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Shielding Collectors From TCPA and FDCPA Violations

  • Written by Joshua Fluegel

The demands of regulators lead collection professionals to collect debt with the credo of “as little contact with the consumer as possible.” Every eliminated encounter with a consumer while the payment is still being collected is one less chance for a TCPA or FDCPA violation. For this reason many accounts receivable departments are turning to virtual collection portals. Receivables Advisor asked collection software experts in what way virtual collection technology can help professionals avoid TCPA disputes and FDCPA violations.

The Threat of TCPA Disputes

hill matthew

Matthew Hill President and CEO of The InterProse Corporation

Consumers facing virtual agent collection web portals can have a tremendous impact on an agency’s collection action resistance to TCPA and FDCPA violations. 1) Because the consumer is voluntarily logging into the virtual agent, there is little room for the consumer to have issues with the contact as long as the vehicle (letter, email, text, or voicemail drop) has been vetted for compliance. 2) With strict rules regarding the available hours initiating contact with the consumer, a virtual agent renders a TCPA/FDCPA constraint moot because of the consumer initiated action.

dharmaraja ranjan

Ranjan Dharmaraja CEO of Quantrax Corporation

A “threat” can be described as “...hostile action on someone in retribution for something done or not done.” In addition to sometimes being punished for things we do not perceive as being “wrong,” both TCPA disputes and FDCPA violations are moving targets. To address the challenge of a moving target, we must be able to defi ne the existing problems and anticipate what could happen tomorrow. That is no easy task. The existing challenges with TCPA disputes have been known for many years, and include calling cell phones and managing our contact strategy in a manner that does not confuse or bully the consumer. To strive for a perfect solution, we must seamlessly integrate collection technology with our collection efforts. Some would even argue that we must allow machines to take over traditional human roles, because if programmed correctly, a machine will never make a mistake. You cannot stop an agent from saying the wrong thing, but you can stop your company calling a cell phone in a predictive campaign, or calling a consumer at an “inconvenient time.” More challenging problems like counting and limiting the number of calls to a consumer or type of phone number (e.g. home, cell) for a day or a period, can only be effectively addressed with pure technology solutions. With older systems, major redesign is called for. With compliance, it may be argued that “prevention is the best cure.” We will not fi nd all of the answers in one place. We have to be proactive, practical and logical in our approach to addressing these challenges.

jeffers michelle2

Michelle Jeffers VP of Business Development of Applied Innovation

To prevent violations of both the TCPA and FDCPA, understanding of the laws is critical. Once an organization is aware of the potential risks of disputes and violations and creates policies and procedures to mitigate potential issues, they are well on their way to mitigating risk. Well-documented policies and procedures including remediation plans can make a marked difference with regulators, as well as reducing time and stress for the affected organization. Organizations can reduce TCPA risk with virtual collectors as these consumers voluntarily create accounts and set up repayment plans, thus reducing the concerns with telephone communication.

Possible FDCPA violations.

Matthew Hill President & CEO of The InterProse Corporation

1) Most virtual agent sites are sufficiently configurable to insure that they can meet the required FDCPA compliance standards.

2) Some of the more sophisticated portals have scripting tools that enable the calculation of payments, settlements or payment plan offers in real-time that eliminates arithmetic or other errors that can occur when an agent is working directly with the consumer.

3) With the use of an encrypted web portal, no live agents have to interact with a consumer's payment information and that information can remain obfuscated from the system of record and/or tokenized for secured payment plans through a payment processing integration.

Ranjan Dharmaraja CEO of Quantrax Corporation

FDCPA violations are far more complex to understand and prevent. There are many different areas to be considered. Traditionally, we have relied on agents to make sure that our companies did not break the rules. That became impossible several years ago. Think about it – we have to deal with our own standards, client requirements, as well as state and city-level rules for attempts, contacts, messages, letters, credit reporting, statute of limitations and many other areas. Once again, systemic solutions offer us the only way to address this complex problem. Many of these problems did not exist 10 years ago. Unfortunately, addressing these problems with technology does not only involve programming changes. The solutions call for some significant changes in design, which is difficult and expensive. With the computing power available to us today, practical solutions are well within our reach. Most of the popular collection systems have been around for a very long time. Their flexibility and power come from millions of line of code, built over many years of development. Major changes are a challenge, but must be undertaken. The alternative is massive spending on custom code or internal IT departments.

Michelle Jeffers VP of Business Development of Applied Innovation

The use of virtual collectors can help to reduce possible FDCPA violations in a number of ways. An example is that all the compliance can be built into the website, thus reducing the risk of collector missteps. Recurring payment notifications can be automated, restrictions on funding by client or type of debt, restrictions on accounts in bankruptcy or legal status, to name a few.

