Cyber-fare

Up 50% since 2015, nearly 52 percent of the world’s population (3.8 billion individuals) are now online. That’s great progress and opens up a whole host of opportunities for everyone online to experience the many benefits of being online.

But as you well know, there are still many security issues that go along with using the internet. We have in this country gotten used to online banking and shopping, and some even post things to social media that can give hackers an edge. And many of us don’t even know it. That along with passwords that should not be passwords, and we have opened ourselves up to the potential to have security issues with our data.

The United States is constantly under a barrage of attacks from foreign actors.

  • Verified 2018. Russian hackers attack US power grids.
  • Verified 2018. Iranian hackers attack more than 140 US universities.
  • Verified 2017. China hackers attack the US Office of Personnel Management (OPM) exposing records of over 22 million federal employees.
  • Organizations are constantly threatened by malicious actors.
  • Adobe had 38 million records stolen.
  • Home Depot had 56 million consumer records exposed.
  • Uber has 57 million users and 600,000 driver records compromised.
  • JP Morgan Chase (The largest US bank) had the information from over 76 million households and over 7 million companies compromised through a data breach.
  • PlayStation had 77 million consumer accounts breached.
  • Anthem, the second largest insurance company in the US, had 78.8 million current (and former) customer records exposed.
  • TJX Companies had 94 million credit cards stolen.

Continue reading “Cyber-fare”

Collections: A Family Anecdote

It’s Thanksgiving. Family that rarely gets to together and family that always gets together are all together! The meal is long, temperaments are short, kids are being kids, spirits are flowing and emotional eruption ensues. Explosive personalities, kids thrown in cars tearing out of driveways. The ‘Thanks’ and the ‘Giving’ are all but over with….until next year.Collection agency stories, good,

The mistake is thinking by ignoring it, not discussing it, that it’s as if it never happened. Nothing could be further from the truth. Those feelings don’t just go away, they are not easily forgiven and never forgotten, they just get buried deep down until the next opportunity to ‘let someone have it’ presents itself. Then, in a year, five, maybe ten, rinse and repeat.

My grandmother Kenita, my family’s matriarch, turned 84 this month. She worked two jobs for the majority of those years, and raised 4 kids. She’s the most resilient, humble, common sensed, honest, dedicated, kindhearted person I know. I idolize her. She is my hero and I have told her as much. She has aches and pains, cramps and arthritis, but she never complains, never. It’s truly amazing, as is she. She goes dancing and bakes pies, she paints and reads, sews, and feeds wildlife off her back deck. If you dare her (and I have) to come to a restaurant in her robe, she will (and she has). Continue reading “Collections: A Family Anecdote”

Hell Yeah…I Want to Bring My Work Home with Me

You know the cliché’.

Don’t bring your work home with you they do say.

But that’s banal, overused and all too conventional a thought.

I’m here to turn this idea on its ear, to think a new thought.

 

Here’s something novel and new.

I recommend you try too.

DO take up your work and bring your work home.

What would it all mean, would YOU arrive home with no groan?

 

For me it means days without daydreams.

Constantly busy, working hard and ice-creameries.

Employee week at the office is a blast!

So go home and raise high your household mast!

 

Being spontaneous & creative, being courageous and kind

Building relationships with others, others of all kind

Teamwork truly makes a true dream work

So share stories, trust others and make work feel like non-work

 

Bring work home means a great many things

Thinking critically, reading voraciously and showing interest in all things

Show confidence, show honor

Being open being honest

 

Honor your pledge the pledge that you’ve said

Show gratitude and lead, with your heart and with your head

Be confident and laugh loudly

Doing things right means you sleep tight and sleep soundly

 

Singular life singular attitude singular self and reflection

There is but one way to stay true in self-direction

We are but one person one life one emersion

So hell yeah I bring work home with me I know this for certain

 

This poem is dedicated to the men and women who work at American Profit Recovery. I hope they find it funny and silly. I hope they find it honest and ironic. I hope they find it, that they really find it. Others may think that they work with great people, but I know their mistake is unfortunate. I know this because I work with the best of people.

