McNamara of CFPB Provides His Perspective On Collections

As many professionals will recall from the recent Fall Unified Agenda, March 2019 is heralded as the month the CFPB will release its Notice of Proposed Rule Making (NPRM). Professionals are speculating what the bureau will decide is fair for both collectors and consumers and if the rules will keep the needs of the industry in mind. Fortunately the CFPB does have subject matter experts who happen to be veterans of the collection floor and familiar with what must be done to keep the economy rolling. One such veteran is John McNamara, the CFPB’s assistant director, consumer lending, reporting and collections markets.

Years before he was working to find the balance between consumer rights and responsibilities, McNamara was a kid fresh out of college looking for a desk.

mcnamara john“I started as a collector trainee out of college,” said McNamara. “It’s funny. I think I took the job because they would have me… I didn’t even know what I was getting into. Found out I was pretty good at it. I did really well as a collector and rapidly moved up to collection manager. This was with American Creditors Bureau.

“Within about a year I was promoted to collection manager and then a couple years later I transferred to San Antonio [TX]. Within three years I was running the San Antonio site. Then I moved around with American Creditors Bureau to numerous sites, running them, typically taking over sites that were underperforming and fixing them. At one point I was promoted to operations manager which was the equivalent to a regional VP.”

Not only did McNamara flourish in the collection environment, he took pride particularly in his ability to educate fledgling collection professionals. In this instance he literally wrote the book.

“This is probably the thing I’m most proud of in the debt collection space,” said McNamara. “I moved over as the director of training and quality and rewrote our training programs. It was based on principles of adult learning. We typically hired folks who didn’t have prior collection experience. We just didn’t want to inherit any bad habits. One of the things we tried to do with this training was to get new hires to understand what it was like to be a debtor.”

“The other thing we did in this training program that I thought was really novel was we had the new hires create their own FDCPA. The hypothesis was much of the FDCPA was highly intuitive. If a new hire came up with their new guidelines for debt collection and they got them right then that would be internalized and they would never forget that.”

In 2006 McNamara took to entrepreneurialism and cofounded Fidelis Recovery Services. Eventually the opportunity to influence the industry arose again in July 2014 when McNamara leveraged his industry experience in accounts receivable to become a subject matter expert for the CFPB.

“When I heard that the Bureau was considering a debt collection rule I realized I had been subject to the FDCPA for almost my entire adult life and I would love to be part of that, to be a subject matter expert and help them be as informed as possible in the rule making,” said McNamara.

“A big part of the role is industry engagement. We try to translate government to industry and industry to government and that involves speaking at a lot of conferences trying to educate the industry on what is going on relative to compliance, relative to the BCFP. It’s a very fulfilling role.”

McNamara truly has a perspective on the industry that not many have. He has seen accounts receivable from the ground up and regulation from both sides of collector/debtor relationship. From this experience he encouraged others to seek out varying opinions and listen for the truth within.

“My personal opinion is it’s healthy for industry to listen to and engage with consumer advocates, to understand where they’re coming from and understand the kind of consumer harms they’re seeing,” said McNamara.

“I think most people are surprised at how willing the Bureau is to talk to individual players. We certainly value getting a steady diet of industry practices and understanding what problems the industry is trying to solve.”