My thoughts and observations from the recent DBA conference

Well it was the 20th conference for the debt buyers and it was well attended and was upbeat for a change. As I usually do here is my thoughts and observations firm the conference.

People

Well the players are changing along with the name of the association. As new debt buyers emerge the look of the DBA will also evolve into something that can survive in today debt purchase marketplace. The attitude of the people attending was much more upbeat that the last few years and this I will attribute to Trump.

Many of the people I have talked to during the conference have confirmed that they are much more optimistic than past years just due to the change in Presidents. People who I know had gotten out of the business and not attended the conference recently were back with smiles.

New

There was lots of talking about changes in the industry like Discover requiring partners to take payments away form the call recording devices to reduce the possibility of that call recording system being hacked and credit card info being available in the recordings. Patient financing for the healthcare agencies and buyers in the new thing as well. I meet a guy who is buying medical debt and forgiving it. The company is a charity and takes donations.

There was lots of talk about self cure processes and near shore shops. Both vendors, agencies and debt buyers are now moving processes and agents to near shore call centers with Jamaica being the prime location.

Vendors

The overall vendor attendance was low but the main players were all there. Stratics had the oversized booth that stuck out like a red headed step child. This proves there is a war for clients coming in the ringless voice mail segment currently owed by Vo Apps. This contact method for cell phones is defiantly the cheapest method to reach cell phones.

The vendors all seemed to be busy during the cocktail hours and lunches but not much traffic otherwise.

Conclusions

The debt purchase industry is reinventing itself and the people involved are positive it will work. The old school debt buyers are retiring and moving on to their next career or golf game. The vendors are all suffering as the overall volume of business is down 20%. The industry will continue to embrace technology and reduced labor costs to collect money and the industry will evolve to meet the challenges.

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Is Your Payment Website going To Penalized By Google?

Google wants the web to be traveling over a secure channel. That’s why in the future your Chrome browser will flag unencrypted websites as insecure, displaying a red “x” over a padlock in the URL bar. If your payment site is not secure your site can be labeled as non-secure by Google and this could stop your revenue stream.

Lighthouse Consulting provides marketing services to many companies in the ARM industry and we have many programs to make sure your technology is advanced and able to handle todays consumer actions with ease and securely. This is why we felt it important to notify the rest of the industry as we now most of you have no idea of these types of changes till they have been impacted by the changes.

With this upcoming change in Chrome, Google makes it clear that the web of the future should all be encrypted, and all sites should be served over HTTPS, which is essentially a secure layer on top of the usual HTTP web protocol.

Starting in January with Chrome 56, password or credit card form fields on non-encrypted sites will be labeled “not secure.”

In following releases, those warnings will be extended by labeling HTTP pages as “not secure” in Incognito mode, where users may have higher expectations of privacy.

Eventually, all HTTP pages will be labeled non-secure, and the HTTP security indicator will change to the red triangle/exclamation mark that Google uses for broken HTTPS.

If your current website host or marketing team needs a professional edition then call Lighthouse Consulting today and ask for Phillip W.Duff at 904-687-1687 X 101.

Hey Phillip, How do I become successful in the collections field? This was a recent question posed to me recently.

Years ago that was easy for me  to answer and hard to do, now its hard to answer and even harder to do. But there is a clear path to success in 2017 in the debt collection industry its just a big wide, steep road with lots of pot holes that can swallow your whole company so pick the correct lane and do not just follow the car in front of you.

So as a consultant to the ARM industry people ask me often why I do not open my own collection practice and the simple answer is people. Managing people is the biggest problem of every client I have ever had with more than 2 people. But I do believe I have the blueprint to  be successful in 2017 in the ARM industry as a collection agent.

The first thing imperative to success is the people, second is the technology and lastly is the consumer experience. Yes, the debtors experience dealing with your agency or law firm is very important these days.

The People

The staff in a collection operation are very important even though in most cases they are not highly paid. The staff that are actually talking to the consumers are task with producing all the revenue in the old collection strategy. A company of 20 had 12 collectors who had to generate all the revenue to pay the 20 staff, overhead, vendors and the owners profits.

