The collections industry has a long history. From the beginning of the concept of the extension of credit hundreds of years ago, this is an industry that has grown and changed dramatically. Over the last century, with the exponential growth of credit, the first and third-party debt collection industry has exploded and players in the market continually leverage new and exciting technologies to facilitate the process. Healthy bottom lines are important but developing a compliant culture is at the very foundation of any reputable ARM participant.
Since selling my firm in May of 2017, I have had much time to reflect on my career in this industry spanning over four decades. As I continue to clean out file cabinets, drawers and closets I am finding an incredible amount of memorabilia which outlines the evolution of both my recent firm and my family’s original organization. One of the dynamics that makes this industry special are the many stories of generations who have worked and thrived in this often-misunderstood industry. I have found old pictures of collectors working with manual cards and rotary phones and cigarettes burning throughout the office! Ancient marketing materials and collateral that would be laughable in 2018 but state of the art in the ‘60s. My corporate history has been all around me in boxes, bags, closets and drawers. What an opportunity to reflect on the years.
Do you know your corporate history? Certainly, some of our readers work in organizations just formed over the last decade or two but what about those that have a rich history spanning generations? What we learn from our past is organizations engaged in collections have been important members of their communities and have created, organized and developed programs to assist local and regional charities. It was Pearl Buck who reminds us, “If you want to understand today, you have to search yesterday.” Many of us who have spent an entire career in this industry reflect on the words of that famous Beatles song, “Yesterday, all my troubles seemed so far away. Now it looks as though they’re here to stay. Oh, I believe in yesterday.” It was a different time, it was a different industry, but the same giving sentiment still runs true in collections offices across the US.
Just as Americans are focused on their family heritage and flock to sites like Ancestry.com, collection offices should use 2018 as a time to reconnect to their office culture of years gone by and provide an interesting, historical perspective to current staff! So, where do you start?
1) Interview Tenured Staff Members
Most offices have a staff member or two that have been a part of the team forever! Take the time to interview them and collect stories of the good old days. They will have loads of examples of where the company came from and what life was like in the earlier days. Get their perspectives on the changes they have seen and write down their historical accounts.
2) Look Through Old Files and Obscure Closets
It is almost guaranteed if you dig around hard enough, you will find some ancient corporate treasures within your office surroundings, especially if your organization has occupied the same building for years. While cleaning out my Dad’s office basement in 2009 I found one of the first, original “bag phones” when cellular phones were introduced!
3) Google Your Company Name
You will undoubtedly find some narratives online posted by predatory law firms lambasting your organization as a bad player, as we all do, but you may also be surprised at some of the old articles about your firm’s history and community involvement. Also Google the names of your owner, past company officers and other noted company team members. That could lead you to some rich historic perspectives. An industry friend recently looked at the “Collector of the Month” plaques on his wall that dated back to the 1960s. He reached out to some of those names (some had been long gone) and acquired some wonderful vintage stories!
4) Access Industry Periodicals
If your organization has been active in organizations like ACA International, you may want to access old issues of Collector magazine which might have some stories highlighting your firm’s past volunteer and charity initiatives. Each year, for quite some time, the ACA Education Foundation has sponsored The Collector Challenge month in April. Many firms conducted fundraising events for this annual drive and you may have been involved and featured in an article at some point.
5) Start a Documenting Process
Several years ago, one of my staff members retired. She was in her seventies. She had worked for my firm for many years and with family prior to that. She was a great “scrap booker” and I found wonderful books with memorabilia from most of our notable company events and accomplishments. It was fascinating and a real throw back in time! Today, we don’t record our corporate initiatives like we used to. Start an electronic process of scanning the historic documents and proactively saving current events. Appoint a corporate historian!
6) Share Your Story
With the advent of websites and social media, we have a perfect platform to share the positive things we do with the world. It is fantastic PR for your firm to let the community and industry know what you do to give back.
History is important and your organization’s role in our industry and your community is critical. Most people don’t get a warm, fuzzy feeling when they think of collections. Telling your story can help warm their hearts and change their perspectives.
We welcome ideas and best practices from our readers. Feel free to send your ideas for possible inclusion in a future column. Until next time, I’m in a collection office hear you!