Menu

May/June Cover Stories

Top Women Leaders in A/R Talk Technology

  • Written by Receivables Advisor
  • Parent Category: Cover Stories
  • Category: May/June Cover Stories

women leadersThe following are those recommended by leadership across the industry as collection professionals to know and follow. Receivables Advisor is proud to present the Women Leaders and their thoughts on their most useful collection technology.

What collection technology is most useful and what do you like most about it?

badger wendy2Wendy Badger, Esq., CCEP
Chief Compliance Officer Vice President, Corporate Compliance
ECMC Group

I find technology that provides in-the-moment assistance most useful. A few examples include:

• Instant messaging, so phone agents can send a note to a manager, co-worker or compliance for assistance;
• Speech and data analytics with real-time call monitoring, which assists floor management, compliance, call review and auditing functions. Assuming the appropriate disclosures were provided to the consumer, this may also allow a manager to notice a call being escalated, give the manager an opportunity to listen to the call in real-time, provide in-call coaching to the phone agent or take over a call to de-escalate, or provide other real-time assistance
• “Screen pops” that provide account-specific updates, warnings or statespecific reminders when an agent accesses a consumer’s account
• Technology that helps tailor the consumer’s experience to their contact preferences (e.g., emails versus phone calls, online account access rather than hard copy letters, etc.).

All of these options help enhance interactions with the consumers. This requires that you understand the demographics and preferences of the portfolios the company is working.

bender leslie2Leslie Bender, CIPP/US, CCCO, CCCA, IFCCE
Chief Strategy Officer and General Counsel
BCA Financial Services

Today the collection technology I find most useful is Peacock's CastMS. It is a straightforward database tool for your compliance management system. The software is well supported by the vendor and for a credit/collections company large or small that wants a quick-to-implement database for compliance artifacts and related management activities, it seems well designed and user friendly.

burnette lauren2Lauren M. Burnette
Partner
Messer Strickler, Ltd.

As a defense attorney, I love collection solutions that create and maintain records of account activity in realtime and as it occurs. This creates a powerful defense in those “he said-she said” cases where consumers insist they received calls that were never placed or had conversations that never occurred.

chevlin tarkowski daraDara Chevlin Tarkowski
Founding Partner
Actuate Law LLC

A few technologies come to mind. From the compliance side, the ComplyARM interface is a really elegant and easy-to-use software. I also think the Quointec’s data breach advisor is a valuable compliance tool which drastically reduces outside counsel legal spend in the event of a data breach event. And from the operations side, the interactions IVY AI assisted agent is a really impressive innovation in the consumer collections experience. I was blown away by its accuracy.

ciskey debra jDebra J. Ciskey
Chief Compliance Officer
Wakefield & Associates. Inc.

Learning management systems provide ease of creation, distribution and tracking of training. Just-in-time training can be accomplished nearly effortlessly yet effectively. Testing can be scheduled, then scored automatically, allowing the trainer to focus efforts on content development and coaching for performance. Eterna by Learn.Net is currently my favorite system.

coleman june2June Coleman
Of Counsel
Carlson & Messer LLP

I think that voice analytics is a really exciting tool. As I understand it, you can team voice analytics with realtime reporting to collection supervisors or managers to identify problem calls that should be escalated to management as they are occurring. You can also add in real-time communications between supervisors/management and collectors to provide instant feedback about how to handle a call the collector is currently on. I understand that voice analytics can identify and report raised voices, allowing you to immediately instruct the collector to escalate the call to management. Or voice analytics immediately reports that the conversation included a reference to attorneys, and you can review real-time collection notes to determine if the call should be escalated or whether your collector noted contact information for an attorney, for instance. This use of technology provides excellent training, supervision, and risk management opportunities. And when combined with recording calls, used properly with appropriate notice, you create evidence that will allow you to quickly evaluate a claimed violation to determine whether you fight the case or settle the case.

