Change is happening at an astounding pace for the accounts receivable management (ARM) industry.  Last year when the International Collectors Group (ICG) met on Marco Island, FL, American collection agencies were embracing student loans as the most desirable growth market. With more than $1 trillion in debt and a lucrative, long-term contract on the verge of being awarded, dozens of agencies were participating in the extensive procurement process.

Fast forward one year. The new contract still hasn’t been presented and five top-performers on the current unrestricted contract have been terminated. A vibrant and lucrative market segment has quickly changed course and a lot of agencies are now questioning their own survival.

It’s comforting to know there are still some constants like ICG in the ARM industry. The group celebrated its 50th anniversary this year in Prague. Dennis Punches, the former CEO of Payco American, started the group in 1965 with a simple premise: bring 10 men tasked with running the largest collection agencies in their regions together and have them discuss key topics without any agenda or committees.

Trusting relationships developed over many years, resulting in numerous business ventures, mergers, and outright sales among participants. ICG is no longer limited to third-party bill collectors; first and third-party ARM firms, debt buyers, credit information and related service providers now participate. Leading women from some of the largest ARM companies are now prominent members. Each year, the hosts develop an agenda designed to play to the strengths of those in attendance. I am honored to be the only special guest invited every year to drive participation and contribute agenda topics.

Our hosts this year, David Jones and Artur Aleksandrowicz from National Recovery Service in Moscow, put together a terrific agenda covering important market segments and regions around the globe. We listened to Matthew Thomas, CEO of Collection House in Australia, and Professor Xiaoning Cao, Chairman of Huaxia International in Beijing, share their viewpoints on collections and debt purchases in their markets. We also heard a panel discuss trends in European credit card and consumer finance collections.  The panelists included executives from four of the largest international ARM companies in Europe, including Lars Wollung of Intrum Justitia, Hans-Werner Scherer of EOS Holdings GMBH, Michal Zasepa of Kruk S.A., and Leigh Berkley of Arrow Global. For more than an hour, this group of recognized leaders shared their viewpoints and insights on this dynamic market.

Although change has occurred, Dennis Punches’ original premise still holds true 50 years later.  Decision makers from the largest ARM companies still get together in an intimate setting for a few days to openly discuss challenges and opportunities and get to know one another. Let’s hope that never changes.

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