Should We Conduct Collections Through Text and Email?

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In short, yes! However, the way we are currently going about it falls short of where we should be. Recently, it seems the credit union industry is simply making changes or implementing new ideas and waiting for someone or something (i.e. the government) to step in and tell us how we did it wrong and how they think we should do it. That’s backwards. We in the industry need to be the ones setting the guidelines and standards.

If you have been around as long as I have, you’ll know that whenever a new feature or technology—like text messaging—comes about, there are always issues that come with that innovation. Back in the ’70s, when answering machines were invented and offered to the public, there were no limits imposed on what could be said and what information was left in a voicemail. Then the industry got set back when a lawsuit caused us to have to cut short the information we say and who can listen to it. This is now commonly known as third-party disclosure. When it comes to text and email collections, we need to be anticipating and considering these issues before we implement this technology.

Let us be the ones who make the rules. Let us be the ones who dissect the process, find issues, and fix them. The NCUA, CFPB, and others should be kept out of the process—we know more about how this works than any government agency. We do this yearly, monthly, daily, and hourly. We are “in the trenches” and know what life is like here on a daily basis. We have the knowledge. We have the ability. We need to be the leaders. We need to get it right.

Creating a process

I hope that is enough to get you fired up because this process isn’t fast or easy, but the payoff is great. Think of it… messages and contacts sent instantly to anyone, anywhere they choose to get them, at any time. It can be done successfully, as other financial entities have proven, but we can’t just start sending messages and hope for the best. We need tracking to support the requirements of proof. We can do this, but how?

As with any new process, what I’ve outlined below is not perfect, but it will and should be much more than our standard “let’s try it and see what happens” approach. To get the thought processes rolling, I will take the approach of combining the requirements for both audio and print we have now. Here are a few things we need to consider when implementing text and email processes:

First, we need a way of controlling what the message says. Furthermore, there must be systems in place to prevent someone from adding in their own unapproved text or data which could violate the legal or compliance piece of the notices. If an employee, for example, were to add their own spin to the message or include private information, we need proof that we have systems in place to prevent this. We also must out Personally Identifiable Information (PII). History has shown us that members will provide Personally Identifiable Information in unsecured communications. How do we protect them from themselves?

Once the message is sent we need ways of proving exactly what was sent and when. What tracking option can we create to show the message was sent? After it’s sent, we need to be able to track it and confirm it was delivered and opened. This will probably be a programming feature to show it was opened, read, delivered, or some combination of those features. The more we can get, the more amenable governing bodies and lawyers will be to the change.

Now we’re back to third-party disclosure. If you send a text message, how do you know who is reading it? How do we protect the members and ourselves from reading them in public (the cause of the ’70s court suit) or allowing others to read their media—phone, tablet, computer, etc.? Say a member hands a phone over to their friend to show off a photo and suddenly the text comes through, how can we keep situations like this from breaking third-party disclosure?

If the member responds, we need to set up a system to monitor the response and when it came in, both date and time. Who will be required to monitor the incoming message and how do we make sure that those monitoring are alerted to new responses? We also need a way of keeping records of all the interactions with the account. How do you associate them with an account base—or even a particular suffix—like we do with notice now to prove to authorities what we did?

Finally, as with any communication, we will need to come up with a storage and retention plan. For how long should messages and conversations be stored and in what method should we store them?

These are just some of the details needed to implement something as simple as sending collection notifications via text or email that many of us don’t think about. This same thought process should be invoked for all new ideas to ensure better acceptance and fewer regulations forced upon us.

We need to be the leaders

We have the information to make these ideas work. We are the leaders in the industry. We need to start leading rather than just testing to see what happens and letting the government lead us.

We need to take control of our own business and business lines and show the world we are more experienced, smarter, and the controlling factor in our combined success. No matter the product or idea, these are the fundamentals of a successful endeavor.

Author


  • Manager, Collections and Conversion Contact Center, CU*Answers

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