dreifuerst kaye2Kaye Dreifuerst
President
Security Credit Services, LLC

We have an extremely robust SQL [structured query language] database with a very flexible report engine. We made a sizable capital investment to ensure it was user friendly, nimble and allows for “click-and-drag” report writing. Each department’s end user, or project manager, can easily run reports and data mine so they, in turn, can run their departments with metrics and let the “data make the decisions.” We (the collection industry) have the benefit of having so much meaningful data but not always have had economical data mining tools to best use this information. My team can make efficient decisions to drive the workflow and make strategic changes to increase revenue. This technology has had a big impact on our business.

duplay crystalCrystal M. Duplay
Attorney
Law Offices of Timothy Sullivan

The collection technology that I find most useful is nothing new, but something that continues to grow with industry demands. Simply put, the case management system is the best piece of collection technology. Over recent years, analytics and robust reporting tools have been incorporated. More importantly, case management systems are integrating more and more compliance tools. I love this continuous evolution.

knepper stephens kellyKelly Knepper-Stephens
VP Legal & Compliance
TrueAccord

The collection technologies that I find most useful are those that improve the consumer’s experience with the debt collection process. Email allows the customer the opportunity to read the content when it is convenient and direct access (or links) to a variety of content like a payment portal or a dispute flow. Online tools that provide a consumer with a variety of self-service options from the ability to create their own payment plan, negotiate their own settlement offer with immediate resolution or remove their phone number. Tools that assist agents’ ability to resolve an account or concern quickly in one call, like capturing a consumer’s written consent to recurring electronic payments through a link that can be emailed or texted so that a customer can open the link and provide their authorization.

lohner alysiaAlysia Lohner
Vice President, Operations
Priority Credit Management Corp.

Over the last year, we have implemented a new system for hiring and recruiting for our collection team. As a part of this new system, we have been using Pro.file assessments through our vendor, Concord Consulting. Pro.file assessments help to understand the “person” behind the resume. It is a great tool that provides insight into each person’s behaviors and how they are “wired.” We started by having our staff profiled, and the results were amazing. When the staff received their reports, they all reflected a similar response – “Wow, it feels like this report knows exactly who I am.” It is through these reports that we can match candidates to specific positions within our business. The most important component when hiring is finding the right person for the right position. The profiles have helped us to understand people on a deeper level than what you get in an interview. They have also helped us to understand one another and assists in continuing to develop a great office culture. Every person is unique, and the profiles have helped me in my management role, adapt job roles and responsibilities to play to each person’s strengths. I have focused on tailoring each staff member’s job to their strengths which has dramatically changed employee engagement.

maltese possumato joanneJoanne Maltese Possumato
Executive Vice President, CFO
Certified Credit & Collection

We are finding great success with a direct-drop to voicemail product, to get around the TCPA issue of contacting consumers’ cell phones. The fact that we do not actually call the cell phone allows us to leave a voicemail message requesting a call back. We do appreciate the resulting inbound calls. This, along with the savings to postage and mailing costs has become our preferred technology to reach consumers. It also provides a simultaneous cell phone scrub, which is noted on the account of each cell phone found.

needleman joann2Joann Needleman
Member and Leader of the Consumer Financial Services Regulatory and Compliance
Group Clark Hill

I think any product which allows a consumer greater control over the way they communicate with debt collectors, provides omni-channel capability and ensures a level of security and trust for the consumer are all core components of any technology. I think dual authentication is critical for communication technology for the collections industry. I think there is a sense it can be too burdensome, but it’s used in almost every communication with a financial services entity. The key will be driving consumers to the technology.

stieger janJan P. Stieger, CAE, CMP
Executive Director
Receivables Management Association International

The artificial intelligence used in virtual collections is most intriguing to me. Communication with consumers is key in this industry and adapting communication methods to the new consumer preferences is critical. The challenges will come from the ability for laws and regulations to keep pace with the advancements in technology.

raygoza carmenCarmen Raygoza
Director - HRMG Self Pay (Outsourcing Division)
CMRE Financial Services, Inc.

