In the newspaper business, a story about a dog biting someone is not always front-page news. The saying goes, a story where a man bites a dog, now that is something that needs to go on the front page. Change may be the one constant that exists in life, but it is jaw-dropping changes that are happening in the accounts receivable management industry as we sit here today. The number of “man bites dog” stories that are occurring at the same time is unprecedented.

Consider, for a moment …

  • The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act has been overhauled for the first time since its enactment more than 40 years ago. The industry has been waiting seven years for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to release its debt collection rule, and it is finally here.
  • The Supreme Court is considering whether to gut the Telephone Consumer Protection Act concerning how calls are made using an automated telephone dialing system. That is a definition that has been under a legal and regulatory microscope for 30 years, and we’ll know in a matter of months whether it will continue to exist or not.
  • Consumer communication choice is now a real thing with right party contacts by phones continuing to fall off dramatically and collection agencies having no choice but to text consumers despite the legal uncertainties.
  • More employees in the ARM industry are working from home than working in an office. Is there anyone in the industry who thought they would ever see that day?
  • Many companies in the industry had their best year ever in 2020. That alone is worthy of significant pause and reflection. Seriously, we need to pause and reflect on this.
  • There will be a new director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which will likely mean a change in priorities and enforcement mandates. Some predict the number of enforcement actions, including those against companies in the credit and collection industry, will increase.
  • The new technology products and services that are being offered in the ARM space are growing at an exponential rate from companies we have never seen before and most come with machine learning. 

Any of these items are incredibly newsworthy in and of themselves. But, when taken together, happening simultaneously, the enormity and significance can be lost on us. We need to stop for a moment and appreciate the inflection point in the industry’s illustrious history that we are witnessing right now. It can be easy to get lost in the minutiae of daily work and the fires that need to be put out, but we need to understand the gravity of what we are experiencing and the tremendous impact it is going to have on the industry for years to come.

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This concept of taking stock is nothing new; mentors, life coaches, and trusted advisors have been making this kind of recommendation for years. Such self-assessment is helpful in ensuring comprehension, sticking to a plan and meeting goals and objectives, and charting a path to continue moving forward. Senior executives may also do the same at a corporate level, but you don’t usually see industry-wide self-assessments. Understanding just how much of a company’s collection operation has changed and is going to change because of what is going on right now can help individuals and companies make sure their objectives are aligned with the direction in which their industry is moving.

Rarely, if ever, has so much change occurred in this industry at any one time. And the changes are affecting every nook and corner of the industry — operations, compliance, human resources, training, communication strategies, and more. A collection operation at the end of 2021 could end up being completely different than it was just two or three years ago. To see an industry go through so many dramatic changes in such a short timespan is not something that happens every day.

What is also important to understand is, like prescription medicines, all of these events can have interactions with one another. Like, for example, what is the impact of the CFPB’s debt collection rule going to be, when you take into account what the Supreme Court is considering the ATDS definition within the TCPA? And couple both of those with the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and a new director at the CFPB, and it can be very difficult to predict what is going to happen for the industry.

Taking a step back and looking at what is going on across the industry and attempting to assess the impact these events are going to have is an important exercise to not only mark this moment in history but to help understand how the future of the industry is going to be forever altered.

Tim Collins is a 48 year veteran of the ARM industry, having served as General Counsel and Chief Compliance Officer for multiple industry-leading organizations. He is a well-known industry thought leader and innovator.

 


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