Increasing Collections with Changing Regulations – Panel Talk

Panel discusses managing remote work and communication options, compliance and regulatory changes going into 2021.

12/10/2020 9:30 AM

AdvocacyComplianceCOVID-19NewsState
Increasing Collections with Changing Regulations – Panel Talk

A panel of industry experts got together on Nov. 18, 2020 for a thoughtful and wide-ranging conversation addressing “The challenge of increasing collections in the midst of changing regulations,” hosted by Text Request.

Kenneth Burke, director of marketing for Text Request, an online text messaging service for small businesses, moderated a conversation featuring Issa Moe, vice president and general counsel for ACA International, Mike Bevel, director of education for the iA Institute, and Mike Gibb, CEO for Canvas Business Media.

In the course of their free form conversation, these thought leaders addressed the conundrum that is 2020.  Here are highlights from their observations and comments.

Regarding Remote Work

At the beginning of 2020, working from home was an option available to a limited number of debt collection agencies.  When the COVID-19 pandemic caused companies to shutter on-site operations, agencies were suddenly faced with a brand-new obstacle course on the path to maintaining profitable operations.  When some states permitted collectors to work from home, this impediment became an opportunity:

  • Work from home options deepened the available talent pool because it opens employment to people who are homebound due to disability.
  • While many companies expected productivity would go down, instead it went up. Some workers were so grateful to have a job, they really focused; some workers work better in the isolated environment of their home.
  • Some states, such as Maryland are loosening up licensing requirements.  They realize work from home is here to stay and they are working to address this need.

However, it became more challenging to maintain compliance with respect to some regulations when employees are working from home:

  • Your agency must ensure it tracks work time accurately, paying correctly for any overtime work.
  • Managers must ensure employees are taking breaks and must also audit that recorded work time matches collection activity.

Managing Productivity

It is more challenging to manage quality assurance, and to meet the differing requirements of each state when workers are remote.

  • Your quality assurance person is unable to wander the floor and observe, so technology becomes more important. You still must be listening in, so make sure your call recording system and process is adequate. 
  • When doing call monitoring, don’t just listen to the agent, listen for any sounds in the background. It could create compliance issues if plaintiffs’ attorneys think you have someone working from home.
  • Alternatively, some agencies use tech that permits you to monitor calls in real time. What about live call monitoring of multiple calls? This is an available tool, but you may need to add quality assurance and compliance staff to cover that.
  • When collectors work from home you often must manage issues AFTER something has happened. Are employees comfortable checking in with their manager to review best practices if they had a difficult call?
  • Having a robust chat function enables an employee to indicate in real time if they are having a problem. 

Then There are Privacy and Data Security Issues

  • Should your web cam be on all the time as opposed to just recording calls?  This practice raises legal issues, and you need to consider general privacy law as opposed to industry specific rules. 
  • If you want to use web cameras to monitor work activity, make sure your work from home policies address this practice. Managers now a have way to be an uninvited guest in employees’ homes.
  • Most agencies will have an employee handbook that states there is no expectation of privacy regarding the work zone, but this is trickier to communicate about and to manage for workers at home. Consult with a professional on this topic, especially if you have agents in multiple states.
  • Have you addressed the risk of losing control of sensitive data that the agency is storing? Traditional office agencies typically have a paperless environment. With remote work you must build and maintain an environment of trust to minimize the risk of employees jotting down account numbers, etc.

Maintaining Profits in 2021

The big challenge next year may be how to maintain profits if there is no further stimulus money from the government and no pay raises to support consumers paying off debt. The panel considered how to leverage what is going on to increase collections, and how to manage expectations and stabilize your agency:

  • Don’t abandon existing policies and procedures as you must remain compliant.    
  • Some agencies will need to further automate their processes.
  •  Make sure you are contacting people in the way they want. Have you activated all methods of communication? If not, you may be leaving money on the table.
  • On the other hand, avoid the tendency to jump on shiny objects. Each method of communication comes with risk and compliance obligations.  Because we have a year to implement the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Debt Collection rule, take sufficient time to review the options and determine which ones make sense for you.

What Might be Different in the Coming Year?

  • Up until now, some consumers – and agencies – have not been interested in partial payments. They wanted the whole debt paid off.  In the current environment a greater number of agencies may increase their use of payment plans as this will be the only way some of these consumers will be able to pay off certain debts. 
  • Be analytical, review the data, figure out what is working, then pay close attention to the risk and compliance requirements.
  • Focus on consent, consent, consent. What communication method does the consumer prefer?  Make sure you document that. Have an automated process that notes that the agency obtained consent.   
  • Keep good records regarding when the consumer has revoked consent.  Always include clear instructions regarding how to opt out.   
  • If you present all the payment options you would consider, many people will pick one, and will be reliable to use it if you give them the option up front. 

“Empathy” is the Theme Word During the Pandemic, and Always

For all of us, some days are great, some are not. When you work with the consumer in a friendly and professional manner to get a debt paid, you will get further than if you convey a negative attitude. Training your employees to maintain this standard of conduct is one good way to ensure your agency does its best work.


Follow ACA International on Twitter @ACAIntl and @acacollector, Facebook and request to join our LinkedIn group for news and event updates. ACA International members are welcome to submit news items for possible publication to comm@acainternational.org. Visit our publications page for news submission guidelines and subscriptions to ACA Daily, Collector magazine and Pulse.

Advertising is available for companies wishing to promote their products or services. Be sure to visit the ACA Events Calendar on the Education and Training page to view our listing of upcoming CORE Curriculum and Hot Topic seminars featuring critical educational opportunities for your company.