In a newer strategy the collection staff are still burdened with producing most of the revenue but now there is a silent collector who ask for no wages, the payment website. (More about this in Technology)

The collection staff are also task with compliance which is a big task these days one that technology can help immensely. But the support staff are very important in the new and old strategies as every dollar spent by the support staff must be recovered 5 fold by the collection staff and technology.

The biggest problem I see with companies is a lack of training and development programs by the company. The second biggest problem is a person with a golden umbrella within the organization. This can fall into two categories 1) the person is a relative, friend or some connection that the owner refuses see all the faults in and even when confronted with the damage they create still refuses to even discipline the person, much less fire them. 2) Or is a person who is making much too much money due to the length of service to the company. This is stopping the company from hiring 3 new hires, or buying new technology, or just making money.

All the above equal people problems.

The Technology

This is now the new compliance officer and the silent non commissioned collector. If you have a modern software package you should be using it to create compliance by only showing accounts to staff when it is proper to call them, to count contacts, limit letters, to create automation of many tasks and much more. Technology from collection software to your IVR all all now very important to the multichannel collection strategy required in todays electronic world.

You must be sending emails, texts, voice mail drops, calling, letters, IVR and pushing the consumer to self cure at your payment site with every channel. So technology becomes the 24/7 collector as the pay site gathers revenue at Midnight and beyond.

The Consumer Experience

This is a part of the business that is overlooked or over focused in recent years. This includes both the clients experience and the debtors experience dealing with you. As you see from the technology section we are trying to drive that consumer to self cure at our payment site so that consumer experience is very important. You must build a comprehensive pay site that is easy to authenticate for the consumer and then easy to navigate to payment, usually a <6 click navigation.

Also the tone and look of the letters, pay site, voice mails, callers, company website and emails have to create a positive consumer experience.

If you can get the right people, working the right technology and creating the right consumer experience you will succeed in the ARM industry, if you need a guide please call me.

Lighthouse Consulting Provides An Advertising Opportunity

Lighthouse Consulting does marketing for many vendors and providers in the ARM space. We create websites, web marketing, content creation, ghost writing for things like blogs, social media management, remarketing, set up sales campaigns and much more.

If you are interested in getting your product in front of the decision makers then we are your platform for blast emails as Lighthouse has a loyal newsletter following that sends to well over 15K emails.

Lighthouse is offering ad space in it’s newsletter if you are interested in any of these services please contact Phillip W. Duff at phil@lighthouseconsultinginc.com or at 904-687-1687 X101

When your management is spread too thin how do you manage them?

The majority of the management teams I meet today are just spread too thin. With reduced profits and increased workload created by compliance and regulations, today’s management teams are unable to be effective.

Many many companies have great management in place but they are unable to complete projects that are critical to the company’s growth. When meeting with today’s owners and their management teams while doing my consulting I find more and more really great teams are being stretched so thin that none of them are at 100% effectiveness. Every project is lacking the extra work it will take to create the GREAT results needed by today’s changing business environment.

Use better tools

I talk to the owners and they tell me all the wonderful initiatives that the company is undertaking, yet when I speak to the management team they just tell me how overworked they are and how they’re unable to keep up with all the projects on their plate. They are looking for help to get more done with less people.

As a consultant what I find is missing falls in the hands of the owner not the management team. What is missing it Is a clear plan to accomplish all of the task required or desired in a defined timeline. It’s not that everyone cannot  accomplish all of the tasks it’s that no one knows which one is most important or what needs to be done first or next. The owner must learn to prioritize and supervise their management team at a higher level in today’s complex environment.

In order to provide a clear plan to your team I am than using the same basic format for decades. An agenda. Yes just something that simple can help the group to prioritize and assign task in one simple location.

I use three sections in my agenda, new business, old business and parking lot.

Each item has someone of a group of people signed to it and timelines or milestones. A new agenda is created after each meeting or significant event in the project. Everyone involved is given the most updated version each time one is created even if they missed the event or meeting.

The answer is a clear communication of priorities and desires in a written fashion that is constantly updated and distributed. If your a CEO, department leader or manager learn this new trick today and get more done tomorrow.

The 3 Most Ask Questions About Agents in Jamaica

While I have been speaking to people regarding opportunities in Jamaica I have been getting the same three questions over and over so I thought I’d like explained them here.