Having an elevated phone system such as omni-channel improves the user and patient experience. This allows the patient to communicate in multiple media forms such as phone, email, online web chat, and SMS. This technology is widely used in social media and is vital with Millennials in today’s workforce. What I like the most is this technology enables us to have true transparency as we have on-hand access to monitor what the user is doing and saying to the patient/caller. Although your traditional call monitoring is necessary the ability to allow multiple forms of communication in real-time is important to account resolution and patient engagement. Another technology I find useful is the secure online patient portal. I have taken an active role in working on a web-based real-time online tool that allows patients to self-serve. Besides allowing the patients to pay or set up recurring monthly payments, the patients can provide insurance information, request financial assistance, request a summary bill, update their demographics, or do nothing. If they do nothing we are notified and we then can reach out to that patient and offer assistance.

reynaud courtneyCourtney Reynaud
President
Creditors Bureau USA and the California Association of Collectors

The most useful technology, in use, by our company is an expansive inbound IVR and our consumer web portal. Our inbound IVR applies numerous skills-based routing tools to ensure calls are routed quickly, efficiently and directed to the collection representative best suited to handle the consumer’s needs. Our consumer web portal supplies, on average, 12% of all electronic payments received (i.e. pay by phone, pay with credit card by Mail and web portal payments). The volume of consumers who prefer to pay online using our web portal has steadily increased year over year and we continue to adjust and develop this portal with our vendor partner to ensure that we are able to meet the changing needs and communication preferences of the consumers we service.

sangalang marian2Marian Sangalang
Vice President
The Bureaus, Inc.

I am currently researching a new product. This specific product isn’t like anything else I have seen in our industry as it relates to our companies specific data. It is all about machine learning and the application of modern algorithms to the historical accounts you’ve already worked. I am excited to learn more about this product and its benefits.

stein stacyStacy D. Stein, Esq.
Managing Partner
Mountain West Law Group, PC

My firm had benefited greatly from our partnership with our collection software vendor, JST CollectMax, and our payment vendor, Stratus Payment Solutions. What we like most about these two technologies is that they are customizable and their teams are responsive to the changing needs of our firm.

strickler nicoleNicole M. Strickler
Shareholder
Messer Strickler, Ltd.

Case management software, which allows for organization, deadline management and a central repository for relevant documents. It’s useful, intuitive and increases efficient time management.

suttell britBrit J. Suttell
Attorney
Barron & Newburger, P.C.

That’s a difficult question, but I really appreciate the third party vendors who have compliance software. The ability, even for smaller companies, to do compliance on an efficient scale is a huge leap for our industry. The majority of the industry wants to do “the right thing” and help improve the industry’s image so the ability to have compliance software that assist with that goal is awesome.

valenzuela laurenLauren Valenzuela, Esq.
Compliance Counsel
Performant Recovery, Inc.

Call analytics because it allows an agency to monitor calls efficiently, as well as serves as an effective tool for coaching and developing a collector’s skills. It’s a win-win for both the compliance and the collections departments – and I like win-wins!

walters alisonAlison Verges Walters, Esq.
Partner
Kelley Kronenberg. P.A.

The most useful technology in my practice currently is a system we use by Provana to manage all of our policies, procedures and testing. The amount of oversight and auditing has multiplied in the last few years and this technology has been vital in helping us manage it.

waggoner annetteAnnette M. Waggoner
Executive Director
Commercial Collection Agencies of America

I believe one of the most useful tools a commercial collection agency can integrate is call recording software. Call recording is vital when an agency is faced with allegations of misconduct. It allows managerial staff and ownership, along with legal counsel, the resource of verifying the conversation between parties. Tangentially, call recording can also be useful in the development of a collector. Recalling how a situation is handled, in detail, can serve as a practical lesson to improve the skill set needed for effective negotiation and collection.

Guitar Collector Collection Attorney

  • Written by Joseph I. Terkell, Esq.
  • Parent Category: Cover Stories
  • Category: May/June Cover Stories

Behind every collection call is a person. This person, much like the consumer, has a fascinating personality, hobbies and a story. Joseph I. Terkell, Esq. of The Terkell Law Firm is plentiful on all three counts. Terkell explains how rock and roll, Coney Island carnival games and a chance encounter with a friend changed his life and made him a debt collection lawyer.