The job is challenging and to call it challenging is an understatement. It is challenging, and it’s really rewarding too. Helping clients meet their payroll obligations, helping them to stay in business, to grow their businesses. Helping consumers get back on track, being understanding and reasonable in a space where few people have the capacity to be is tough work, maybe the toughest of work.

Having a customer service mindset, giving assistance and advice is a good start. But as any debt collector will attest, it’s not enough. We need to be better at customer service than customer service. We need to be able to give advice, to give assistance and to give understanding, counseling, and compassion. To work in collections means to give everything, to exhaust all efforts and then exhaust some more.

I want you all to know that I work with and I work for all of you. That leadership and service are not mutually exclusive, they are synonymous. I want you to know that APR is a family. That APR is my family.

 

Race to Collect-Part 2

Last week we answered the question, Why Do I Have Slow-pay Accounts?If you didn’t see that blog post, click here to see Part One.

Today is Part 2. We give you more insight as to why some consumers don’t pay their bills and how to solve that issue with your business.

– Lane three (3) begins the bad debt category and is made up of those Consumers who won’t pay unless they get a Collection call or the item appears on their Credit report. By day 90 you have a really good idea who does and who does not intend on paying you. This is especially true when repeated invoices, customer service calls, and collection letters haven’t resulted in payment. Queues that a consumer fits lane three tendencies include: Recent job loss; Unexpected health issues (consumer or spouse); or Their phone number is disconnected (this is a much worse sign than a mail return considering people do move and may not have received an invoice, but people typically go to great lengths to keep their phone number… Unless they would rather not be receiving calls). Expect one or two of these out of one hundred account (1-2%). Be prepared to elicit the assistance of a Collection agency with the wherewithal to skip trace for new employment, addresses, and asset information; and an agency who not only reports to the credit bureau, but who actively manages accounts sent to reporting agencies.Collection agencies, Small Business

Lane four (4); Those who will never pay and/or only pay if they get sued, is the definition of bad debt. It’s worth attempting to collector from them, but it’s wise to use your resources intelligently. Scoring accounts and scrubbing for historical data is crucial to identify these individuals early on in the collection process. Queues that a Consumer fits lane four tendencies include: Intentions to file and/or prior Bankruptcy filings; The Consumer or his/her spouse passes away; And a history or liens and/or judgements placed against them and/or their spouse. Expect one or two of these out of one hundred account (1-2%). Be prepared to partner with a Collection agency with a proven track record and enough knowledge of and connections within the credit industry to pull credit reports, produce credit header scoring, locate decease records, and locate prior Bankruptcy, Lien, and Judgement filing information.

If you’ve come this far it means you’re passionate about the products or services you provide, the company you’ve built, and the difference you make. American Profit Recovery certainly is. What you probably weren’t told is being in business means having slow-pay and delinquent accounts, it just does. Having a system in place to deal with slow-pay and delinquent accounts before they become problematic means keeping the cash flow moving. And cash flow is the linchpin of small businesses everywhere.

One final note: Hire a reputable Collection agency. You wouldn’t’ hire someone off the street without having a job application, a background check, and conducting an interview so don’t partner with a Collection agency without similarly going through the vetting process too. Having this relationship in place before there is an urgent need makes good business sense.

Race to Collect: What to Expect When Expecting… Money-Part 1

Why Do I Have Slow-pay Accounts?

