Q: Why are you holding your company back? A: Its your limitations, the ones you set for yourself and your staff.

Where did you get these limitations from? 

Unfortunately you were taught these limitations by your bosses, the industry and your even your mentors. From the first day you entered the industry people told you what you can’t do or what was not allowed by regulations and seldom have they told you WHAT TO DO.

And there is a deeper layer here also, you have taught all the staff that work for you where the ceiling is. By your actions and reactions to suggestions and new ideas you have stifled the staff with your limitations. In fact you have ingrained them with all the same faults you have. If your successful you have likely done a great job at your brainwashing your staff to see the ceiling.

But aren’t boundaries a good thing? 

Yes but not ceilings. This is not a boundary issue its a issue that the decisions you are making are creating a ceiling that you cannot break through because you will not let yourself do so. You have created a false sense of well being knowing that you cannot pierce the ceiling and since you bump up against it often you must be doing a great job, but no.

Just because you are hitting the limitations you created for yourself and your staff does not mean anything but that. You have created and installed limitations that are hindering new ideas and strategies and its now a issue.

How do I break thru the ceiling? 

Find a better mentor. There are many ways to learn new behaviors but doing it with the help of an industry veteran that understands how to break through ceilings will be the best route. See you have to remember that you taught all the people that work for you where the ceiling is and they also believe they can’t pierce the top either. So changing the behavior of the company is a culture change that requires a professional.

How can someone else change the culture in my business? 

Professional consultants like myself have learned that culture change is what consulting is all about. Its not really about the changes in process or procedures its a change in the mindset of the company. I have told this story many times but my first consulting job in 2000 scared me to death, I was not sure if I was going to have better collection strategies than they were using. As it turned out the improvements were the easy part, they were staring me in the face, the idea of how to tell the owner that his business practices suck was the hard part.

I learned that day that culture change, from the CEO down is what consulting is all about. And it was about how to change the mentality of the company that made it work not the actual process and procedures that I suggested changing. The processes made the company more efficient and profitable but the change in culture was what made it grow and break through the ceilings it created for itself.

If you have created ceilings that are hindering you today give me a call.

Do you want to control your companies online reputation on all the top consumer review/complaint websites?

Lighthouse Consulting aggregates your good and bad consumer reviews from over 100 websites like Facebook, BBB, Twitter, Pissed Consumer and Google so your company can easily monitor what your customers are saying about you — in real-time!

You can hear every word stated about your business on Social media. Lighthouse Reputation Beacon is a service that automatically sends a review request to your company or the CEO’s cell phone, scoring new reviews for your business directly on Google and Facebook.

Lighthouse Reputation Beacon aggregates your reviews from top review sites. See what consumers are saying about your agency or law firm, in real-time.

With Lighthouse Reputation Beacon, your business can manage negative reviews with easy-to-use tools to address customer feedback quickly.  Your companies great reviews are collected from major sites are indexed by search engines for higher search ranking

Your positive reviews are auto-published to Facebook, Twitter, website, custom review site and 50+ consumer site.

You can generate a steady flow of positive reviews from your happy customers, via mobile, check-in, SMS & email campaign. And all the aggravated reviews are sent to you in real time so you can take action immediately.

With the Lighthouse Reputation Beacon, your business is found by search engines — accurately and up-to-date — across all the major consumer sites.

Lighthouse Reputation Beacon will generate and download ROI reports showing growth in reviews, ratings, traffic and ROI to support business decisions.

This service is very affordable, to learn more call Phillip W. Duff at 904-687-1687 X 101.

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.

Jamacian Call Center News

One of the services provided by Lighthouse Consulting is near shore call center management, consulting and agency set up, particularly on the island of Jamaica. So in order to better educate my US call center operators I will start providing information about call centers that are involved in debt collection, debt settlement or other ARM services in Jamaica.

an overturned boat on the beach in the Caribbean. Boat is painted "Rasta" colors.

an overturned boat on the beach in the Caribbean. Boat is painted “Rasta” colors.

Let’s start by giving you some information. Jamaica is a major call center destination receiving and making calls around the world to English-speaking countries. Call centers handle everything from Pizza delivery orders in Montréal, Medicaid healthcare products sales, Cable TV sales, debt collection and many other projects. There are tens of thousands of trained call center workers in Montego Bay and Kingston. Vistaprint has they’re only worldwide call center in Montego Bay and is one of the major employers of the city. Delta, Fingerhut, American Airlines, Insurance companies and many more all use call centers on the island.

I first came to the island as an auditor for collection accounts that were placed in there with Alliance One in 2000. So as you can see the island has a long history of debt collection. In future articles I will provide information on some of the call centers that currently exist on the island and how they may Bring value to your debt collection operation. With the average wages for a trained bill collector in Jamaica equaling half that of the US and similar results, the ROI is easy to caculate.