Music Captivation

terkell josephEven as a very small child, I can remember always loving music. My father would lovingly place his Nat King Cole, Perry Como or Frankie Laine LP’s on the turntable and derive great pleasure from enjoying his music with him. Later on, as I was coming of age in the late ‘60 s, music was truly king and its rock icons were like gods to the Woodstock Nation. I was by no means immune to their captivation, and, as a sixteen year old kid without a car, I managed to hitchhike as far as Monticello, New York, in my quest to reach the iconic music festival. I had the unique privilege of being able to see my idols, Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton and scores more on the stage of The Fillmore East, in the heyday of rock impresario, Bill Graham. I set the bar very high indeed in seeking to emulate those musical giants. Sadly it is highly unlikely I will ever attain the level of genius on the guitar I was so privileged to bear witness to, but I have fun trying. Until such improbable time as I achieve that enlightened plateau of guitardom, I remain a collection attorney and a guitar collector.

Much as my love for music has always drawn me from a very early age, the same cannot be said for the practice of law in the collection arena. I have known many collection attorneys in my 35 years of practice, and I do not remember even a single one of them ever having uttered the words, “I always wanted to be a collection attorney, and finally, my dream has come true!” The truth be told, I never even aspired to be an attorney at all and only became a member of the bar through a happenstance.

terkell guitarHaving grown up in Coney Island, I found myself managing a block of group games in the amusement park after graduating college. Frankly, I found it to be quite invigorating working outdoors in the salty ocean air with the many, many people there to have a good time. The hours were long, but we did have a very good time!

During the sunny summer days throngs of beachgoers crowded the midway to go on the rides, play the games as well as eat hotdogs and french-fries while drinking soda, beer and the ilk. When night fell, the crowds grew even more populous, and the people were wall-to-wall and elbowto- elbow. More of the same activities as in the afternoon, but with fireworks above the boardwalk and romance below.

What, me? Law School?

Between the sunny days and the sultry nights there was as sort of eerie quietude when the throngs of day trippers went home, and most everyone else was elsewhere having dinner. It was at this time of day that my friend Bobbie would come “down below” to walk his dog after returning from his job and visit my partner and I. Bobbie showed up one day, and asked if Louie and I would like to join him in taking a law school admission test preparatory course. We, in unison, told him to go away; but he did not. Instead he came back every evening coaxing and cajoling us with entreaties as to how much fun it would be. A week or two went by, and one day, Bobbie rolled up in his brand new convertible Corvette Stingray. He added to his otherwise persuasive inveigling, that we could drive to the course in the Corvette, and go out cavorting afterwards. Louie never capitulated, but finally Bobbie wore me down, and the two of us took the law school admission test preparatory course, and ultimately the test itself.

terkell coneyI have always done very well on standardized tests, especially the non-subject specific logic based exams. If there was a scholarship to be won, I usually was able to take away the prize. Unfortunately, Bobbie was not similarly blessed with this natural acumen for test taking. Long story short, I did very well on the test but Bobbie, not so much. Bobbie was devastated by this denial of his dream to become a lawyer and we did not see him too much for a while.

June melted into July, and Bobbie reappeared one evening, inquiring as to which law schools I had applied. I replied I had not applied anywhere at all. Bobbie went ballistic! He could not believe that I was being granted the singular opportunity he so craved and I was throwing it all away. He was not going to have any part of that scenario. A day or two later Bobbie once again appeared, but this time armed with an admission application to New York Law School. He was quite agitated that all of the other New York law schools had already closed admissions, and this was the only school left with rolling admissions. Not to be denied a small part in the process of his fading dream, Bobbie had me fill out that admission form right there on the counter of Sid’s All Night You Deal Electronic Poker Game. Making it clear I was not to be trusted with the task, he took the completed application and promised to mail it in the morning.