The short answer is, because you’re in business. Any company can expect somewhere between five and ten percent of their accounts to be slow paying. This holds true even when we take a cross-section among various industries. To be sure some industries will fall on the lower end of the spectrum and some on the higher end, but the law of averages holds true. Are slow-pay accounts just slow paying, are they bad debt, or are they simply uncollectable. The answer to this question is more important than any other since making this determination early on will save both time and money.Collection agencies, American Profit Recoevry

Collecting your money is a race and there are four (4) primary lanes that slow-pay and bad debt accounts travel in. Although a Consumer may change lanes due to circumstances in their life, they rarely do so from the standpoint of a conscious decision. One exception would be a consumer with a long history of bad debt who decides to apply for a mortgage to buy their first home. As you’ll see below, this person may very well move from lane four to lane three, but will only be advised and only be incentivized to pay if the item is on their credit report and payment of the item will result in a better credit report. The majority of individuals will stay in their respective lanes with little change in behavior or attitude towards their delinquent accounts. Continue reading “Race to Collect: What to Expect When Expecting… Money-Part 1”

Worth Believing In

In the spirit of the Xmas season that is upon us and the New Year that is right around the corner, this question is for all the professional Debt Collectors out there as we welcome in 2016. As a Debt Collector what is worth believing in? The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) believes in ‘…empowering consumers to take control over their economic lives,’ how about you?

With the advent of the CFPB our industry is finally no longer an infant and has reached toddlerhood! Yes collections has been around ever since the first line of credit was extended and the first handshake agreement that binded the obligation was broken, but just because it’s been around for a long time that doesn’t mean the practice ever really grew up. Just like every animal in the wild and every company has a lifecycle, so too does every industry. And just like those animals and businesses, different industries mature at different rates. It just so happens that Collections is a late bloomer.

For a long time the industry operated with the ‘pay up or (undefined) else’ mentality. The idea was simple, the more hours you worked, the more consumers you reached, the more ‘pay up or else’s’ delivered, and the more believable those undefined else’s’ were, the more money you made. Unlike other industries where CEOs come mostly from the marketing or sales ranks, CEOs and new business owners in Collections by-in-large can track their beginnings back to the Collector career path. As Collectors we know best, which has historically meant a ton of Collectors starting a ton of new businesses.

Debts, like births and burials are an ever-increasing part of the economy. Many Economists project much faster growth for collections than other industries, some anticipate upwards of 20% rates of growth in the next three years. Part of the reason why we have been so slow to mature is because we are an unconcentrated industry. Each company that represents either first party collections, debt buyers, or third party debt collectors are all splinters of a larger branch. First party collections increase as necessary to meet their demand, but think about this, these creditors, they spend a considerable amount of time and resources to offer a service that only they use! Debt buyers pop into and out of existence like morel mushrooms in Northern Michigan in May. Third party debt Collectors make up the lion’s share of the industry with numbers in the thousands, but on average employ less than ten (10) Collectors.

Banks and financial markets have consolidated both in organizational structure and financial product ideology. Commerce and Ecommerce is ruled by high-volume, low margin, industry giants. Tech companies build on existing products to create better, more user friendly…ones whose product manufacturing is outsourced to China or Malaysia. Manufacturing went from the assembly line to Lean Manufacturing. Healthcare offers inoculations, antibiotics, differential diagnoses, and the beat goes on. Freight and trucking has Just-In-Time (JIT) logistics. Dial a call center and chances are you’ll be speaking with someone a world away in Mumbai, Delhi or Chennai India or Manila in the Philippines. What these industries have in common is one or several ways that are best for the bottom line at conducting business. The Collection industry does not have this level of consolidated knowledge and business practice.

This doesn’t mean that Collection companies haven’t and aren’t currently experimenting with Kaizen-esc continuous improvement; Outsourcing collection calls…and seeing recovery rates drop (big surprise); Autodialing phones with predictive dialers…and defending TCPA and class action lawsuits; Vendors for everything from VoApps and voicemail drops, to RevSpring and letters, to Knowledgelink and continuous improvement training & testing; to CallMiner and data analytics as part of a robust compliance management system; etc… After all, this is what toddlerhood is really all about, an era of great experimentation…and emotional and social development.