Agencies Turn to Collection Software for Compliance

  • Written by Joshua Fluegel

Whether an agency is new or a size that suits management’s taste, its collection software (1-100 seats) has little room for waste and must fit the agencies needs like a glove. As compliance officers monitor calls and outgoing letters, upper management must also keep track of what software is being utilized and what is being charged by the vendor.

bonitzer rick“Many software vendors have feature/ module ‘add-ons,’” said Rick Bonitzer, president of Credit Collection Partners. “Make sure you review your itemized invoice/statement every month to ensure you’re not paying for ‘addons’ you no longer use.”

A close working relationship with the vendor is also essential to realize the best use of the software’s ability.

“We work closely with our software vendor to automate processes as much as possible,” said Kyle Shanahan, president of Eastern Revenue, Inc. “One specific process is ‘close and returns.’ This is where accounts automatically get closed and returned due to our and our clients’ specifications.

“We also work with FICO to help improve current features/processes for future upgrade releases. These upgrade releases not only benefit Eastern Revenue, but other agencies that utilize their software.”

Growth is the result of an ongoing process of improvement. Improvement can only be achieved if good decisions are consistently made. Data from collection calls and collection manager input are crucial in making these decisions.

shanahan kyle“Having control on retrieving realtime performance data is critical in meeting both our needs and our clients’ needs,” said Shanahan. “FICO has a multitude of real-time performance reports that are essential to any agency’s growth. Two very important areas of data that Eastern Revenue focuses on are liquidating and unit yields. Not knowing specific client performance numbers will hinder the growth and profitability of any agency.”

While communication among staff is imperative, the “conversations” between the multitude of moving parts in an agency’s system must also be clear and numerous.

“The easy ability to integrate with thirdparty platforms [is essential for growth],” said Bonitzer. “Regardless of whether we’re talking about third-party vendors or client systems, the next great tech is always right around the corner. The easy ability to integrate it into your workflow as envisioned is critical. Don’t let your primary software vendor tell you what you want to do is not possible, not easily doable or will cost you a fortune.”

There is always the ominous cloud of compliance, the one-two punch that has laid waste to many agencies over the last decade due to its costly requirements. Agencies between one and 100 seats have always turned to software to help them maintain these lofty standards, and for good reason.

Automation and status reporting can make one set of eyes on the collection process seem like many.

“Compliance is obviously very important for any agency,” said Shanahan. “One of the most helpful aspects of [our vendor] is that it is a status code driven system.

But implementing proper status codes on the account level (cease and desist, disputes and requests for verification) allows Eastern Revenue to greatly reduce any potential exposure regarding compliance.”

The standards, as far as collection software is concerned, are always a safe place for collection efforts to reside. However, never be reluctant to frequently venture into the core of your system to search for new means of efficiency and compliance.

“Most collection systems will have the basic/similar safeguards, such as preventing phone calls from being made before/ after certain time thresholds or letters to certain states, but I continually go back to integration,” said Bonitzer. “The ability for your other vendors to seamlessly integrate with your core system is paramount.”

How to Avoid Multi-Office Challenges

  • Written by Joshua Fluegel

Congratulations! You just opened your second collection facility. Now you just need collection software. You can just recreate the same setup you have at the first location, right? Find out what today’s software vendors think you need to know before diving into a software solution that should span multiple offices.

Thomas Mohr CEO of Beam Software

mohr thomasCollection agents are very innovative and will often test the constraints of any collection software! The software should be configured to preclude agents in one office location from viewing or accessing accounts in another location. Floor managers and team leaders clearly do not want a collector accessing or cherry picking another office location’s accounts and working them.

Laurent Tabouelle Executive VP of Codix

tabouelle laurentThe most common pitfall is to rely too much on influential “old school” personnel during a software renewal project. These personnel are valuable for their strong business expertise but they are invariably supporting and promoting the “this is the way we’ve always done things here, can’t be done differently” approach. Change is usually scary, but necessary. A software renewal project requires a strong forward-thinking business sponsor.

Tony LaMagna Partner at The Computer Manager

lamagna tonyHaving multiple offices and/or databases can lead to oversteps in one office onto another office leading to confusion and mishandling of accounts. The key to avoiding this pitfall is to have a clearly defined business plan and approach for each office. Regardless of how the business is structured, as long as each office understands the plan and follows procedures in place an agency can successfully operate with multiple offices.

Fritz Schulze President and CEO of Comtech Systems

shulzeTaking extra steps to maintain data hygiene will avoid the need for laborious corrections. In particular, we advise the use of a system wide unique identifier for each record.

