The Computer Age

How tracking consumers’ accounts evolved from index cards to computers.

6/12/2019 8:00 AM

NewsCollector Magazine
The Computer Age

Technology can help streamline daily tasks and limit mistakes on the job, but it can also cause its share of headaches and setbacks when a computer crashes or files are lost.

In the 1980s, ACA International members entered into a great debate about how to track consumers’ accounts: should they stick with index cards, a system that had been around for decades, or switch to computers? ACA Administrative Vice President Tom Cooper explored this in a May 1983 Collector magazine article, which featured various member viewpoints on making the change.

It might be hard for people today to imagine why anyone would hesitate to embrace something as commonplace as computers, but they were relatively unknown—and expensive—at the time, and many members feared losing control of their accounts without having actual paper work cards on their desks. 1982/83 ACA President Charles Maclean, IFCCE, speculated that desktop computers could actually distract collectors, giving them an opportunity to scroll through endless pages of information, and that perhaps their fledgling data entry skills would chip away at productivity.

On the other hand, ACA member Ruth Mitchell cheered that switching to computers was the best advance her agency had ever made. Collectors could find a consumer’s account quickly and generate a report to a client within minutes.

For years, ACA members held mixed views on computers as technology made its way into the accounts receivable management industry, and the consensus was that agencies should do what was best to serve their clients and meet compliance requirements—not far from the state of operations today.

But perhaps George Fooshee, IFCCE, said it best in his 1983 Collector magazine article: “The 1980s are the computer age, and any collector who shuffles paper is going to be in a poor profit and competitive position. Any manager who does not learn to use a computer is going to be as out of it as one who never saw a television program. The computer business and the collection business go together.”

Pictured above: Regis A. Balkey, director of public relations for National Accounts Service, confers with a clerk over an index card taken from the Remington Rand Conve-Filer. When management wishes to discuss an account with a client, the card is passed into an adjacent office for reference, then returned to the file. Original caption for undated photo from ACA archives.

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