Subscribe to ACA Daily NEWSROOM

Increasing Collections with Changing Regulations – Panel Talk

A panel of industry experts got together on Nov. 18, 2020 for a thoughtful and wide-ranging conversation addressing “The challenge of increasing collections in the midst of changing regulations,” hosted by Text Request.

Kenneth Burke, director of marketing for Text Request, an online text messaging service for small businesses, moderated a conversation featuring Issa Moe, vice president and general counsel for ACA International, Mike Bevel, director of education for the iA Institute, and Mike Gibb, CEO for Canvas Business Media.

In the course of their free form conversation, these thought leaders addressed the conundrum that is 2020.  Here are highlights from their observations and comments.

Regarding Remote Work

At the beginning of 2020, working from home was an option available to a limited number of debt collection agencies.  When the COVID-19 pandemic caused companies to shutter on-site operations, agencies were suddenly faced with a brand-new obstacle course on the path to maintaining profitable operations.  When some states permitted collectors to work from home, this impediment became an opportunity:

  • Work from home options deepened the available talent pool because it opens employment to people who are homebound due to disability.
  • While many companies expected productivity would go down, instead it went up. Some workers were so grateful to have a job, they really focused; some workers work better in the isolated environment of their home.
  • Some states, such as Maryland are loosening up licensing requirements.  They realize work from home is here to stay and they are working to address this need.

However, it became more challenging to maintain compliance with respect to some regulations when employees are working from home:

  • Your agency must ensure it tracks work time accurately, paying correctly for any overtime work.
  • Managers must ensure employees are taking breaks and must also audit that recorded work time matches collection activity.

Managing Productivity

It is more challenging to manage quality assurance, and to meet the differing requirements of each state when workers are remote.

  • Your quality assurance person is unable to wander the floor and observe, so technology becomes more important. You still must be listening in, so make sure your call recording system and process is adequate. 
  • When doing call monitoring, don’t just listen to the agent, listen for any sounds in the background. It could create compliance issues if plaintiffs’ attorneys think you have someone working from home.
  • Alternatively, some agencies use tech that permits you to monitor calls in real time. What about live call monitoring of multiple calls? This is an available tool, but you may need to add quality assurance and compliance staff to cover that.
  • When collectors work from home you often must manage issues AFTER something has happened. Are employees comfortable checking in with their manager to review best practices if they had a difficult call?
  • Having a robust chat function enables an employee to indicate in real time if they are having a problem. 

Then There are Privacy and Data Security Issues

  • Should your web cam be on all the time as opposed to just recording calls?  This practice raises legal issues, and you need to consider general privacy law as opposed to industry specific rules. 
  • If you want to use web cameras to monitor work activity, make sure your work from home policies address this practice. Managers now a have way to be an uninvited guest in employees’ homes.
  • Most agencies will have an employee handbook that states there is no expectation of privacy regarding the work zone, but this is trickier to communicate about and to manage for workers at home. Consult with a professional on this topic, especially if you have agents in multiple states.
  • Have you addressed the risk of losing control of sensitive data that the agency is storing? Traditional office agencies typically have a paperless environment. With remote work you must build and maintain an environment of trust to minimize the risk of employees jotting down account numbers, etc.

Maintaining Profits in 2021

The big challenge next year may be how to maintain profits if there is no further stimulus money from the government and no pay raises to support consumers paying off debt. The panel considered how to leverage what is going on to increase collections, and how to manage expectations and stabilize your agency:

  • Don’t abandon existing policies and procedures as you must remain compliant.    
  • Some agencies will need to further automate their processes.
  •  Make sure you are contacting people in the way they want. Have you activated all methods of communication? If not, you may be leaving money on the table.
  • On the other hand, avoid the tendency to jump on shiny objects. Each method of communication comes with risk and compliance obligations.  Because we have a year to implement the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Debt Collection rule, take sufficient time to review the options and determine which ones make sense for you.

What Might be Different in the Coming Year?

  • Up until now, some consumers – and agencies – have not been interested in partial payments. They wanted the whole debt paid off.  In the current environment a greater number of agencies may increase their use of payment plans as this will be the only way some of these consumers will be able to pay off certain debts. 
  • Be analytical, review the data, figure out what is working, then pay close attention to the risk and compliance requirements.
  • Focus on consent, consent, consent. What communication method does the consumer prefer?  Make sure you document that. Have an automated process that notes that the agency obtained consent.   
  • Keep good records regarding when the consumer has revoked consent.  Always include clear instructions regarding how to opt out.   
  • If you present all the payment options you would consider, many people will pick one, and will be reliable to use it if you give them the option up front. 

“Empathy” is the Theme Word During the Pandemic, and Always

For all of us, some days are great, some are not. When you work with the consumer in a friendly and professional manner to get a debt paid, you will get further than if you convey a negative attitude. Training your employees to maintain this standard of conduct is one good way to ensure your agency does its best work.


Follow ACA International on Twitter @ACAIntl and @acacollector, Facebook and request to join our LinkedIn group for news and event updates. ACA International members are welcome to submit news items for possible publication to comm@acainternational.org. Visit our publications page for news submission guidelines and subscriptions to ACA Daily, Collector magazine and Pulse.

Advertising is available for companies wishing to promote their products or services. Be sure to visit the ACA Events Calendar on the Education and Training page to view our listing of upcoming CORE Curriculum and Hot Topic seminars featuring critical educational opportunities for your company.


Subscribe to ACA Daily NEWSROOM

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