The summer idyllically sweltered along, with scant little more thought afforded Bobbie’s vision until I received a call down at the games from my mother who advised me I had been accepted to law school. Talk about culture shock! Almost overnight, I went from carousing on the Bowery, to cramming in the law library. Somehow, I turned my life around overnight, and reinvented myself. There can be no denying I loved the free-wheeling life in Coney Island, but my odds at longevity greatly increased that fateful day Bobbie shared his dream with me. I decided if I was going to do this thing, I was going to go whole hog. I went to both summer school sessions between the regular school years, and graduated in two and a half years.

While all of this was transpiring, my sister’s best friend married a prominent collection attorney in Manhattan. He gave me my first clerking job in a law firm. As time progressed, my sister’s husband (also an attorney) and her friend’s husband became fast friends and ultimately partners in a legal collection practice. As I was racing through law school and clerking at the firm the partners offered me my first job as an attorney. Partners came and went, and eventually I became a partner myself. Now, 35 years later, I stand before you with my own collection law firm. This is what I know how to do, and I would like to think that I do it well. I could still shill at Coney Island along with the best, but that is ancient history now.

Legal Collections Practice

Changing gears just a bit now, to address the actual collection practices and the challenges faced in an increasingly hostile environment, I have become somewhat disheartened with the level of animus with which we in the industry are treated and perceived. It is not news to anyone the collection industry is the unloved stepchild of the greater business and legal community. That is, of course, until someone needs our help in collecting their hard-earned receivables. Even then, we sometimes get no respect. Clients keep pressuring forwarders for lower and lower rates, and forwarders, in turn, have to pass the pain along to the collection attorneys.

Some time ago I was commencing a trial in a very hard and long fought collection litigation when my client whispered to me in court they had continued to do business with the debtor/defendant through the entire course of the case and wished to discontinue the action as well as exchange release without any recovery whatsoever. Dumbfounded, I inquired why would they even consider such a proposition after such a hard fought battle. The response I received was profound, and I have never forgotten it:

“Sales is the tail that wags the dog!”

Honorable and Worthwhile

We operate within the space afforded us by our clients, and our collective job is to keep them happy and to try to make a living in the process. Although we may be held in low regard by the general public, I believe creditors and the collection community are overwhelmingly comprised of honest and generally nice people. Creditors do not simply invent debt that does not exist for the diabolical purpose of pursuing innocent strangers. Likewise, no collection attorney I know would ever pursue litigation against someone whom they felt was not a legitimate debtor. There are a few bad apples in every barrel, but I find that, overwhelmingly, the collection professionals I deal and associate with are decent, nice people with true moral compasses. These are hardworking souls trying to do the right thing without trampling upon others’ dignity. I count myself amongst that lot, and for that reason I can proudly profess to be a collection attorney. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but I know we are part of an honorable and worthwhile undertaking that, in the end, champions the rights of the righteous whom have been taken advantage of many times by those of far weaker moral fabric. Even when it is abundantly clear that such is the case in a particular instance, I do my utmost to treat these people with dignity and respect, even when they have proven they are not worthy of it.

Although much of the day-to-day operation of a collection practice occurs almost on automatic pilot, that is certainly not always the case. I am currently handling a case in which one brother is suing the other for hundreds of thousands of dollars, which are being shielded through layer upon layer of corporations and limited liability companies. Selecting the proper avenue for convincing the court it is appropriate to disregard these legal entities and pierce the corporate veil, is by no means a routine affair. Likewise, obtaining temporary restraining orders against these companies without exposing the client (and my firm) to liability in the process can be a delicate maneuver.

The need for a practicing collection attorney to continue his or her ongoing legal education cannot be overstated. Although I personally feel NARCA and the Commercial Law League of America have in large part abandoned their core values of servicing the small to mid-sized collection firm, they continue to remain a good source for obtaining necessary continuing legal education, and staying abreast of legislation and seminal court rulings which affect our day-to-day practice.