Reasons to use a Call Center in Jamaica

English is the primary language 

Accents are mild and pleasant

Jamaica is a call center hub

Favorable wages 

ROI is high VS USA staff

Close to manage (1 hour flight from Miami, 2 hour flight from D.C.)

Work lower unit yield accounts at a profit

Data entry and admin functions

Insurance reps

Transfer agents

wZtizoK

My Recap of the Denver ACA Conference 2016 and Comic Con 2016

The 2016 ACA conference in Denver was refreshing, to say the least. It was apparent from the moment I arrived that this was going to be a different conference. Not only was it an educational event full of enthusiasm, but the week also coincided with Comic-Con and Denver gay pride week. The city was lively with activities and fun events, creating many memorable moments.

Even though the Costumes from Comic Con were very distracting, (not to mention FUN), my biggest takeaway from the ACA conference, is that the industry is alive again.

27674227832_85dde03242_bOver the last few years, with all of the compliance issues and a decline in placements, the industry has experienced a theme of doom and gloom. This year, Denver’s conference reflected an optimism and upbeat attitude towards the future. Companies were anxious to find solutions that would stimulate growth and a bright future for industry leaders.

Compliance, which was the main topic over the last few years at ACA, DBA, and NARCA, was a secondary topic, rather than the primary focus. It seems the industry has gotten used to dealing with the compliance issues of today’s collection environment and are now looking for ways to perform business at a higher level that still produce acceptable profit margins.

The decision-makers I met with were looking for technological and operational improvements for their collection agencies or law firms, rather than just moaning and complaining about the increase in regulation. It appears the mourning period is over, and now we are ready to morph into a new life. Companies are focused on opportunities for automation, process flow improvements, more profitable vendors, and advances in technology opportunities that can improve their bottom line.

Vendors like Vo Apps have been around for many years and are now getting traction as the industry is ready to try something new.

There was a lot of buzz at the conference regarding the merger of Columbia Ultimate and Ontario Systems. The two vendors set up booths next to each other and took advantage of all the questions and interest regarding the recent merger acquisition. I expect it to take a year or before we will fully understand the direction of the new company.

There was a smaller number of vendors in the exhibit hall, but that has been a trend at each of the conferences in the last three years. Several new vendors to the industry were represented, and a few from the old guard were noticeably missing. Based on the vendor selection custom programming, contact management, data append, and software development made up the bulk of the service providers.

Overall, I believe the industry has turned the corner and is looking forward instead of backwards or just looking down at their feet. Even though the industry is very challenged by compliance and a lack of placements, it appears that providers who are forward thinking will lead the industry for many years to come.

To learn more about my thoughts or recommendations going forward, or if you just want Comic-Con photos, please give me a call at 904-687-1687 X 111.

27684314262_930ddeaee2_b

 

 

 

Everyone Has a Smart Phone Why Don’t You Have a Smart Collection Strategy to Match?

Max McKeown famously said, “Adaptability is the powerful difference between adapting to cope and adapting to win.”

Eniac_Aberdeen

The debt collection industry has found itself facing increased regulations as the industry adapts to new laws and legal precedent regarding collection practices. These changes have led to exploding compliance budgets, as companies scramble to meet ever-changing standards. Strategy changes within your company must match new compliance requirements, enabling your company to rise to the top of this dynamic industry.

One of the more difficult regulations that have evolved revolves around contacting debtors on their cell phones, TCPA. As more consumers ditch landlines, and nearly 2/3rds of adults rely on smartphones for both personal and business contacts, accessing this communication channel has become a high priority.

What you need is a smart strategy that will work with all of your consumer’s smartphones. 

notification-of-new-message-on-smart-phone

The best strategy a company can incorporate is enticing customers to “opt-in” to email and text messaging. By communicating with the consumer via their smartphone, you will have higher contact rates and stronger results. I recommend that my clients use every opportunity to get the consumer’s permission for both cell phone and email messages. The successful implement of this strategy requires the company to add verbiage to all current communication methods, providing the customer with ample opportunity to approve additional channels. With every phone conversation and every collection letter sent, additional contact methods should be requested. Even hold music, and payment site visits can promote the benefits of opting in by providing a pathway for the consumer to sign up for your Smartphone strategy.

Once the customer has accepted communication through their Smart Phone, we can create a strategy around both texting and emails that drive the consumer to self-cure at your payment site or drive a compliant inbound call.

These are the smartest strategies to adopt because they remain fully compliant and offer the lowest cost per transaction.

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!’