Jeff Dantzler President of Comtronic Systems

dantzler jeffOne pitfall to avoid is thinking that your IT team can build out a better “homemade” cloud-based deployment than a dedicated cloud vendor. That may have been possible five years ago, however, today you must take full advantage of collection vendors that partner with cloud titans such as Microsoft Azure or AWS for greatest efficiencies, economies of scale, unparalleled security and protection.

Carl Briganti President and CEO of CSS IMPACT

briganti carlA common pitfall in configuring a software solution across multiple offices is to overlook the opportunity to customize each office as its own independent environment in the ecosystem with its own customized settings, permissions and workflows in order to maximize the productivity potential of the personnel at each location. Although this may require an investment of time at inception, the uplift is significant on the long run. Customizing each site around its very specific needs is more often than not neglected in favor of using a single-template solution approach that applies to all locations missing out on the opportunity to enhance efficiencies with the more tailored approach.

Lex Patterson President of DAKCS Software Systems

patterson lex2Secure, responsive access from any location is important to easily manage connection and roles for security and reliability. A cloud-based model works great, but on-premise solutions should have the capability as well. Data segmentation allows you flexibility in managing trust accounts and collector workloads. Having automated tools to process accounts and report on activity from each location is vital. The ability to quickly adjust user count to accommodate operational changes prevents hold ups in your business organization’s timeline.

Matthew Hill President / CEO of InterProse

hill matthewNone. As long as each location has a resilient network and suitably fast Internet connection the rest of the deliverable is easy.

James Dunlap CEO of Lariat Software

dunlap james2Utilizing technology that wasn’t designed for cloud deployments. It is possible to deploy older technology to the cloud and make it accessible from multiple offices; however, this presents challenges in security, efficiency, and flexibility. It’s true that redeploying legacy technology to the cloud can be tempting but in the long run it is far better to invest in the right tool for the job.

Ranjan Dharmaraja CEO of Quantrax

dharmaraja ranjanThe pitfalls are likely to be a result of the software design. You are often restrained by your software and its flexibility. As an example, different companies can be on the same database or on different databases. If you want to move accounts from early-out to bad debt, having the data on a single “file” is a great help. Inquiring into an account in multiple databases, or consolidating multiple accounts into a single report can be challenging, depending on the database design. If the same consumer exists in different companies, the software may not be designed to search across all companies.

Dan Hornung President of Roydan

hornung danielAgencies that work across the country need to be aware of how to handle time zones effectively. Making sure phone calls and other activities are timed appropriately to the consumer’s location is imperative given the compliance implications that this could create if handled improperly.

Chris J. Roberts President and COO of Sentinel Development Solutions

roberts chrisThe largest consideration by far is to make sure that you choose a collections platform that can flexibly support all of your requirements.

Chris Campbell CEO of Simplicity Collection Software

campbell chrisAgain, the question varies based on your collection software solution. For a web-based software solution, avoid the security trap. Make sure you know how your data is being stored, is it encrypted as it is sent to your software provider’s server, and is it encrypted “at rest” while it sits in your provider’s database? Make sure that multiple locations can be secured and isolated easily if needs to be and that user access can be restricted not only to features and functionality but also to allowable timeframes and working hours. Finally, make sure your software provider has adequate network, Intrusion Detection Systems (IDS) and firewall monitoring in place to ensure your data is secure. For traditional software solutions, it comes down to security as well. Make sure you have a skilled and experienced IT staff to properly configure firewalls and infrastructure hardware in order to ensure that data is being transmitted securely. Additionally, network monitoring, IDS and firewalls should be put in place and frequently monitored in order to verify that networks are secure and not compromised. An untrained IT staff is sure to miss critical security components leaving your environment compromised and costing you additional dollars in the end.

Healthcare Collections Transforms Into Customer Service

  • Written by Joshua Fluegel

Healthcare debt collection entails a great amount of data for every account. In the midst of such an undertaking a collection professional may lose sight of efficiency. Perhaps certain arduous steps in day-to-day procedures could be bypassed if only certain tasks were automated or if a certain data import function were utilized. Collection Advisor gathered input from technology experts to learn what functionality collection professionals already have in their possession but do not use to its full potential.

Chris J. Roberts President/COO of Sentinel Development Solutions, Inc.

roberts chrisWhat is a healthcare collection software functionality you think is underused considering how useful it can be?
Revenue cycle management is optimized by going to the cloud to gain HIPAA and Hi-Trust security. Many agencies have to do encryption-at-rest and its HIPAA implications.

What is a mistake you see professionals make regarding software use and healthcare debt collection compliance?
When personally identifiable data is stored it must be encrypted. It also avoids hackers who use a sequel injection. It may be required by PCI for all collections some day. GDPR is necessary if you store any data about a consumer in the European Union. They may be ahead of us. GDPR requires the ability to eliminate all information about a consumer if requested.