Likewise, it is important that the collection practice is bolstered by an appropriate modicum of technology, balancing cost with return on investment. My firm has found that Simplicity Software makes good sense for us in managing our files. We turn to Tracers, TLO and LexisNexis for assistance in locating debtors and their assets, and to the later for legal citation support as well.

Motorcycle Flying

terkell bikeAlthough the collection practice could easily consume every wakeful minute of my life (and some sleeping minutes as well), when I am finished working hard, I try to find a little time to play hard as well. David Crosby (Crosby, Stills, Nash and The Byrds) has stated that one cannot be at home on the guitar until they have played a minimum of 20,000 hours. I do not believe I have achieved that threshold yet, but I keep plugging (and plucking) away. When I finally have ‘got blisters on my fingers, I find freedom in riding my motorcycle. It is more like flying than actual flying because you are right out there amongst the elements and rapidly changing scenery. The wind in your face, tinged with the element of fear and danger is totally exhilarating. You are out there alone achieving a Zen-like experience without staying still in a seated lotus position. My quadruple spinal fusion keeps me from going as far and as long as I might otherwise like to but I do manage to find country roads that take me right through Norman Rockwell’s America. I am blessed to live rather close to Harriman State Park, which is always a lovely venue for a day trip. You could go on the same route in your car, but so much of the sights, sounds, smells and feel are overlooked when you are in your climate controlled stereophonic bubble. My regular riding buddy keeps trying to convince me to go to the Laconia Motorcycle Rally in New Hampshire. My spinal issues have prevented me from going in the past. Perhaps it will happen this spring; but for right now, it is back to the practice of collection law!

Political Passion Meets Collections

  • Written by Joshua Fluegel
  • Parent Category: Cover Stories
  • Category: May/June Cover Stories

kussart capitalI struggle to find a metaphor that would appropriately explain just how closely monitored a collection agency is that is collecting for the government. Let’s just say that such an agency is observed under a microscope, through a magnifying glass that is immediately preceding the Hubble telescope. In the event of a compliance misstep leading to a lawsuit, not only would the agency’s reputation be on the line but also the governing body that hired said agency.

Such high stakes means it is important to find an agency that can flourish under this pressure and follow the example. This will not only benefit your agency but the collection industry’s reputation in general. To do as such, Collection Advisor shines the Agency Spotlight on The Stark Collection Agency. We spoke with The Stark Collection Agency’s president, Pauline Kussart about key strategies and how to find success in government collections.

 

Tell us about when The Stark Collection Agency opened its doors.

The Stark Agency began in 1948 when Howard Stark and Hilding Haag formed Wisconsin State Auditors. Their partnership dissolved in 1949 and Mr. Haag sold his share of the business to Mr. Stark who changed the name of the business to the H.E. Stark Agency, Inc. (In 2013, the name was changed again to The Stark Collection Agency to better define who we are and what we do for clients.) The early core of the agency’s client base was in the telecommunications and financial services industries.

 

The Stark Agency has been partnering with government agencies since 1982 when we began working with the City of Madison EMS division. In 1993, we added the City of Madison Municipal Court to our portfolio of clients and in 1998 we began to shift our focus toward increasing our government client base. Today, 45% of our business is generated by contracts with government entities and agencies. In addition to our government client base, we have a sizeable portfolio of telecommunications clients accounting for 25% of our revenue. We began building a financial services client base two years ago that now accounts for 10% of revenues and growing. We also generate revenue from rental clients, a scattering of health care and check recovery. I have, so far, limited my government collections to counties, municipalities, and state agencies located in the state of Wisconsin. Unfortunately, the State of Wisconsin itself has quietly entered the collection markets after the legislature empowered the Wisconsin Department of Revenue [DOR] to collect on behalf of these same counties, municipalities, and state agencies. The DOR is entitled to use a broad range of tools and practices that are otherwise forbidden or financially prohibitive if done by private collection agencies. For instance, the DOR can add a collection fee to cover its costs on any account; if a private agency took the same action, on the same account, it would find itself the subject of a private lawsuit and regulatory action.

