Below is a letter sent to state government officials from ACA International, the Association of Credit and Collection Professionals about how collection agencies across the country are working to provide necessary support to the business community during this time and, help consumers through the COVID 19 crisis.
TO: U.S. GOVERNORS, STATE ATTORNEYS GENERAL, STATE LEGISLATIVE LEADERS
FROM: ROGER WEISS, PRESIDENT, ACA INTERNATIONAL BOARD OF DIRECTORS
DATE: MARCH 21, 2020
SUBJECT: ARM INDUSTRY COVID-19 RESPONSE
The Association of Credit and Collection Professionals (ACA International) is comprised of 2,500 members, including credit grantors, third-party collection agencies, asset buyers, attorneys, and vendor affiliates in an industry that employs more than 230,000 employees worldwide. ACA members are front line professional debt collectors that work to assist consumers to resolve their unpaid debts. This is a profession that is needed now more than ever in our currently fragile economy. During these challenging times for American families across the country, ACA members are taking all necessary steps to keep employees safe, and part of the workforce.
ACA members include the smallest of businesses that operate within a limited geographic range of a single state, and the largest of publicly held, multinational corporations that operate in every state. Most debt collection companies in ACA’s membership, however, are small businesses. According to a survey of members, 44 percent of ACA member organizations (831 companies) have fewer than nine employees. About 85 percent of members (1,624 companies) have 49 or fewer employees and 93 percent of members (1,784) have 99 or fewer employees.
Even amidst the turmoil and uncertainty currently plaguing the country, professional debt collectors across the country are a resource for consumers. These consumers need assistance and direction as to how to pay or dispute a bill, receive clarification concerning the source of a debt, develop a payment plan which could include halting collections in certain circumstances, and identify potential identity theft. As an example, our industry serves many hospitals throughout the country and helps explain to consumers how they can access charity care and other financial assistance if they cannot afford care or are currently out of work as a result of the crisis.
If professional debt collectors’ businesses are not empowered to remain open, consumers will lose a critical resource to assist them. This is magnified by the fact that most creditor clients that we are working closely with are facing unprecedented outreach from consumers who need them to continue to lend and provide services. In fact, many creditor partners are turning to the collection industry as the knowledgeable professionals to assist them in managing call volumes and overflows. ACA members are lending support to creditor partners’ programs and efforts during the crisis. This support is tailored to address unique consumer financial challenges that allow consumers, even those who may be out of work, to continue to access credit and services.
On a daily basis, ACA is hearing from our members about reports of heartfelt thanks from consumers for providing support, education, and pertinent information to assist them in resolving their accounts. ACA members, as they always have throughout their history, remain committed to consumers and believe that their role in the financial services marketplace is essential for consumers to have information they need. ACA members provide solutions through problem solving that help create accommodations to assuage consumers during difficult times. In this regard, ACA International promotes a “Collectors Pledge,” which all members sign, that states:
I believe every person has worth as an individual.
I believe every person should be treated with dignity and respect.
I will make it my responsibility to help consumers find ways to pay their just debts.
I commit to honoring this pledge.
Professional debt collectors recognize that from time to time consumers may encounter disruptions and financial challenges in their lives, and ACA members have long-established hardship programs to provide solutions to these problems. While the current crisis is extraordinary, we know that professional debt collectors are the best trained and equipped personnel to offer consolation, suggestions, and sources of aid. ACA members are adept at working through hardship arrangements with consumers to establish resolutions tailored to consumers’ unique situation.
Considering the extraordinary situation ACA members are in, it is recommended to consider the following throughout the pandemic and in its aftermath:
- Collection professionals should continue to provide both inbound and outbound call services to consumers. When possible, collection professionals should provide communication channels convenient to the consumers’ preferred methods of communication, including use of any authorized modern technology in accordance with applicable consumer protection laws and regulations. This may include telephone IVR, chat functions, email, consumer web portals, and text messaging.
- Collection professionals should remain considerate, compassionate, and empathetic, and work to provide the best possible resolutions for consumers. This includes providing temporary hardship repayment plans that may provide a variety of options for deferring payments, or determining longer-term payment plans tailored to individual consumer situations in cases where consumers inform (written or verbally) collection professionals that their income has been interrupted for any reason. The collection professional will offer any known suggested forms of assistance to the consumer. This may include suspending active collection activity until such time as the collection professional would have reason to believe that the consumer’s economic situation has improved.
- Collection professionals should continue to be leaders in their communities and offer crisis management, financial literacy educational materials, and other community assistance when possible.
- Collection professionals should reassure consumers that they are a resource to help in any capacity that is available and appropriate.
- Work with consumers to limit reporting to credit bureaus in certain situations and when not required by client stipulations.
- Work with consumers and creditors to exhaust all options, through two-way communication, and work out a payment plan that best fits a consumer’s situation prior to moving forward with litigation, which is a last resort.
- Honor requests for forbearance of existing plans at least until courts reopen.
We as the members of ACA International certainly recognize that these are unprecedented and extraordinary times. Days, situations, and conditions are fluid and rapidly change.
Understanding this, we are committed to work in conjunction with consumers to ensure we are part of the solution to safeguard a viable economy on the other side of this crisis and what our new normal may be.