There is an old saying: nature abhors a vacuum. The same can be said for the news media.
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau held a webinar today, aimed at informing financial educators about the agency’s recent report summarizing the findings from its debt collection survey. The webinar did not necessarily break any new ground or reveal any new information or provide any new insight into the debt collection rulemaking or enforcement actions that will be coming in the days, weeks, and months ahead. But the CFPB did shed some light on a battle that the industry is sorely losing: the storytelling battle.
During the webinar, the CFPB played two videos, filmed with consumers who had been victimized by abusive, unfair, and deceptive debt collectors. The woman in one video — a single mother — said debt collectors told her they were on their way to her and threatened to have her arrested because she could not make her car loan payments. The other video showed pictures of a woman who said her father, neighbor, and two sisters were contacted about her payday loan debt. Stories like these are very common when enforcement actions are taken against illegal or unethical debt collectors and are very common when lawmakers stand up and rail against the industry and its “thug-like” tactics.
What the CFPB does not have, either because it is choosing not to show them or because people do not step forward with this type of information, are the stories of the professional collection agencies that work with consumers to help them rebuild their credit and get back on their financial feet. While not as sexy as a story about a single mother being threatened with jail time, the success stories are heartwarming tributes to the many collection agencies that are trying to do the right thing.
Efforts like those being undertaken by the Receivables Management Association (formerly DBA International) to collect thank you stories are incredibly important. The industry needs to do a better job of sharing its side of the story. Because without that side, all that’s left is the ballad of the victimized consumer. And the industry’s image will never be improved if that is all that the general public sees and hears.