 

How did you become involved in The Stark Collection Agency and collections?

So, let me explain why I had photos taken in front of the State Capitol with my Suburban bearing COLLECT license plates.

 

For as long as I can remember I have been active in some way politically. My earliest memories come from listening to my Dad explain the electoral voting process to me while we listened to the election night results on our barn radio while doing chores. He was one of a handful of farmers who understood that if you wanted to make a difference you had to get involved.

 

I’ve volunteered on more campaigns than I can remember—from walking parade routes to going door-to-door, to making get-out-the-vote calls, to stuffing and sealing mass mailings, to hosting fundraisers, painting farm signs and putting up yard signs and anything else that needed to be done as a volunteer to get the candidate elected. That led to other opportunities and I found myself being offered jobs on campaigns—in particular, that of Finance Director. I very much enjoyed masterminding and implementing an intricate and successful finance plan for candidates. I enjoyed being the “mechanic behind the candidate” and never longed to be the candidate. I also enjoyed working as a legislative assistant, but something was missing. While elected officials get to make the laws that can help steer the economy I wanted to be part of the driveshaft within the economy.

 

So, 16 years ago I bought a collection agency, not because that was the industry I zeroed in on but instead because it met the simple criteria I set as I looked for a business to buy. One criterion was, “can I help make an impact if I buy this business?” That is where my political and government experience comes into play and what better photo to tell that story than the state capitol, where I have testified at hearings, lobbied and participated in other meetings.

 

I met my husband on a campaign. For most of his adult life he worked in government. His last job in government was his role as Chief of Staff to former Governor Scott McCallum of Wisconsin. His office was in the Wisconsin state capitol. I was fortunate to get behind the scene access!

 

Having a Bachelors of Science degree in nursing sure didn’t prepare me for the business world. My naivety overshadowed any qualms I had about running a business. Paying attention to detail, staying true to a business plan, making smart hires and having a strong work ethic have kept me on the path to success!

 

So, why the COLLECT license plate? Unlike a floral business or some other business that can advertise their product on vehicles, a collection agency would get nowhere by advertising on a vehicle!

 

So when it came time to order plates for a new car in 1998 I found out the word COLLECT was available and allowable. I get asked at least two times a month, usually when I am getting in or out of the car at a gas station, at a grocer or other retailer or even in front of the state capitol, what the word COLLECT stands for. Instead of my saying I am a debt collector, I ask them to guess. In 16 years, no one has guessed correctly. This one simple word on my car has led to lots of fun conversations and several new clients. For example, years ago a man employed as a credit/collection manager of a large regional chiropractic practice asked me that question and a month later they signed a contract! It is a great client!

 

 

 stark-staff
 Staff of The Stark Collection Agency.

As a collector of government accounts, is The Stark Collection Agency audited? If so, what do you do to make sure the audits go smoothly and do not hinder the collection process?

The audits from government clients consist mainly of reconciliations to be sure balances match. In addition they do require being named as an additional insured on my errors and omissions policy. Some government clients have specific forms that must be filled out yearly such as Affirmative Action Plans.

 

What I am finding though is that, for the past six years, an increasing number of non-government clients are doing very thorough quarterly and yearly audits, and this quite frankly should be a priority item of discussion. This change is the result of the regulations coming out of the CFPB in Washington. Our agency has always focused on compliance and we have consistently adapted to new laws, but the CFPB has created a great deal of uncertainty across so many facets of the industry. The trouble is, in its efforts to protect consumers, the CFPB has made it extremely difficult for smaller agencies to comply with all the laws and still turn a profit. Client audits are just one manifestation of this problem, but I am sure it will not be the last.

 

What are some of the key strategies for working with government clients?  

Perhaps the most important aspect to a successful working relationship with a government client is to understand and respect the mindset of the government agency. Government agencies view themselves as service providers to their constituents. Although they want collection agencies to collect their unpaid debt, they want it done in such a way that is respectful to the debtors. Government agencies do not want heavy-handed techniques used in the collection of their debt.

