The second Debt Collection Dialogue event, hosted this past Tuesday in Dallas by the Federal Trade Commission, was, by all accounts, a better event than the first time the FTC attempted this kind of forum back in Buffalo three months ago. At the most recent event, a number of industry professionals were invited to participate as speakers, a dimension that was sorely lacking at the Buffalo meeting. Four industry experts – Trish Baxter, Rob Foehl, Michael Frost, and Joann Needleman, representing DBA International, ACA International, and the National Association of Retail Collection Attorneys, participated in two panel discussions, joining representatives from the FTC, Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, and the Texas Attorney General’s office.
And while speakers contacted by AccountsRecovery.net were appreciative at the invitation to participate, there was some skepticism that, regardless of the industry’s representation, little will change going forward.
“I appreciate the fact we were invited,” Needleman said. “But it gets more and more frustrating that the industry cooperates fully, and I’m still not confident that our cooperation means anything.”
One collections professional, who was in the audience and asked not to be named, said that the regulatory representatives made it clear that their primary objective is consumer protection.
“There was a question from the audience that asked if, during the course of an investigation, it was revealed that the problem was just that a vast majority of debtors were not paying their bills, would the regulators lay off the industry, and they came out and said ‘Absolutely not,’ ” said the executive. “The most common phrase during the event was “we can agree to disagree.’ ”
Those from the industry who were there went looking for clarity; guidelines or ideas on best practices that can be adopted to stay on the right side of the law. But the regulators appeared more interested in only describing and discussing the actions of those who end up being investigated and getting in trouble.
There are clear signs that the regulators are interested in continuing the discussion and that they want to hear more from what the industry has to say. Baxter, the president-elect of DBA, said that Christopher Koegel, an assistant director at the FTC, wants to spread the word to the collections and debt-buying industry about the third and final event, to be held Nov. 18 in Atlanta. The FTC is looking for participation as well as help shaping the content for the event, Baxter said.
Baxter did say that the manner in which questions were handled at the Dallas event – attendees were asked to write their questions down on index cards that were handed to the discussion moderators – created some confusion when it was difficult for the moderators to decipher the words or meaning of the questions.
“I think that there were audience members who would have appreciated the chance to be heard,” Baxter said. “There were not a lot of questions submitted via the cards.”
Regarding the upcoming proposed rule that the CFPB is working on, all of the industry panelists urged the agency to issue clear rules that are fair and balanced to ensure a level playing field, Baxter said.