Members of the ARM industry descended on Washington, D.C., in mid-May to attend ACA International’s annual Washington Insights conference. The event featured a number of regulators, lawmakers, and other D.C. insiders, and also gave members of the ARM industry a chance to interact with the people who decide what they can, and can not do when collecting on debts. Many of those who attended the conference took the opportunity to meet with individuals at the different regulatory agencies or with members of Congress. Rick Bonitzer, the chief executive of Credit Collection Partners, and Nick Jarman, the agency’s chief operating officer, met with a number of those people. Jarman took the time to answer a few questions from AccountsRecovery.net about the meetings and the overall experience.
As someone who made extensive rounds while in Washington, D.C, how would you assess the willingness from those you met to help the ARM industry?
This is always a fascinating question, especially when your dealing with politicians. It’s important to remember the two largest consumptions of time for politicians — getting elected and staying elected. Having had the the benefit of visiting many lawmakers over the years, I have found them to be on the surface engaging and while the level of engagement is generally predicated on political party when it comes to our issues, others simply refuse to vocalize or acknowledge our benefit to our credit-based economy and tend to focus on anything negative they can find.
Now as it comes down to the genuine willingness to actually help the ARM industry that is a different story. While there are some who have been vocal advocates for us consistently like my Congressman, Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer [R-Mo.], and some others, when the rubber meets the road most politicians don’t want to jump in the middle of anything controversial, especially during election cycles. And being portrayed as siding with debt collectors has never been good optics.
What was the response from the people you met with when they learned/heard you worked in the ARM industry? Can you give a specific example of one such interaction?
In my early visits to Capitol Hill I would tend to get the general response of “Oh, you are one of those people” or “Yeah, we get a lot of complaints about you guys.” But over the last several years — spearheaded by the advocacy efforts of ACA International, RMA International, and other industry trade associations — I have seen a shift in the respect level with lawmakers and staffers who are more willing to be open and listen to what we have to say. Especially when they recognize that what we do impacts one out of every three of their constituents.
One specific example from this recent trip was when we visited with a legal analyst for a Senator from Illinois. After explaining the robocall, call blocking, and call labeling issues impacting both consumers and businesses, he said, “Good luck trying to sell that story our constituents.” Needless to say that our message, which was well received by everyone else we met with, fell on deaf ears with him.
What was the response to the talking points (contact caps and unintended consequences) that you raised? What were the thoughts and comments from the people you met with?
Rick and I set up our own meetings with the Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection at their headquarters with six of their associates representing various departments. As we discussed contact caps specifically they seemed engaged and all ears. The main points of emphasis we shared were making sure to involve industry when defining what a “contact” actually is so we can equate that to any proposed “contact caps.” We reviewed specific data with them on just how difficult it is presently to establish contact with consumers via the telephone and how year-over-year trends show a continual downward spiral and this is with no federal “contact caps” rules in place. We discussed specific debt collection laws, like those in Massachusetts and North Carolina, where they have enacted “consumer protection” laws, but have failed to realize those laws are hurting the very consumers they were established to protect.
We spent quite a bit of time with the BCFP on the various unintended consequences that laws and rules can cause. Namely, there will continue to be a rise in the number of lawsuits filed against consumers in states or jurisdictions where the laws or rules make it too difficult to collect from consumers. The more difficult that it is made to collect voluntarily, the easier the decision will be for creditors to expedite legal action.
This messaging seem to resonate with those we met with, and they appeared fully engaged while asking follow-up questions. I am confident our message was heard loud and clear with the BCFP.
Our meeting with the FCC included a member of Chairman Pai’s team and that meeting went very well. Our discussions focused on what defines an ATDS and how that consideration is under review right now. We also spent time talking about robocalls, call blocking, and call labeling while detailing the research I have conducted on the topic. We look forward to following up with his office on this matter.
What are your next steps following up on your meetings?
The next steps for Rick and I are to ensure we provide the follow-up items requested from lawmakers and regulators. Then, we would like to invite each of our representatives to visit our office, meet our team, and gain a firsthand perspective of what good we actually do compared to what they think we do.
In a broader perspective relating to “next steps” for everyone in our industry, what is most important is to maintain the lines of communication that we opened while we were in D.C. We can’t just visit Washington, do some advocacy, then go home and take care of our business until the next year comes and we repeat the process again. It is so important to establish relationships, build on those relationships, and stay consistent with those relationships on an ongoing basis.
Based on your meetings, how do you think the ARM industry should move forward on these issues?
Fortunately the ARM industry is in good hands from an advocacy standpoint with ACA, RMA, NCBA, PACE, and others. But just as lawmakers will be the first to tell you, hearing directly from us as constituents is the best method to ensure our message gets across and stays at the forefront.
What are the one or two things you’ll remember most about your visits?
The meetings Rick and I had at the BCFP and FCC offices went better than anticipated and established more relationships to build upon which will certainly come in handy as we progress forward.
I always enjoy hearing and meeting with my Congressman, Rep. Luetkemeyer, of course, but hearing BCFP Acting Director Mick Mulvaney’s speech on the Bureau’s path forward was enlightening and encouraging and certainly a major highlight.
What are the one or two things you want to impress upon other members of the ARM industry, based on your meetings?
Get familiar with the robocall, call blocking, and call labeling issues facing our industry. In my personal opinion, these issues threaten the viability of what we do more so than any other issue we have faced and that includes the creation of the CFPB or Operation Choke Point.
Secondly, get involved and stay involved. I want to give major props to ACA International for putting on what was by far the best Washington Insights or Fly-in they have done. Kudos to new CEO Mark Neeb, the ACA Board, and ACA staff. While it appeared to be the best-attended D.C. event that ACA has had, we still need to get so many more credit and collection professionals involved and engaged next year.