 

Fritz Schulze President of Comtech Systems Inc.

shulzeWhat is a healthcare collection software functionality you think is underused considering how useful it can be?
Of course, using available integrations to take advantage of newer communication methods like texting improves the response rate. In terms of software functionality, the group promise function allows the creation of a single commitment for all accounts belonging to the same debtor. Conversely, the ability to split payments over multiple accounts manages the payments for the group promise.

What is a mistake you see professionals make regarding software use and healthcare debt collection compliance?
We recommend the proper removal of Do Not Call numbers, and the creation of an audit trail that prevents that number from being used again. Using the automations and tracking that a sophisticated software package provides removes work and responsibility from the collector, leaving them with more time for calls.

 

Chris Campbell CEO Simplicity Collection Software

campbell chrisWhat is a healthcare collection software functionality you think is underused considering how useful it can be?
Automation hands down! The more automated you can make your business processes, the more profi table and successful you can make your business. Look for a software that allows you the ability to automate accounts and processes for a more streamlined and profi table collection solution.

What is a mistake you see professionals make regarding software use and healthcare debt collection compliance?
Make sure you select a software solution that considers compliance a priority and is flexible enough to adapt and change with the ever-changing compliance rules and regulations. Healthcare collectors are sometimes overly concerned with HIPAA and PCI because they had inadequate tools to store more personally identifi able information properly.

 

Ranjan Dharmaraja CEO of Quantrax Corporation Inc.

dharmaraja ranjanWhat is a healthcare collection software functionality you think is underused considering how useful it can be?
What is a healthcare collection software functionality you think is underused considering how useful it can be?Healthcare is a sensitive business. We are not using the options that are most convenient to consumers and patients, when it comes to contacting them. The most convenient and practical options for contact are email, text messaging and self-service for all areas of the collection process. These are signifi cantly underutilized options.

What is a mistake you see professionals make regarding software use and healthcare debt collection compliance?
You will usually not have just one account when it comes to healthcare debt. Typically, there will be multiple accounts for the same consumer. Failing to effectively manage these groups of accounts, due to the lack of an efficient process and/or superior technology, is a mistake we often see in healthcare collections and compliance.

The whole industry is changing. Healthcare is not dying. It is not going to go away. What matters is how we contact people, how to make right party contacts. We are no longer in collections; we are in customer service.

 

Matthew Hill President/CEO of The InterProse Corporation

hill matthewWhat is a healthcare collection software functionality you think is underused considering how useful it can be?
I feel that the reluctance to embrace an omni- channel communication approach with consumers greatly limits the choices the consumer has to engage the agency in the method they most prefer. Whether the consumer prefers a phone call, text message, email or virtual agent interaction, there are modern solutions and techniques to meet those preferences that are fully compliant. In most cases the vendors providing these services have gone to great lengths to insure that the use of their offerings maintain compliance if implemented properly.

What is a mistake you see professionals make regarding software use and healthcare debt collection compliance?
The continued use of outdated or functionally obsolete collection platforms that do not meet the strict HIPAA data security requirements leave collection agencies very exposed to data losses and legal actions from consumers.

Hospitals are catching on and starting to ask hard questions about digital infrastructure, compliance audit certifications, and best practices, so the time has come for everyone to take these security measures seriously by meeting or beating the industry standards from the outset.

Speech Analytics: Analysis of Speech and Prevention of Lawsuits

  • Written by Joshua Fluegel

A couple minutes each day focused on the latest developments in a segment of your industry is worth its weight in gold. While it can seem daunting when the topic is outside your area of expertise, that makes it all the more worth while. Speech analytics is a relatively newer technology that is quickly becoming a necessity in an industry filled with litigious consumers.

Collection Advisor went to an expert on the subject to discuss the implementation of speech analytics and what they can mean for your bottom line.

ripa john“Collection call speech analytics measures several key metrics directly relating to compliance,” said John Ripa, president and COO of Castel Communications. “They can be customized to align with specific needs of individual collection cell centers, including borrower verification, call disclosures, and payment request, among others. Tracking and acting on these metrics positively impacts the volume of debt collected.”

However, watching the bottom line is only half the job of an accounts receivable professional. The other half is protecting his or her organization from the threat of legal infringement.

“Speech analytics helps avoid lawsuits by approaching compliance from live monitoring and post-call perspectives,” said Ripa. “Live monitoring tracks keywords denoting compliance events in real-time customer conversations. Post-call review tracks compliance success by agent once customer conversations have concluded. Both combine to allow for real-time compliance assurance and best practice development that dramatically mitigate the development of lawsuits.”

Maintaining working relationships with technology partners is paramount when optimizing an agency’s tools. It can help you track your software’s efficiency and provide insight into the latest technological developments.