt Collection Solutions.

Key Takeaways from TrueAccord’s Utilities Roundtable on LIHEAP and COVID-19 Assistance

By on December 18th, 2020 in Industry Insights
TrueAccord Blog

By March 2021, small business and residential utilities customers could owe up to $40 billion in unpaid debt.  To better understand this moment of increased financial hardship and economic uncertainty, TrueAccord hosted a roundtable with several Northeast and Midwest utilities companies. Participants shared insights and brainstormed creative solutions to better help their utilities customers, including:

  • Educating consumers on assistance programs
  • Reaching consumers where they are, with the use of digital strategies
  • Streamlining assistance programs to make them more accessible for consumers
  • Developing partnerships with faith-based & community organizations

Educating Consumers about Assistance Programs

Utilities companies have found it both necessary and effective to educate customers on various assistance programs. The Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program gives families a cash grant to pay for their heating bills, or payment assistance programs that give families monthly credit based on a household’s income and energy use.  For those that do not qualify, there are deferred payment plans or Customer Assistance Referral and Evaluation Programs (CARES), like the one that the Pennsylvania Public Utilities Commission set-up to assist family emergenciesHowever, even with the right messaging and the right programs, there’s still challenges in reaching consumers. 

Reaching Consumers Where They Are

Communication methods are quickly moving digital. Consumers are increasingly finding phone calls disruptive, and traditional letters pile up or are simply thrown away.  To reach the most consumers, emails, calls, social media, and text messages are now table-stakesThough over 60% of millennials are burdened by debt, they expect highly tailored experiences, mobile-optimized payment portals, and extensive use of social media.  To reach other demographics, some utilities are exploring radio, television commercials, and other creative solutions.  One organization repurposed a fleet truck and traveled to food banks to educate low-income consumers on assistance programs.  Another organization hosted a virtual tradeshow to help consumers navigate paperwork and helped over 4,900 of their customers complete applications on the spot! 

Streamlining Assistance Programs

On the ground, many utilities found that consumers simply did not have basic access to the internet, lacked the time to complete an application, or found the bureaucratic process confusing and cumbersome.  With that in mind, some utilities created a one-stop shop to merge assistance applications so if consumers did not qualify for a low-income program, they might qualify for a government grant or a deferred payment program.  Another utility partnered with the Department of Human Services and had their representatives certified to complete state emergency relief applications with customer consent, which greatly aided the elderly’s ability to complete applications.

Developing Partnerships with Organizations 

Lastly, some utilities are building grassroot support to develop partnerships with trusted community organizations and churches.  Because these organizations have an unparalleled reach and trust, many utilities can use community spaces, rely on trusted sponsors, use co-branded email campaigns, and leverage intimate knowledge of their network to tailor outreach and programs to increase awareness.

Summary

With only an hour to talk about these topics at the roundtable, our team at TrueAccord and the participating utilities all felt like we needed to host another virtual event in 2021.  If you’re interested in participating in a future roundtable, please email Matt Buffalini at  mbuffalini@trueaccord.com.  

You can learn more about TrueAccord’s digital-first, machine-learning AI software in a new e-book or schedule a call to see how TrueAccord can help your utility deliver better results, provide industry-leading customer experience, or assist with LIHEAP and assistance program awareness.

The Digest: December 2020

By on December 17th, 2020 in Industry Insights

Between the COVID-19 vaccine rollout, a potential second stimulus package, and the incoming Biden administration, big changes are upon us in the United States. How will these changes impact the worlds of finance, fintech, and collections? Here are the headlines we’re watching as we consider the changes to come in 2021:

• As we covered in November, the CFPB’s new debt collection rule signals a continued shift towards more protections for consumers in debt. With the incoming Biden administration, more regulatory news from the CFPB could be imminent, including announcements of more aggressive oversight of the student debt industry and regulations to help homeowners who are facing foreclosure.

• According to Bloomberg, “Americans’ household finances are in the best shape in decades,” despite the surging pandemic. While 2020 has been much harder on working-class families, data from the Federal Reserve shows that “they too have more money in the bank now.” Unfortunately, this good news regarding household finances is complicated by the recent jump in unemployment claims and an increase in food insecurity among low-income families.

