A Movement is Growing in the ARM Industry, and its Seeds are Discontent – Part II

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No minor response to my earlier blog at insideARM, including the traditional throwing of brickbats and compliments.  I appreciated both, as they show the schizophrenic split within the collections industry as to how it needs to clean house and earn respect in both the business community and the general population.

Yes, it’s possible…but not with lip service, nor with the agencies wringing its hands over the “few bad apples” that bring on the bad press.  Or its associations/supportive websites/lobbyists pointing out the good the industry does while complaining about “deadbeat” consumers hiding behind “regressive” laws.

It’s going to be done by people getting serious about balancing legitimate debtor needs, social sensibilities, long-range benefits and business realities. It’s going to motivated – perhaps even furthered – by the buzz and activity in Social Media.

As part of researching this article, I visited scores of credit and debt-related groups on LinkedIn to both get a sense of what is being said by and about our industry and to post comments and discussion subjects of my own.  Sobering.

In relation to the insideARM blog outlining the travails of Six Sigma credit Black Belt Linda Almonte (“Follow Directions Or Be Fired! A Debt Professional’s Dilemma,” Nov. 2) the responses at LinkedIn were decidedly in favor of her taking a stand…even though it meant her firing and responding by filing a wrongful termination suit.

Such as from a European collector and business owner, The Netherlands: “The whole concept of debt purchase and the so-called legal ‘righteousness’ behind it, is one of the things that is inherent to the system which we have created…like it or not, this is actually a fundamentally wrong perception which belongs to the pre-crisis world.  Debt Purchase can be pretty lucrative…but the underlying price we pay could be very high…a certain risk that the system may implode…if the once-able-to-cope-with-daily-life victims of all this mess may reach a critical level.” – MW

From a Sales Solutions Analyst, U.S.: “This is tough.  I am a wife and mother of three.  My income is needed in my household.  However, I need to be able to live with myself, and my own conscience for the rest of my life.  Integrity isn’t what it used to be…the lines of honor have been almost wiped away.  I can honestly say that if I was put in that position I would be forced to walk away…I am glad to know that there are people out there who will still stand up for what is right despite the consequences.” – AR

A credit services marketer, U.S.: “Linda, you are my new hero.” – JC

Project Manager, Financial Services, UK: “JPMorgan Chase has manifestly failed to see your potential and are the weaker for it.  You are an example to us all.” – MS

Tea Consultant and Freelance Writer, U.S.: “Eye opening, and certainly gives debtors no incentive to pick up the phone and talk to a debt collector:  why risk affirming a debt that may not be yours, particularly since neither the original creditor nor the debt buyer can really know if it is yours?” – LP

Attorney and General Counsel, U.S.: (After having visited the Holocaust Memorial it affected my view of this article…) “With a world full of people who declined to risk their lives to save the lives of others, is it really any surprise that it’s the rare person willing to risk her professional life to save the financial lives of others?  That being said, I do a lot of work with young people.  I’m beginning to observe a shift among the teens and twenties from moral relativism closer to moral absolutism.  ‘If it’s wrong, I WILL take risks to prevent or change it.’  I wish I had an opening. I would hire a person of her demonstrated ethical standards in a heartbeat. I hope that lots of other potential employers have the same sense.” – RB

Well, Industry?  Do we need more people like this?

I found it heartening, and affirming, the respect that people both inside and outside this industry have for someone who demonstrates backbone.  But, not everyone felt that way.

In my posting for the ACA International Group, only two people responded out of 700 members.  One applauded it, and the other disputed the article and my writing of it by declaring, “How do you know what happened at Chase? Those who can — do. Those who can’t — criticize. Get a job!

Well, I have a job.  Apparently, it is to cause our industry to talk about the things they don’t want to talk about.  Credential-wise, I can offer up thirty-plus years in this industry as a consultant, training, outsourcer and collector.  I “can,” I “do,” and, I am qualified to “criticize.”  Another voice or two…

A Chief Financial Officer – International, Australia: “The long run consequences of doing the wrong thing would have been much worse that the short term consequences…and I include in that the ability to ‘live with yourself’ and with the decisions you make.” – CH

CFO/Controller/VP Finance – U.S.: “I have made the same choice as Ms. Almonte twice in my career and I applaud her. I also will emphasize that it is extremely damaging to your career as you are painted as the bad guy and people think you did something wrong.  It’s called shooting the messenger.” – RB

Reinsurance, Insurance, Commercial Litigator and ADR Specialist, U.S.:  “I find it mindboggling that sophisticated, large companies occasionally do stupid things like this, and when they do, it is hard to feel sorry for them. These stupid things occur not because big business is inherently bad — it’s not — it’s because large corporations act through a complex web of individuals, and sometimes one hand doesn’t know what the other hand is doing…I’m sure the company has invested in an able group of lawyers to represent it in the case. But I hope they are also investing in better internal management and controls, not to mention public relations.” – PL

Or, do we need more people like this?

Manager, Credit & Collections – U.S.: “Linda’s responsibility was to the Bank. When I was doing undergraduate work I had a…professor walk into class on the first day and open a window and toss a book on Business Ethics out the window. He stated that you represent the firm that you work for and unless what you are doing is in violation of the law your primary responsibility is to the FIRM. Linda should have quit and kept her mouth shut. She is just fueling the fire against the ARM/DEBT buying industry.  For the record, I have little or no respect for the whistleblower mentality.  If you advise your superior of your concerns and they are ignored you have two choices, shut your mouth or find another job. Simple.” – JS

Simple, is it?  I would love to hear more of everyone’s thoughts as to how simple it will be to change course in this industry.  If we don’t decide our future, external forces surely will.