On the whole, that ‘emotional and social development’ we have the CFPB to thank for. Just a few years ago there were over 4,800 collection agencies all operating independently of one another. The likelihood that the collective bar could have, let alone would have, been raised without oversight was slim to none. Without the CFPB I dare say the Collections industry would have remained in its’ infancy. Thank you Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

Stop for a minute and think about what emotional and social development means. It means adopting the ACA’s Collector’s Pledge. It means exercising the Golden Rule. It means stepping outside the box of commonly held beliefs and doing things differently like training and developing the Emotional Intelligence of our employees.

At the beginning of this blog I asked what is worth believing in. Here is my answer. People are basically good. Honor, Honesty, and Courage mean everything. When you stop focusing on the money and start focusing on helping people, when you’re passionate about what you do, that’s when you become successful. The money follows, but it’s a byproduct of believing in the importance of professional, ethical, and responsible collections.

Although we may walk a little unsteadily still, as Toddlers often do, we have and will continue to make great strides as an industry. Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, Happy Everything.

Mike Hiller

40 Hours (A 20th Century Idea)

When Henry Ford set the 40hour work week precedent in the 1920’s the math made sense. The automotive plants needed to run 24 hours a day to keep up with demand and 12hour shifts were too long for anyone, given the manual labor (work that is physically demanding) he expected from his employees; Notwithstanding the fact that during the industrial revolution there didn’t exist the many distractions of modern day life, dividing the workday up into three equal, 8hour parts made good sense.

Any compensation plan based solely on the number of hours worked is wedded to this idea: Wedded to the idea that no individual can work faster or more efficiently than the worker in front of him, and that everyone is or isn’t distracted throughout the day for the same amount of time. Although this may be true in the context of the assembly line (where you quite literally are waiting on the person in front – or behind you – as it were), we can all agree that no two individuals produce the same quality of work at the same pace given the same duration of time.

There is however, a real and measurable difference between cognitive work and physically demanding work. As you would expect, workers performing physically demanding tasks get fatigued and lose their attentiveness the longer the workday is extended. When you look at cognitive work however, not only is there no ‘perceived’ difference in workload with a 12hour vs. 7hour workday, but subjects actually perform better on tasks as they work more hours (Macdonald, Bendak, 2000)! Additionally, as far as scores on ‘discomfort’ are concerned, they are not significantly different for cognitive work from a 7hour to a 12hour workday either.

Speaking of 40hours per week, the average American (although it varies by age group as you would except) watches between 37-40hours per week of television! Even if you are on the low end, chances are you spend an additional 7 hours per week surfing the web.

When you look at the average individual’s priorities in any given week and couple it with Cyberslacking (see also ‘Goldbricking’), which according to Salary.com is the leading source of wasted time on the job, the results are even more shocking. A 2007 survey found that companies stand to lose 435 million dollars a week (yes, that’s per week) during football season from employees playing fantasy football alone!

The majority of employees report spending between 2-5 hours per week surfing the web or otherwise Cyberslacking (think smartphones too). There are many reasons given as to why this occurs, but ultimately they are all rationalizations for the pre-existing behavior, behavior that is counterproductive in the workplace and costly for employers.

Think about that for a minute, with a 40hour a week schedule, the average person is only working 35-38hours per week!

A 40 hour work week is a 20th century idea, that’s the point I’m looking to make. If you are a salary or commission employee ask yourself the following question. Do I only work 40hours a week? If the answer is yes, are you satisfied with your results, is there nothing more you would like to accomplish?

This blog is not an attempt to discredit every employee who works 40hours per week; certainly most people are hard-working individuals which is how they got to where they are. The idea rather, is to bring attention to priorities and distractions. The goal is to shed light on what makes one individual more productive than the next, more profitable than the next, more successful than the next. Working more hours is only a piece of the puzzle. Distractions are another. If your job dictates that you can only work 40hours a week, then spend more energy focusing on reducing distractions and making the most of your time. If, on the other hand, you can work more than 40hours a week, then you should. In doing so, focus equally on reducing distractions and increasing your time investment, and get more out by putting more in.