• Lawmakers are currently in stimulus negotiations, which means some financial relief could be on the way for families and businesses. Even if a deal is not achieved in the coming weeks, the Biden administration has indicated that “it will push for a multi-trillion-dollar package in 2021,” according to Business Insider. As we’ve noted, a large stimulus could have wide-ranging effects on consumer finances, including a possible sharp increase in debt repayment.

• On the fintech front, we are still closely watching the rising success of BNPL (Buy Now Pay Later) startups, such as Affirm, Afterpay, and Klarna. PYMNTS.com recently released a study, Buy Now, Pay Later: Millennials and the Shifting Dynamics of Online Credit, that sheds light on the audience factors encouraging this emerging landscape. As we’ve noted before, flexible payment options can be a real win-win: better for the customer experience, as well as a positive for payment plan retention.

What the winter holidays and tax season have in common

By on December 10th, 2020 in Industry Insights
TrueAccord Blog

As we speed towards the end of a tumultuous year, I wanted to share my thoughts on what the months ahead may bring for the collections industry.

First, to address the riddle in the title of this post, what do the holidays and tax season have in common? Debt repayment. According to TrueAccord’s data from 12 million American consumers, debt repayment typically peaks twice a year: once during the winter holidays and again from February to early April when tax refund checks are received.

But those aren’t the only factors that may affect debt repayment in the near future. A second COVID stimulus package may be around the corner, and if the first stimulus package is any indication, that may lead to an increase in the number of Americans who are choosing to pay off debt. (In 2019-2020, there were not two, but three peaks in debt repayment—the winter holidays, tax season, and April-May, when stimulus checks were delivered.)

So, what will be the impact of a high debt repayment season coupled with an economic stimulus? A sharp and potentially unprecedented increase in debt repayment might be coming very soon.

If you’re worried about scaling your collections operations to effectively meet the increase in payments, reach out to TrueAccord. We put the consumer in the driver’s seat: 96% of consumers we work with resolve their debts through self-service on our digital channels. That high level of automation enables TrueAccord to run very lean, averaging 80,000 active accounts per agent.

At TrueAccord, we are changing the lives of the 77 million Americans in debt and leading the digital transformation of the collections industry. We’d love for you to join us.

Sheila Monroe is the CEO of TrueAccord Corp.

TrueAccord Releases The Buyer’s Guide to Digital Debt Collections Solutions

By on November 27th, 2020 in Industry Insights
TrueAccord Blog

TrueAccord released Ten Critical Questions: The Buyer’s Guide to Digital Debt Collections Solutions. The ebook is the definitive guidebook for organizations looking to jumpstart their digital debt collection journey. 

“We wrote this book to distill what we’ve learned after many years in the industry,” said Sheila Monroe, TrueAccord Corp. CEO. “There’s no question that digital-first debt collection delivers superior results for creditors and a better experience for consumers. But not all solutions are created equal.” 

The Buyer’s Guide starts with four key trends that explain why digital debt collection is the wave of the future. It then lays out the critical questions that organizations should ask before entering into a partnership with a digital debt collection vendor. 

The ebook equips potential buyers with benchmark data and insights into key questions like:

  • What channels do you use to reach consumers?
  • Do you use advanced technology like machine learning? If so, how?
  • What percentage of customers resolve their debt through self-service, without any human interaction? 
  • On average, how many accounts does each agent handle?

“Ultimately, our goal is to give collections and recovery professionals the tools they need to navigate a complex landscape and select the best digital collections solution for their organization – and their consumers,” said Monroe. 

Download the ebook today to learn more.

The Digest: The CFPB’s New Debt Collection Rule

By on November 19th, 2020 in Industry Insights

In this edition of The Digest, we’re zooming in on a topic making headlines in the world of collections: the new CFPB debt collection rule. We sat down with TrueAccord’s Chief Compliance Officer Tim Collins to get his initial thoughts on what the new rule will mean for the collections industry, and how it may open new doors for better relationships between collectors and consumers.

Tim, thank you for sharing your thoughts on the long-awaited new CFPB debt collection rule. It’s the first big change to the FDCPA since 1977, and it provides new “rules of the road” for collections. What are some of the top takeaways for the collections industry?

As you said, this is the first major change to the FDCPA in over forty years. The new rule is meant to help the collections industry adapt to all the exponential changes in technology, communication, and consumer behavior that have happened since then.

To some degree, there is still a focus on regulating the more traditional world of call-and-collect agencies. There are new guidelines around call caps. They also put in a clearer definition of limited content messages, which was a topic that the industry was looking for guidance on. In general, there are now clearer instructions on the means by which a collector can reach a consumer.

