The coronavirus pandemic has been hard on the industry, causing debt collection companies to make quick decisions to keep staff safe and agencies running compliantly through remote work. Along with this, every day more news comes out about debt collection restrictions across the country.
The combination of unprecedented unemployment numbers and the negative perception of debt collectors has caused some regulators to call for a stop to collection activity. Intended to help consumers, this may actually cause more stress for people curious about payment plans, settlements, deferments or other options to help during financial difficulties caused by Covid-19.
Many experts in the accounts receivable industry believe collection activity should continue, and agency services will prove useful throughout this crisis and in the coming days of economic recovery.
Mark Neeb, ACA International CEO
Mark Neeb, CEO of ACA International, says to look past the false perceptions of the industry and see how collectors can offer help during this unprecedented time.
Neeb has nearly 40 years of corporate strategy experience, including 28 years specifically working in the accounts receivable management industry.
“Many states have greatly reduced the ability for collectors to help consumers during the past few weeks,” says Neeb. “They don’t see (or choose not to) that collectors are uniquely positioned to help consumers manage their financial issues, provide flexibility in payment terms on behalf of the creditor and help preserve the consumers’ ability to get credit down the road. Who else can do all of this?”
Current Reality of the Debt Collection Industry
Of course, the reality debt collection companies face is more nuanced than consumers and lawmakers may understand. Collectors, as Neeb pointed out, are a versatile – and vital – part of the credit cycle.
For years, agents have trained to overcome stalls and objections, to use empathy to connect with consumers, and to build trust by being well-versed in the solutions available to those in even the toughest financial situations.
This skill set, and the everyday practice interacting with stressed and worried consumers, has prepared agents well for these difficult times.
Roger Weiss, CACi
Roger Weiss, President of CACi and ACA International, says their helpful nature makes debt collectors an invaluable resource.
He provides a unique combination of education and entertainment in workshops, teleseminars, and webinars, training in many areas of debt collection.
“Collectors love to problem solve, help consumers, and work through negative circumstances,” says Weiss. “Collectors are used to dealing with consumers in crisis, and right now is ALL collectors’ time to shine. By that, I mean collectors can help more consumers now than ever before.”
John Bedard, Bedard Law Group
John H. Bedard, Jr. is the managing attorney of Bedard Law Group, P.C. located in Atlanta, Georgia. John represents creditors, asset buyers, and debt collectors, helping them stay in compliance with state and federal law.
Bedard agrees that debt collection companies will remain an important part of the credit cycle in the coming weeks.
“The physical health of our nation’s consumers depends on the front-line medical professionals tirelessly treating our population right now,” says Bedard. “The financial health of consumers depends on the front-line financial professionals treating our population. Those people are our nation’s professional debt collectors, who are supremely positioned to deliver the best financial “treatment” to consumers during these unprecedented economic times.”
How Healthcare Debt Collectors Are Stepping Up
Those who collect on medical debt have found themselves drawing on their wide array of skills in this strange time. Weiss explains that these professionals have specialized knowledge of insurance, insurance processing, denials, coordination of benefits and many many more topics that are in great demand to discuss.
Collectors play an important part in creating a positive patient financial experience through this expertise. This asset isn’t something to be ignored during a time when so many medical clients need the extra help.
Agencies with medical clients have found themselves taking on more calls to help the hospitals they serve. “They are even more of an invaluable resource now than ever to healthcare providers who may not have the resources to take frontline and certainly overflow calls,” says Weiss.
Along with the knowledge debt collection companies offer their medical clients, Neeb also points out the wide array of technology agencies can lean. “I know agencies who are triaging inbound phone calls for hospitals and clinics who are inundated with calls from patients. Our industry’s technology can do so much more than traditional outbound calls/texts/emails.”
How Debt Collection Companies Can Help Now
Of course, those who do not collect on medical debt are also a great resource to consumers. Many people are experiencing sudden financial instability. Massive cutbacks and business closures are taking place because of social distancing and stay at home orders. Individuals are being impacted in ways they never imagined.
The threat of illness during this time is frightening. Compounded with unexpected job losses and worry from existing debts, this situation can be extremely stressful for consumers. Bedard explains that this is the industry’s chance to show the public the true culture of debt collection professionals.
“Now is a wonderful opportunity to demonstrate to the marketplace that debt collectors are the best, most skilled professionals in the credit cycle positioned to help consumers in this time of financial instability,” says Bedard. “Debt collectors are primely positioned to help consumers affected by the Covid-19 virus through reduced payment plans, less than full balance account satisfaction, hardship accommodations, and a host of other consumer relief mechanisms which provide tremendous benefit to affected consumers.”
In short, by offering the same positive, expert service and knowledge collectors do day after day is exactly what the credit cycle needs to continue to function. The added benefit is that consumers, often ready to expect the worst from these interactions, may be pleasantly surprised to find that ethics and empathy are cornerstones of true collection professionals.
“Sometimes, just a friendly voice to help calm a reeling consumer is all that is needed, and other times an exhaustive list of community, state, and federal resources available may need to be offered to help a consumer’s “big picture.””
How Debt Collection Companies Can Help When Coronavirus Threat Subsides
Experts don’t know when stay at home orders can be safely lifted, but everyone agrees that even when this happens, “normal” life will not return for quite some time. In fact, the way many agencies operate may be changed forever. After all, providing equipment and resources for remote work is an investment, and agencies may decide it is a system that should remain in place.
Whatever the future of collection operations holds, during the transition back to day-to-day life, debt collection companies will continue to be an important part of the credit cycle.
“Collectors are counselors who can provide individualized plans for consumers to follow. It is my hope that in the coming months our industry rallies around the needs of consumers.”
These activities will have a great impact on the economy as a whole. The more revenue collectors recover, the more that will help to keep overall business costs down. This will become especially important during a time when many businesses and individuals will be struggling.
“I am speaking to providers every day who are discussing how to use our knowledge after the crisis has subsided,” says Weiss. “All providers need help in the best of times. They need help now, and will need even more help after this time has passed. This will include a lot of back office non-collection, non-revenue generating activity that simply has to be done so proper coding, billing, tracking, adjusting, and reimbursement occurs. I am certain that professional debt collectors will have the opportunity to expand what they are doing for providers.”
Weiss, Neeb and Bedard all agree that agencies will be busier than ever in the future. Collectors will be instrumental in helping consumers create or adjust payment plans, decide on settlements and take other actions that can help them improve their financial situations and eventually get back on track.
These vital services will play a part in improving the lives of countless individuals during the current crisis and for years into the future.
Editor’s note: This blog was originally published on PDCflow’s website and with permission from the author.