Here’s what I hold to be true and I think my fellow cohorts at American Profit Recovery would agree. If you want to make more, then work more. If you want to be seen as a leader among your peers, then work harder. If you want to both make more and have the leadership title, then work more and work harder while you work more.

Parting words: Be grateful for what you earn and have the ambition to accomplish more. Revel in your achievements, but dismiss the demon of complacency that is comfort.

“So many people live within unhappy circumstances and yet will not take the initiative to change their situation because they are conditioned to a life of security…all of which may appear to give one peace of mind, but in reality nothing is more dangerous to the adventurous spirit within a man than a secure future. The very basic core of a man’s living spirit is his passion for adventure.”    – Jon Krakauer

Pledge of Leadership: Service Management

There was a time, early in my career, where I measured success strictly by the numbers. Number of overtime hours I worked per week; number of consumers I successfully contacted and collected from; the number of dollars I collected; and the number of times I assisted a fellow Collector collect.

Not too long after my career in Collections at American Profit Recovery began, my career in Collections management did too. As a young manager I knew the value of goal setting and leading by example, but I still assigned success to numeric performance outcomes alone. The number of quality Collectors I could recruit, interview, hire, train, and maintain in any given calendar year; the number of net monies my team could collect in any given month; the number of phone numbers we dialed, accounts we skip traced, and hours we were on the phone on any given day.

A year as a Collection manager will teach you many things: the importance of always recognizing contributions, of inspiring a shared vision, of challenging the current process to always be improving. Another lesson is the value of building relationships and putting your team above all else. Ahead of ancillary tasks and routine duties; ahead of your own calls; ahead of your own collections; ahead of anything else that may preoccupy your time. When you’re never too busy to field a question, never too busy to take a difficult transfer call, and never too busy to make it your responsibility to be genuinely interested in what kind of individuals make up your team, well, success follows by default.

After a few more years as a Collection manager there was another shift that occurred. The mark of success became determined by how many people I hired who become leaders in their own right. Leaders, not just those who have been promoted to management and now have the title, those too, but also those who are looked up to, those who are models of the way forward, those who go out of their way to help other Collectors succeed. The lesson is learning the difference and similarities between and within management and leadership; and learning the difference and similarities between and within training & development and coaching people up.

Two and a half years now as V.P., Collections and there are lessons to be learned still. I cannot quite pinpoint when it occurred, but there was a realization that hit me not that long ago. As important as the numbers are; as important as it is to lead by example and not expect from others anything you’re not willing to do yourself; as important as recruiting, interviewing, hiring, training & development, and goal setting are; as important as always recognizing contributions, of inspiring a shared vision, of challenging the current process in order to always be improving; as important as it is to never be too preoccupied; as important as it is to being genuinely interested in others and coaching individuals up is, what’s also tantamount to great leadership is service management. Service management extends from inter-office and intra-office communications, to conversations on the phone with Consumers, and to the clients whom those Consumers owe.

In my current position I have the advantage of exercising my service management skillsets by working with every department in the company: from IT and Admin, to Customer Service and Sales, to Collections and Compliance. This doesn’t mean everyone always gets the answer they necessarily wanted to, but it does mean working together to make decisions that make sense. The key being the willingness to make decisions and not being indecisive (this can paralyze a department, a company, a relationship). When you pledge to helping your fellow cohorts you find that it’s both rewarding and mutually beneficial. Service management, like a positive attitude, benefits everyone.

Be a Hero

If you could be a hero, would you be? We’re not talking about having super powers or wearing spandex, we’re talking about saving a life based solely on your unique genetic make-up. It’s a simple question really. Would you, if you could, be a hero? Would you save a life?