Beyond the world of call-and-collect agencies, the new rule opens doors for better digital communications with consumers—email, SMS, etc. There’s a huge focus on consumer preference. The new rule is clear: the consumer has the right to tell you when is a good time for them to be contacted, and they have the ability to tell you what communications channels work best for them. All of that is very much in line with what we already do—and have always done—at TrueAccord.

The new rule is clear: the consumer has the right to tell you when is a good time for them to be contacted, and they have the ability to tell you what communications channels work best for them.

I know TrueAccord was influential in issuing comments that were ultimately incorporated into the rule. Can you tell us a bit about that?

We’re proud to have been involved in providing public comments to the rule around the use of email in collections. We were able to share our insights on how emails should be sent, why email is convenient for consumers, the advantages of email with opt-out, and other dimensions of a successful, compliant email program.

[Editor’s note: for more insights from TrueAccord on using email in collections, check out our new whitepaper co-authored with Experian: What to Know When Adding Email to Collections: The Ultimate Guide]

It’s important to note that the new rule won’t take effect until late 2021, and there’s a lot that could change between now and then in the United States. So, there’s still some degree of uncertainty about how the rule will be implemented.

That’s right. There’s a lot of things that could happen between now and when the rule becomes effective. Also, we’re still waiting for part two of the rule to come out. That will likely happen in December.

So yes, there’s a lot that we still don’t know, and a lot that could change. There’s even a chance the whole rule could be tossed out, though that is unlikely. But right now, the new rule gives us a vision and a direction about where the industry is headed— and that is towards better alignment with consumers, more protection for consumers. That’s part of the CFPB’s mission, and that’s part of our mission as well.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

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TrueAccord’s compliance and digital collections experts are available to talk more about the CFPB’s new debt collection rule and what it will mean for the collections industry. Start a conversation with our team to learn more.

Between Two Fintechs with Dan Quan

By on November 10th, 2020 in Industry Insights

In this edition of “Between Two Fintechs,” TrueAccord founder Ohad Samet interviews Dan Quan, Managing Partner of Banks Street Advisory and formerly the Senior Advisor to the Director at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). Dan led its fintech office, Project Catalyst, the first of its kind in the world, inspiring regulatory agencies across the globe to set up dedicated innovation hubs to promote financial innovation.

At the CFPB, Dan focused his work on consumer-permissioned data access/open banking and the use of AI and alternative data in credit underwriting. A nationally recognized fintech thought leader, Dan serves as a bridge between Silicon Valley and the Beltway, and we’re honored to feature him in this series.

This transcript was conducted in October 2020 and has been edited and condensed for clarity. You can see all the interviews here.

Ohad Samet: Welcome Dan, we’re so excited to speak with you today about your experience working with fintechs at the CFPB and your perspective around regulation, technology and consumer financial services.

Dan Quan: Thank you. Fintech companies, like yours at TrueAccord, are a really exciting sector.

In the earlier days at the Bureau, I remember walking into the office the first day, and it was a conference room with 20 computers. We had to work or have meetings in the hallway or kitchen. The Bureau’s staff mindset was, this is once-in-a-lifetime thing. I believe the Bureau was the first agency that recognized the promise of fintech. We got a lot of good information and data from folks like you to help the Bureau write better rules and make better policies.

OS: Yes, it’s been very interesting to work with the Bureau’s research department, and be able to provide anonymized aggregate data to support the Bureau’s requests for comment. But it’s not like you guys were very gentle on the enforcement side. There were a lot of inspections of FinTech companies, so without asking you to comment about specific issues, I’m wondering about how you found the balance between encouraging innovation but also enforcing regulation?

DQ: I think it’s really a balancing act, right? I will say there’s one common misconception about the CFPB: that there was never a “human side of the Bureau.” When we talk to companies, we also recognize that enforcement is a very blunt tool. It’s very effective, it shows results immediately, but at the same time it also can crush a business. It also doesn’t really help the market come up with better solutions.

How can you come up with better products to not only comply with the regulations, but also serve people better? Obviously, the work we did at Project Catalyst, the innovation office was trying to do that.