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Continuing the Discussion

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  • avatar wesley Alford says:

    I have been screaming how we can police ourselves, and clean up the industry with not one, not one reply or anyone inquiring on how to do this. Maybe one day, someone will stop crying long enough to listen and we can make a fast turn around.

  • avatar T Dubbs says:

    I’m blown away by the “shut your mouth or get a new job” mentallity. I believe that is the same mindset that killed Enron. Hitler soldiers were just doing what they were told. I suppose they are all innocent with no blood on their hands. The do what you are told mentallity is just a smoke screen for not taking responsibility for your actions.

  • avatar Brent Staulcup says:

    SFritch said:
    “I find it troubling that some consumers believe they can “outlast” the collection process and never pay a legitimate debt. Why don’t we all use that strategy? Debt buyers restore a certain reality to the credit process. The reality: yes, you may just have to repay that debt like the rest of us. Sorry.”

    You’re not really that naive are you? As long as bankruptcy laws, the federal 7 year credit reporting period, and the states statutes of limitations for suit exist, you’re living in a fantasy world.

    It’s this sort of ethical mandate philosophy, that gets you guys in trouble, and produces “bad apples”.

  • avatar Peter Carvalho says:

    Here’s an innovative solution – PARTNER WITH CREDIT COUNSELING COMPANIES!

    We have reached out to the Collection Community to partner on new initiatives that provide a softer, more solution oriented holistic approach to collections. This has the added benefit of improving the reputation of the collection industry with the public – Besides improving their bottom lines. We are certain that a COMBINED effort will ultimately assist in turning non performing debt into performing debt that would otherwise be unrecoverable. More importantly – We can assist collection agencies with better results, helping with PR and making HEADLINE NEWS for the agencies that we work with.

    We are proud of our contributions to the collection community and are members of Creditors International – The credit-specific division of ACA International. Our firm is a well established Credit Counseling company with over 15 years experience as non-profit organization assisting individuals and families from all walks of life in regaining control of their finances. We do this by utilizing Financial Literacy training and a host of programs to counsel and educate individuals on the responsible use of credit along with a structured debt management plan to assist them in paying off their existing debt.

    Peter Carvalho – New Business Development – A New Horizon Credit Counseling Services – Fort Lauderdale, FL (954) 545-6160 Ext. 11252 – pcarvalho@anewhorizon.orghttp://www.anewhorizon.org

  • avatar Tony Waybright says:

    Numerous items have recently caught my eye. I thought it ironic that in the midst of the robo-signing scandal (lack of personal knowledge and review) an item is posted trying to justify that meaningful involvement (requiring an atty’s knowledge and review of a matter) shouldn’t be part of legal collections. As a biz-owner I have retained law firms to collect and without perfect documentation have been advised it isn’t worth the effort. Does that decision not need to be made just because a client is forwarding thousands of accounts in a month?

    Linda was at the beginning of a chain that ultimately leads to some volume of bad account information reaching law firms. Maybe “everybody knows” there are some bad accounts in every portfolio and factors that into pricing and commission decisions. And maybe we wind up with “bad” judicial opinions stuck on like band-aids at the back end because there aren’t enough like Linda at the front end of the process to reduce the bad information flowing down the pipe..

    A major Wall Street player was labeled post crisis as taking a regulatory approach of “pay the speeding ticket and drive on.” I helped one firm stuck in the “just process the batch” mentality resolve a client billing issue. There were tens of thousands of transactions to be reconciled. The most telling statistic was that 22% of the transactions were offsets meaning 22% were originally posted incorrectly. The load on the firm’s back office could have been almost cut in half if it was just ‘done right’ the first time!! To the client’s credit they paid the $270,000 but could more Lindas mean greater efficiency and lower costs throughout the industry process?

    If seeds are growing perhaps one of them is that there are profits in doing things the right way. Expected profits have often motivated unexpected change.

  • avatar Dr Cash 001 says:

    Linda’s story is not so unusual – it is just that she chose to fight back. Well done I say.

    The situation for JPMorgan Chase and many large Corporations (re PL above) is that they refuse to employ credit and debt professionals who are not YES people. As contraversy is the enemy of many in senior management, i.e. “You are not a good team play Smithers”, so are often the practical and sensible credit and debt collection processes suggestions of the credit and debt professional.

    Here in Australia, we are no different. We have 4 major banks and two of them have been exposed over the past few years with discraceful and blatently improper collection and debt collection practices. Big business is often also involved in such practices, it is just they are rarely reported.

    Unfortunately, credit and debt collection are perceived to be a nasty jobs with no redeeming values. From an organisational perspective, credit and debt collection duties are often perceived to be just part of doing business which adds no additional value to the organisation.

    The truth is; credit and debt collection is really a sales function. This sales aspect is hidden by the expected end result – collect the debt. Consequently, credit and debt professionals are thought to be expendable, not worthy of being incentified, trained and resourced in the same ways as the sales force.

    It is as simple as that even if it is heresey to say it!

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