Ethics set the tone for the first day of insideARM's First Party Summit, in Itasca, Illinois.

The keynote, given by Al Gini, professor of business ethics at Loyola University of Chicago, looked at "Leadership and Business Ethics." However, it was the panel discussion afterwards that took some of the lofty, theoretical ideas of from the keynote and discussed their practical applications within the collections industry.

The panel for "Business Ethics in the Day-to-Day World of Clients and Vendors in the ARM/CRM/BPO Industries" was:

  • Kelly Knepper-Stephens, Stoneleigh Recovery Associates LLC
  • Barbara M. Woodworth, CGI Financial Solutions Group
  • Therese M. Yakel, Early Out Services, Inc., and General Services Bureau

The message from the panel: ethics needs to make its way from a buzzword shopped around in RFPs and company manuals directly to a company's bottom line. There is an incredible cost for unethical behavior -- cost that, maybe once, was easily explained away due to high collection rates.


That paradigm is shifting, though, and regulators and government entities are measure the debt industry's successes and failures against an ethical yardstick.


Unethical behavior is also fueling headlines: Kelly Knepper-Stephens reminded the audience of the recent Wells Fargo meltdown, highlighting specifically how policies and procedures from one of the leading banks weren't necessarily the practices of many within the company.


Closer to home was the case of Commercial Recovery Systems. A complaint charged that CRS participated in deceptive acts or practices -- specifically, that employees called consumers claiming to be attorneys or judicial employees. Consumers were told that lawsuits had  been filed against them, offering to settle the lawsuits out of court; or, they claimed that consumers’ wages would be garnished.


On September 21, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas entered a stipulated order for a permanent injunction (can’t ever participate in debt collection activities again) and civil penalty judgment against the vice president of Commercial Recovery Systems.


What is clear now is that ethical behavior is not a polite story agencies can tell about themselves, but instead must be a thoroughly-lived practice. The consequences are both devastating and costly.

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