When I was an adolescent in middle school, having the summers off school was the best. Budding hunter-gathers, a group of my friends and I spent every waking moment during those sunny months at Sand Lake. With our parents at work most of our time was spent digging for worms and fishing for pan fish. On those really hot, Northern Michigan days we would swim to cool off. Sand lake is one of these great public beaches where anyone can enjoy the water, but no lifeguard is ever present, the local community simply couldn’t afford the staff. Instead, they purchased ‘No lifeguard on duty: swim at your own risk’ signs.

By now you can see where this story is headed. It was a Saturday in August, high noon; it must have been 1994’ or 1995.’ A close friend of mine, Wayne, was the first to hit the water after we ate our customary pre-packed lunches (high-carb PB&J or Bologna on white bread is all we knew back then). He swam out to and then past the buoys as we had done one hundred times before. ‘Then it hit me,’ is how he tells the story, ‘my stomach cramped up and I couldn’t breathe, let alone stay afloat!’ He adds, ‘all those stories my Mom told me about not swimming after you eat, I thought where old wives’ tales, but in that moment I knew how very wrong I was.’

From the beach we heard the faintest mumble, as we turned we saw him splash and disappear, emerge, and disappeared again! Before anyone could move my sandwich hit the dirt. I ran the 40 yard sprint to the water’s edge and swam the 70 yards past the buoy faster than I may ever again. He was gone! I dove beneath the water’s surface…Wayne wasn’t there! I dove again…longer this time…deeper beneath the murky water I dove…my lungs burned, I couldn’t find him…I couldn’t give up…I dove to the weed bed…as the weeds wrapped around my arms and neck panic set in…my blood oxygen levels dropped…I couldn’t see…I couldn’t save him…I lost my friend…I felt helpless.

Something brushed my abdomen! It was flesh…human…an arm…it was Wayne! Unconscious and water logged I pulled him from the lake bed to the shore. I dropped him in the sand and his bluing body coughed. He coughed and coughed and caught a breath. Everyone was elated and cheered, we embraced, it was all he could do to muster the words, I love you man.’

It’s on rare occasion I tell this story. Sitting here, reliving the events of that day is still an emotional undertaking. Defining moments in a person’s life are rare at best. My first came when I was a twelve years old. Intentions, faith, and hope alone are all delayed disappointment when compared to action. ‘Thought without action is empty’ – Immanuel Kant.

My son was 22 weeks as of this Tuesday. Recently I joined ‘Be The Match’ (see link below), where everyday people can be heroes. When I look at my son and I hear him giggle I realize that there are so many disorders that are treatable through bone marrow transplants, the science is good, and donor matches are what we’re lacking. I realize that ailments aren’t just things that happen to ‘other people.’ Although he is perfectly healthy, I picture my son, and I challenge you to picture a little boy or girl who was born with a metabolic disorder, or an inherited immune system disorder, or bone marrow disease, or sickle-cell anemia, or leukemia, or lymphoma: Picture this sick child, weak but full of smiles, their family feeling helpless, swimming in the weeds of despair. Now picture that this child is yours, or your niece or nephew, or your best friend. There are treatments available, there is a donor match out there…they just haven’t sign up for the registry yet! Picture this child and ask yourself; are you going to rest on your good intentions, your faith, or hope, or will you answer the call to action.

When you sign up with ‘Be The Match’ registry you take a pledge to help any patient in need; to tell family and friends; and take the time to donate so you can save a life when the call comes in. In telling my story and writing this blog I own up to half of this pledge in hopes that one day I can once again save a life.

http://bethematch.org/

‘Seven out of 10 patients do not have a matching donor in their family. So their doctor will turn to ‘Be The Match’ for help finding an unrelated donor or cord blood unit on the Be The Match Registry. More people are needed to join the registry so patients have a greater chance of finding a match. Joining the registry is the first step to become a bone marrow donor.