Informal conversations, interactions or idea exchanges with market participants are just as valuable. If you ask me what I’m most proud of that I did at the CFPB, it was the effort to push open banking in the United States. It involved so many conversations and research from various market participants from financial institutions, from think tanks, data aggregators, users, nonprofits and consumer advocates.

OS: Yes, I think it’s very satisfying for me, and I hope by extension to the team in general. The work that we’re doing gave federal regulators enough data needed to make these decisions. That was a very positive experience of being involved in federal policy even if we’re just a tiny cog in the machine
Pivoting a bit, there are a lot of new fintech solutions, such as microlenders like Dave, or those giving employees access to their payroll early, like neobanks and Earnin. What are you seeing in terms of trends in federal policy and how they’re thinking about this new crop of solutions.

DQ: You mentioned companies like Dave, Earnin, PayActiv, starting with earned wage access—allowing people to get to their paychecks anytime on demand with a small fee or sometimes just a tip or for free. Chime and Varo started doing this too, plus adding overdraft protection programs. They are all challenging the status quo. That’s going to be bad news for banks who rely on fee income. What’s interesting is that these new product offerings from such fintechs are merging to offer solutions that try to make their customers live a financially healthy life.

A lot of conversations are actually at the state level, whether these are payday lenders, or whether they actually are a better alternative to consumers. We shall see how things are going to play out in the next couple of years.

OS: You mentioned state-level attention, which reminded me of the discussion in the last few years around, if the CFPB is less active, state AGs are going to pick up the mantle and be more active. No one is an oracle, but what are some possible scenarios from your perspective for the CFPB after the elections?

DQ: I would imagine if President Trump is re-elected, we’ll see the status quo where there will be continuous fights between federal and the state regulators. States may think the CFPB is not doing an adequate job, whether that’s true or perception and will want to come in and fill the gap, which is manifesting itself in California, right? But I also want to point out one thing we should still realize is that there are still a lot of collaborations between the CFPB and the states.

If Biden becomes the president, I think you will see more collaboration. In the case of California, once their consumer finance agency is set up, they are not going to walk that back.

I believe it’s always better to talk to regulators, to help them understand what you do, as long as you’re a good actor—rather than operating in the dark, and have no idea what kind of rule is going to come down at you in the future.

OS: For our last question, can you talk about the challenges for regulation regarding machine learning? I think we’ve spent a lot of time trying to build a system that is not overly complex and is reasonably easy to explain. But there are machine learning techniques, like deep learning, for example, that are almost impossible or very hard to explain.

DQ: Explainability is really a key thing. If the practitioner cannot explain to a regulator, I think it will make a regulator feel extremely uneasy. But obviously if you go back to the old ways where everything is explainable, you obviously lose all the upside the machine learning can bring, so it’s a very delicate balance.

What we really need is more exchange of ideas, information between the CFPB, the financial regulators and the companies that are experimenting in the space. I think the CFPB started working with Upstart, for example, on how to strengthen the compliance management system, so I hope the CFPB will publish that in the near future so that everybody can take a look and say, “This is what they did and it looks like it worked.”

OS: I would say from our perspective, we’ve always tried to do something that’s within the bounds of the law, collect the data, then go to the regulator and say, “Here, this is how it’s working, so we think this should be the direction.” The worst results I have seen in terms of rules that have come out were when industry participants went to regulators and said, without context, “Hey, give us clear guidance” and the guidance always came back not as expected.

DQ: Exactly.

OS: Dan, thank you so much for your time. I’m sure we will continue to be in touch and maybe work together in the future.

DQ: Absolutely, I will look forward to it! Thank you so much for having me.

The Digest: October 2020

By on October 15th, 2020 in Industry Insights

For this edition of The Digest, we’re taking stock of what we’ve learned so far from the economic impacts of COVID-19, its implications for collections and emerging fintech trends. Here are some headlines that caught our attention:

What to keep an eye on:

  • The New York Times recently published a fascinating data visualization report that shows that the number of job losses that are permanent is increasing, providing “a view of the dynamics shifting beneath the surface…of potentially lasting consequences of the crisis.” 
  • The future of upcoming stimulus payments remain uncertain, with this timeline of events explaining how we got to where we’re at today. There may be some movement made this month, as McConnell stated on Tuesday that the Senate will vote on a limited coronavirus stimulus bill.
  • We’ve seen the rise of many “buy now, pay later” providers, and on the heels of its $500M Series G round, Affirm has now confidentially filed to go public. Affirm will join Afterpay as the second pay-later fintech to hit public markets. While there haven’t been many fintech IPOs this year, Affirm’s listing could encourage others to do the same via IPO, direct listing or SPAC route.
  • In a long time coming, the CFPB is getting ready to update its rules around collections and technology, with text messaging and emails formally recognized as communication channels. We’re waiting with bated breath, and proud that the work we’re doing in pioneering digital collections meets consumers on their preferred channels.