The first question that is pondered is can you understand the agents? My answer is clearly yes. The first time I went to the island as an auditor for Bombardier Capital the language skills were very good along the call center workers yet there was a clear accent among other Islanders including resort workers.

Here is a link to a redacted call from a recent (August 2016) collection call from a Jamaican call center in Montego Bay. 

Over the last decade even those accents have diminished tremendously. I’ll tribute a large majority of this to the fact that the island started receiving Cable channels from the US and Canada about eight years ago. So they are watching the same channels you are in Fort Lauderdale, Chicago, Montréal, Los Angeles and Miami. This exposure to used car commercials and endless reruns of Seinfeld has changed their language skills and understanding of the US economy.

The second most ask question is do they have the infrastructure to handle my Technology needs. The answer to that has been yes for many years. Initially most of the infrastructure for call centers doing business on the island was created by the government in an area called the free zone. Nowadays the same infrastructure exist throughout the island but especially in Montego Bay and Kingston.

The final question everyone ask is is it safe? My answer is you’re just as say in Montego Bay as you are in Miami, Chicago, Los Angeles or most larger cities in the United States or the world. Jamaicans really want to be Americans therefore their attitudes towards foreigners are very positive. The Jamaican government makes sure there are only a limited amount of visas issued to the United States as it fears there might be mass exodus if borders were oped wide. I have traveled many places in the world and most places they do not like Americans, one of the reasons I have been traveling back to Jamaica over the last decade is the Jamaicans positive attitude towards Americans.

Where is Waldo Calling from? Near shore or Offshore. Where should you place accounts and BPO work?

There have been a lot of discussions over the last few months with my clients and in the media about collection agencies and creditors moving work offshore. The BPO (Business Process Outsourcing) biz is growing due to the reduced profits and squeezing of contingency rates that the industry is experiencing. The question is WHERE DO I PLACE MY BPO?

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So let’s explore the options, we have India, Philippines, the near shore Caribbean and Mexico.

Let’s start with India the labor force is large and well educated, but the language skills and understanding of US customs is very bad. The cost to rent a seat has increased steadily since 2007. It is my opinion that India is best used for highly skilled BPO such as computer programming, Remote hardware management and other skilled trades. Another problem is the time it takes to go manage the team or do training, 20+ hours from Washington, DC

Next is the Philippines, many people moved from India to the Philippines over the last 3 years. The language is better than India, but still a challenge. Their understanding of US culture is better, but still lacking. The cost was great till the last year, as costs have taken a sharp rise recently, doubling in many cases. The ability to pop in is also quite an investment as its 18 hours from Washington, DC. The skill set is good for most daily tasks like call center work and data entry, but the cost is becoming too high quickly.

Mexico has been a option for many years and most call centers are conveniently located right over the US border. Please call centers serve as bilingual call centers and the English skills are very good. Their knowledge of US culture, it Is obviously high. The difficulty is the cost of those employees has been high for many years but is very effective. This is a great Choice for US call centers they are based in Texas, Arizona, New Mexico, California.

Ok the Caribbean has been a hot spot for 20 years with the change from textiles to call centers in the Free Zone in Montego Bay, Jamaica. Now Costa Rica, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic and St Lucia to name a few are in the call center biz. The labor costs in the islands is steady and the English is very good as many islands speak English as the primary language. The ability to manage the staff has been better as its just 2 hours from Washington, DC to Montego Bay, Jamaica or Santa Domingo. Most of the islands have a good understanding of the US culture and places like Jamaica get Cable TV from Miami, LA and Montreal, Canada. This has helped the work force become more accustomed to US culture, language and even slang terms. The skills are mainly called center oriented, but the ability to hire highly skilled labor are better in places Like Kingston, Jamaica and San Juan, PR where the large Universities are located.

So where should you place your BPO business? My answer is the near shore Caribbean if its call center work. I prefer Jamaica but that is a preference of mine as I know the people and have been going there since my first visit as an auditor for Bombardier Capital in 2000 to audit Alliance One a Philly based operation that had some of my files at their Montego Bay call Center.

