Member Code of Conduct

2016 Code of Conduct Revision

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On September 28, 2016 the ACA International Board of Directors adopted a revised version of the ACA Code of Conduct that applies to all members of the association.  ACA’s long-standing Code has provided ACA members a firm foundation for industry engagement, serving members well throughout the Association’s history.  The newly-revised Code is designed to meet the needs of the association into the future, especially as members navigate through our industry’s changing environment. The structure, guiding principles, and provisions of the newly-revised Code provide the flexibility necessary for the changing environment and a stable, modern, and workable approach for the future. This page offers answers to questions members may have about the changes.

Click here  to watch a video outlining the revisions to the ACA Code of Conduct.

Frequently Asked Questions

A: The current Code is effective as of November 12, 2016 and applies to member conduct occurring on or after that date.

A: The prior version of the Code will still be applied by the Ethics Committee when reviewing reports of misconduct occurring prior to November 12, 2016.

A: The ACA International Ethics Committee is responsible for enforcement of the Code of Conduct and for recommending changes to the Board of Directors.  In late 2015, the Ethics Committee began review of the former Code and presented a draft proposal for modernization to the Board in February 2016.  The Board examined the draft proposal, designating a small working group of the Board to head up the review.  The Committee and Board review process was supported and assisted by ACA International’s legal team. The draft proposal was further revised as a result of the Board’s review and was adopted in its final form September 28, 2016.

A: ACA originally developed a code and set of rules governing member conduct in the 1940s, which has undergone several minor and major revisions over the years. In this time, it had not been updated to reflect the many and rapid changes which have occurred within the industry in the last few years, and since the establishment of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. The Code was modernized to reflect these changes, and was designed to be sufficiently flexible to serve the membership well into the future.

A: This change was thoughtful and deliberate. The drafters acknowledge the member Code is a voluntary agreement among, by, and for the members, and should sound like it. As revised, it is aspirational and optimistic in tone. “Thou shall not” commandments have been replaced with “We will” pledges. The drafters felt it is important that members not feel suppressed by their Code of Conduct, but enthusiastic, encouraged, and empowered by it.

A: The Code will continue to be enforced by the Ethics Committee. However, simple oversights, failings, errors, and mistakes may be excusable, victimless, or occasional technical Code violations which may not justify strict enforcement. Rather, the conduct should rise to a certain level or seriousness or harm to justify a charge of Code violation. Additionally, because ACA’s membership is comprised of both individual and company members, the Code acknowledges an individual may not always be held accountable for its employing company’s conduct, and a member company will not always be held accountable for an employed individual’s behavior. The drafters also understand that an individual or company member may at times act in ways which does not directly implicate their business activity within the credit and collection industry and for which the member may be accused of acting unethically, such as in the case of a wholly personal matter.  While ACA may not approve of such conduct, it does not attempt to govern or enforce against such unrelated activity merely because the individual is a member of the Association. For example, a physical altercation on a softball field between two competing agency presidents also exchanging verbal insults would not implicate the Code.

A: The Code expressly acknowledges it may sometimes present a conflict for members when attempting to comply with both the law and the Code. The Code will be enforced only in appropriate instances; members should not be held responsible for strict adherence to the Code if doing so would render the member’s activity in conflict with any law, regulation, or other governing legal authority.

A: The drafters were mindful some individuals and entities with interests adverse to members may have in the past or may in the future attempt to rely on the Code to prosecute a claim against a member to establish liability. However, such use is inconsistent with both the letter and spirit of the Code, which now states expressly the Code is not intended for use in lawsuits or government enforcement proceedings.

A: In order to comply with antitrust laws, an association’s code should be no more stringent or rigid than necessary to ensure that minimum acceptable levels of conduct are met. The revisions reflect a modern pronunciation of minimum standards articulating how members voluntarily choose to operate their businesses and interact with one another.  The modernized Code does not serve as a set of specific industry best practices and rules. Rather, it is more appropriately a set of guiding principles by which each member should govern their conduct. The Code is now flexible enough to remain applicable over time despite shifts in prevailing industry practice, changes in government regulation, and in spite of differences with respect to members’ product and service offerings to and business relationships with clients, fellow members, and consumers.

A: Despite the omission of such detailed rules from the modernized Code, forwarding relationships are not exempt from the Code’s application. A review of the Code will reveal these relationships are governed by the general guiding principles stated throughout the Code.  While the modernized Code is not intended to promote specific standards and particular best practices, some members may question whether and how this Code revision should affect their forwarding relationships. Many forwarding arrangement concerns addressed by the prior version of the Code are appropriately managed through written account service contracts. Therefore, members are encouraged to review their contracts, to favor written agreements over oral agreements, and to seek legal counsel when appropriate.  To identify and avoid issues which may arise within the context of forwarding arrangement, Members are encouraged to review ACA’s SearchPoint document #1147 (“Multiple Agencies or Creditors Collecting on the Same Account”). Members may also choose to refer to Rule V of the prior Code version for informal guidance on business practices.

A: Trade associations are a special concern to regulating agencies and the courts, due to the power an industry collective may exert upon the marketplace, affecting competition.  The association as a whole, as well as individual members may be held accountable for certain anti-competitive member activity. Therefore, it is important for all members to understand and remain vigilant of the type of activity which may invite scrutiny under state and federal antitrust laws.

If you did not find the answer to your question listed here, you may contact the Ethics Program Administrator: [email protected].

This page was last updated October 13, 2016.

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