What we’re excited about:

  • We’re honored that our very own Sheila Monroe has been recognized as one of the Top 25 Women Leaders in Financial Technology of 2020 by The Financial Technology Report.
  • We’re hosting a webinar next Wednesday 10/21 on the future of digital collections. TrueAccord’s Chief Product Officer Laura Marino & our team of product experts will give a behind-the-scenes look at TrueAccord’s latest product features that deliver peace of mind to consumers and enhanced results to creditors.

The Digest: September 2020, part 2

By on September 25th, 2020 in Industry Insights

In this edition of The Digest, we’re looking towards the future. After all, Q4 is right around the corner, and after that, 2021 will be here before we know it. Here are the headlines we’re thinking about as we look ahead.

  • TrueAccord CEO Sheila Monroe gave her thoughts on what’s next for collections in the latest episode of one of our favorite financial services podcasts, Credit Eco 2 Go.  Sheila shared her optimism on the potential efficacy of multimedia collections communications and emphasized how “the one-size-fits-all approach” is no longer a viable option for reaching out to consumers in debt.  
  • Chime is now the most valuable consumer fintech company. Speaking to Chime’s appeal, CEO Chris Britt noted, “Nobody wants to go into bank branches, nobody wants to touch cash anymore, and people are increasingly comfortable living their lives through their phones. We have a website, but people don’t really use it. We’re a mobile app, and that’s how we deliver our services.” The future of mobile banking is looking brighter than ever.
  • What does the financial future of American families look like? If the present is any indication, there may be painful times ahead. A new NPR poll finds “very substantial proportions of households reporting that their savings have been depleted by the pandemic (if they had any savings to start with).”  Robert J. Blendon, executive director of the Harvard Opinion Research Program, predicts that “it’s going to get worse because there is nothing for the people we surveyed who earn under $100,000 a year to fall back on.” 

3 Sessions We’re Excited to (Virtually) Attend at Lendit Fintech USA 2020

By on September 24th, 2020 in Company News, Industry Insights

The LendIt Fintech USA 2020 conference is just around the corner on September 29 through October 1, with an exciting lineup of industry experts from leading traditional banks, fintech platforms, and tech companies discussing innovations in lending, digital banking, embedded finance, and more. Here are the three sessions we’re most excited to attend:

1. The Next Level of Fintech: Building your Customer Ecosystem

When: September 29, 11:30am-12:00 pm EDT

The speakers: Craig Boundy, CEO of Experian North America, and Peter Renton, Chairman at Lendit Fintech

Why we’re excited: Customer loyalty and meaningful engagement matter more than ever as the landscape of consumer fintech products and services becomes increasingly crowded. Experian North America CEO Craig Boundy will discuss how his team leverages data and technology innovation beyond just customer acquisition but to also earn consumers’ loyalty for the long haul.

2. New Approaches to Collections in Times of Crisis

When: September 29, 4:20-5:00 pm EDT 

The speakers: Ohad Samet, CEO of TrueAccord, Jacob Corlyon, CEO of Capital Collection Management, Hersh Shah, Sr. Director – Transaction Advisory at RSM US LLP and Praveen Kombial, Global Product Head of Business Applications at EdgeVerve

Why we’re excited: As the economic ripples of the pandemic continue, the collections industry is facing unique challenges. We’re looking forward to our CEO Ohad Samet sharing how TrueAccord has adapted to consumer needs during these times as well as learning from the other panelists on how they’ve rolled out new initiatives spurred by this crisis.

3. New Insights into Consumer Financial Resiliency Amidst Current Market Dynamics

When: September 30, 2:00-2:30 pm EDT

The speaker: Dave Shellenberger, VP of Product Management, Scores and Analytics at FICO

Why we’re excited: While we have insight into our consumer behavior in response to COVID-19, we’re interested in learning more from FICO on how they’ve developed a new analytical framework that can be used across the consumer lifecycle to better understand consumer financial resiliency.