Round Up the Usual Suspects

“Round Up the Usual Suspects”
How a quote from Casablanca relates to the CFPB

“Round up the usual suspects” is a line from the movie Casablanca but does it also describe what’s going on in the ARM industry today by the CFPB? It seems as if that is what they are beginning to do. With the recent news regarding the Law Firm of Frederick J. Hanna in Atlanta, GA, it seems as maybe that’s what the CFPB is doing. In my opinion it seems that Hanna was targeted just because of the volume of this firm’s business and this firm’s national legal forwarding business.

“The Hanna Law Firm relies on deception and faulty evidence to drag consumers to court and collect millions,” said CFPB Director Richard Cordray. “We believe they are taking advantage of consumers’ lack of legal expertise to intimidate them into paying debts they may not even owe. Today we are taking action to put a stop to these illegal debt collection practices.”

Did you catch that last part…the operative phrase being “…may not even owe.” That sounds a lot like guilty until proven innocent to me. The Director of the CFPB in that statement takes the outright position that the agency is not totally sure these consumers actually do or not carry an obligation for these debts, but they seem intent to just go ahead and file suit and try to figure out that little detail later…after damage has been done.

And here is what the CFPB alleges:

“ Since January 1, 2009, Defendants have collected or attempted to collect debts for credit-card issuers such as JP Morgan Chase, Bank of America, Capital One, and Discover, and debt buyers such as Portfolio Recovery Associates and Midland Funding, LLC. The alleged debts were incurred by consumers primarily for personal, family, or household purposes.”
“ To collect these debts, the Firm frequently turns to litigation. In Georgia alone, the Firm sued about 78,000 consumers in 2009; about 84,000 in 2010; about 71,000 in 2011; about 57,000 in 2012; and about 60,000 in 2013. In sum, the Firm filed more than 350,000 collection suits from 2009 through 2013 (the “Georgia Collection Suits”).”
As you continue to read the complaint from the CFPB you will see they assume that if you are working large volumes of cases you must be sloppy. In addition they claim a lack of “proper attorney oversight” which is a statement that has needed to be clarified for years.

But is it fair to just round up the usual or suspected suspects? I say no because the disruption to business and the perception to the issuers is detrimental to the firm or agency. But the CFPB acts more like a grand jury in its function in that the bar for bringing litigation against companies appears to be set very low here. Furthermore, there is no way to fight back until you’re attacked. Finally, the CFPB seems to have no interest in helping to educate the industry or to provide transparent guidance; rather, they seem intent on trying to make examples of larger market participants through nuanced interpretations of vague laws and regulations and are focused on enforcement and punishment rather than a mutually beneficial cooperative effort to raise standards and practices.

So what do we do? Truly, I’m asking you for your input and guidance here on what we should. I am open to suggestions to share with the industry or to share some of my ideas with you at phil@lighthouseconsultinginc.com. Feel free to email me or comment at the end of this blog post.

Ready for My Closeup

“All Right, Mr. DeMille, I’m Ready for my Close-Up.”

Is your agency or law firm ready for your close-up?  The CFPB may be at your door sooner than you think.
This quote from the movie Sunset Blvd. is a portrayal of the scene playing out on the ARM industry stage instead of the theatrical stage. As the regulations become more burdensome and the agencies like the CFPB expand their scope, will you be ready for your close up?

Are you making moves today to be ready tomorrow? Playing Norma Desmond in the movie, Gloria Swanson made the line famous “All right, Mr. DeMille, I’m ready for my close-up.”  But Norma was disillusioned when she said this in the 1950 movie and in fact was not even sure who or where she was.

Is this you?  Are you also in denial that you’re ready for the regulators or disillusioned that they might even show up at your door?

It is my opinion that they will likely show up at the doors of small law firms and agencies in 2015 as they follow the trail of inventory from the big debt buyers and banks down to the smaller companies, adjunct organizations and even vendors to the large market participants.  Many people believe they are too small to be a bother to the regulators but as the industry tightens we will all come under more scrutiny. The vendors are now subject to audits and review with a fine tooth comb and the smaller servicers will be next.

As the regulators investigate a bank our debt buyer they will be following the trail of money and collections.  The debt buyer may have inventory placed at 20 agencies and law firms or 50, or maybe 100. The regulators will be interested in how those vendors are doing the job for the bank or debt buyer and they will be investigating them to find out.

So what do you need to do to be ready? Achieve certifications, develop and maintain SOP’s, and develop a compliance team with a holistic view and reach into every area of your business.  This is just the beginning and there will be more hoops created for you to jump through each year for the foreseeable future.  In truth there is much too much to do to mention in a short blog but you better get started now.  This is a moving target and it takes a lot a work to keep up.  And if you’re starting behind the rest of field, you may never make up the gap.

If you desire some help finding the harbor safely Lighthouse can help you just give us a call at 904-687-1687 and ask for Mr. Phillip W. Duff the CEO.