If you desire to know more about near shore Caribbean call centers, call me at 904-687-1687 X 101

Phillip W. Duff

Do Not Utter The “F” Word

Debt collection is a high stakes game centered around high emotions on both sides.

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The trouble is, when emotions get out of hand, you lose control of the debt collection process.

Always remember Failure is not an option. Uttering the “F” word in this industry spells trouble for your business. However, success is dependent on finding creative solutions that address the many industry issues companies face.

When emotions get high self preservation kicks in quickly, creating defensiveness and instincts resembling the fight or flight response to danger. Consumers are keen to preserve income by failing to pay, and debt collectors must extract payments to stay in business. Compromise and cooperation can be hard to come by, with so much at stake.

Collection agencies are in a tough business right now. We face issues created by regulations, which largely favor the consumer. We face issues created by the debtors, who refuse to pay their obligations or follow through with payment agreements. We face issues created internally by staff or infrastructure. To succeed in this environment companies must refuse to accept Failure as not an option and find innovative ways to succeed.

As a consultant in the industry for the last two decades, I have seen a major industry shift in compliance making it more difficult and expensive to operate your business. The result is the cream rising to the top. The very best collection agencies and law firms are spending the time and money to ensure failure does not occur. They are finding success by aligning with vendors specializing in the industry, improving training for staff, hiring industry consultants who understand the challenges you face, and improving their procedures and processes. The cream rising to the top will lead the collection industry for decades to come.

As a consultant in the debt collection industry, I see both sides of the fence. On the one side are aggressive agencies seeking out improvements, training, automation and better processes. On the other side are agencies doing just the minimum to get by, hoping the regulatory environment will change before they have to spend the money on upgrades. It is very obvious to an industry veteran, like myself, which strategies are the most successful.

Most owners and managers are burdened with daily operations tasks to keep the agency or law firm profitable and in compliance. They do not have the time to investigate the necessary improvements required to maximize efficiency and stay on top of new compliance rules. This reactionary response is more expensive in the long run than taking a proactive approach to legislative changes. As CFPB enforcement increases, it makes more sense than ever to hire an outside consultant to provide innovative solutions for your agency or firm. Changes in both compliance and technology are creating both roadblocks and opportunities for those on the leading edge. Identifying which is essential to an agencies success.

Lighthouse Consulting has been a beacon of knowledge in the debt collection industry for almost 20 years. If you are looking for reliable advice and an intimate understanding of your needs, contact Lighthouse Consulting for information on our services.

What Does The Famous Poem El Dorado And Compliance Have In Common?

My favorite poem has been Eldorado by Edgar Allan Poe since I was in elementary school in the late 60’s. At that point in my life I was a poor, only child of a single mother in Southern Georgia and thought the idea of travel seemed so exciting we had only traveled to Tennessee to see family and Summers I spent time at my Grandparents house which was only 60 miles away. The time at grandmas was half child labor as I had to shuck bushels of peas, can vegetables and tend the garden and half a great leaning experience. But I wanted to see the world not just places with relatives. I wanted to find a spot of ground that was perfect, I was in search of Eldorado.

conquistadors

The poem speaks of a gallant Knight on horseback who is searching for Eldorado for most of his life and is finally told its there, just over the mountains and over the moon. Well Compliance is also there just over the moon in the valley of the shadow. Compliance like Eldorado is about the search, the horse ride, not absolute compliance.

In 2016 finding compliance to all the regulations and state requirements requires a long ride over the mountains and over the moon. So lets discuss how most of the agencies and law firms I run across are handling the compliance journey. ….

Gaily bedight,

   A gallant knight,

In sunshine and in shadow,   

   Had journeyed long,   

   Singing a song,

In search of Eldorado.

   But he grew old—

   This knight so bold—   

And o’er his heart a shadow—   

   Fell as he found

   No spot of ground

That looked like Eldorado.

   And, as his strength   

   Failed him at length,

He met a pilgrim shadow—   

   ‘Shadow,’ said he,   

   ‘Where can it be—

This land of Eldorado?’

   ‘Over the Mountains

   Of the Moon,

Down the Valley of the Shadow,   

   Ride, boldly ride,’

   The shade replied,—

‘If you seek for Eldorado!’