There’s an old saying: there’s no time like the present. When it comes to seeking clarity and reform to exclude debt collectors from liability under provisions of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, call blocking and labeling, contradicting FDCPA interpretations from courts, that saying couldn’t be closer to the truth. Many organizations have become increasingly frustrated that the TCPA, Foti, and now robocall issues haven’t been corrected. Many feel as if our industry should have had the legislation updated by now and are frustrated for the continued inclusion of the liability debt collectors face due to TCPA violations and not having a clear definition of a “communication” in the FDCPA.
While credit and collection trade associations can push these reforms to the goal line, it will be up to the entire industry to see those reforms take place. Consumer advocate groups continue to invest money into lobbying against our cause. It may not be what you want to hear, but it is reality. Our industry needs everyone whether an owner, executive, or employee to rise up, get involved, and start contacting policymakers and regulators on the federal and state level.
Personally, I have tremendous success in reaching out to both Democrats and Republicans. While some didn’t bother to respond, the majority did. We continue to setup face-to-face meetings with regional legislative directors and I have several conference calls scheduled regularly with legislative directors based in Washington, D.C. Based on the takeaways of these meetings and calls I am more encouraged than ever that we will see some of the reforms we have been longing for, it’s just a matter of when.
In Defense of Collections
The one thing I am confident in after having meetings with legislators and regulators is most of the legislators don’t know and some of the regulators aren’t aware of just how far-fetched and damaging some of these laws are. Many are not aware of the TCPA or FDCPA because of the massive amount of laws they have to know and understand. They have not been informed of the value of credit and collections. When I explain that debt collectors are being sued by opportunistic plaintiff attorneys because they called a consumer’s cell phone using an advanced telephone system, they were literally dumbfounded that anyone could be sued for calling a consumer on a cell phone, especially when collecting a legitimate debt. I get the same reaction when I explain Foti, and robocalls. They are genuinely taken back that these types of lawsuits could happen, let alone have an impact such as they have today on both consumers and debt collectors.
In Defense of Consumers
I have found success in speaking with the regulators and legislators’ offices by presenting the information in a way that puts consumer protection first and debt collection second. Explaining that debt collector issues are also consumer issues gets a very good response from legislators and, depending on who is President, regulators as well. When discussing the TCPA, I have used an approach which emphasizes that consumers with cell phones are losing their rights to be contacted using their communication medium of choice. I further explain that while their cell phone can be manually dialed, there are too many accounts in collections as almost 20% of all Americans have at least one account in collections. Debt collectors are simply unable to manually call the majority of accounts they have with cell phone numbers. Therefore, the account goes minimally worked at best and ultimately uncollected and the creditor has no choice but to seek legal action, legal action that could have easily been avoided if debt collectors had the ability to utilize advanced telephone systems.
The bottom line here is that not the trade associations, myself or even all the others within our industry currently informing regulators and legislators of the value and difficulties of the credit and collection industry is enough. We need as many individuals within the credit and collection industry to rise up and start making a difference. If there were as many individuals out there involved in this matter as there were sitting on the sideline waiting for laws to change themselves, these issues we currently face could have been resolved by now. From everyone who has risen to the challenge, to all of those who haven’t, now is the time to engage and get involved. Now is the time for everyone to get involved and modernize the debt collection process. Now is the time to rise up.