 

Another success factor for working with government clients is to provide customization. Don’t simply view all government clients as the same; rather, recognize that each agency or municipality has individual preferences and needs and create customized solutions for them.

 

What does your management team do to keep things efficient?

I meet with my management team weekly to look at ways we can create efficiencies. In today’s environment, we deal with lower and lower contingency fees and higher regulatory costs, general operating costs and other mandates such as the Affordable Care Act. A small business can make a profit only by continuing to advance technology within the company and also by instituting a certification program such as ACA’s Professional Practices Management System (PPMS). PPMS is a management system for collection agencies which serves to guide us in developing, implementing and adhering to professional practices and policies, all of which help create efficiencies.

 

We now have two full-time employees on our IT team. These two men are our driveshaft. We go to them with ideas and they make it happen. Not only do they handle all programming and anything related to IT and phone systems, they also keep our infrastructure running smoothly so our entire team can be efficient and productive at all times.

 

I would be remiss if I did not mention my involvement in WOMPOM, a benchmark group. Our group of nine meets two times a year in person and we communicate almost daily via email. We share everything and push each other to get better. What better way to create efficiencies than to have a WOMPOM member come right out and tell you that what you are doing is crazy?! It has driven me to run a more efficient operation.

 

What is something an agency might do that would guarantee failure in government collections?

Well, there could be many reasons for failure but there are two that come to the surface all the time. First of all, if you do not know what collection tools are allowed to be used for each type of government debt, you are setting yourself up for failure. For instance, some debts qualify for state income tax offset, some qualify for a commitment order and still others qualify for a driver’s license suspension or special garnishment action. Secondly, you also need to know the regulations and laws governing each type of government debt. For instance, certain debts from a county health department are subject to a different statute of limitations than other consumer debt. Some debts are not dischargeable in bankruptcy and others have specific regulations regarding an interest rate.

 

With compliance on the forefront, what are some special compliance considerations for government collections?

Collecting for government entities creates compliance challenges because each entity has different powers, different levels of authority, and different jurisdictional limitations, all of which are enshrined in statutes, regulations, and ordinances. A government client may desire certain outcomes or processes, but may be constrained by the limits of their authority. It is our job to understand these limits and work within specific parameters while maintaining a high rate of return for our clients. As you might imagine, expanding these parameters is not easy; governing bodies are hesitant to empower the debt collection industry despite the benefits to municipalities, state agencies, and the like.

 

Tell us how you are affected by the TCPA and the CFPB in your day-to-day operations.

With federal regulators, specifically the CFPB, increasing their oversight of the debt collecting industry, we have instituted and engendered a culture of compliance in our office. Every member of our staff understands the importance of our compliance program and we are constantly maintaining awareness. We cannot merely assert “we are compliant” and be satisfied. We document all of our policies and procedures and modify them when we need to adapt to a new regulation or new case law. While these efforts are burdensome, we feel it is best for our clients and advantageous for the consumers we contact.

 

stark game 
 Employees play bean bag toss game.

Are there any games or morale boosting practices that the agency uses to keep collectors happy and productive?

We have rotating monthly incentive programs with themes generally tied to current events. We’ve held incentives based on the NCAA tournament, the Super Bowl, the NASCAR season and holiday seasons, for example. We have done dart tosses, bean bag tosses, golf swings, scrabble games, poker and miniature car races where collectors earn attempts for each phone payment taken, promises to pay and the like. We offer special programs such as breakfast, lunch and summertime cookouts made and served by the management team when staff achieve specific goals or targets. The company does occasional surprise treat days; one of the favorites is having an ice-cream sundae break. During this past bitterly cold winter here in Wisconsin, we made and served homemade hot cocoa to all team members. Also, management presents record breaker awards at each monthly staff meeting to publicly acknowledge individual performance. Our philosophy is one of respect and flexibility in all we do. That includes the way in which we deal with consumers, clients and each other. Our team members know that family comes first and our scheduling flexibility proves that point.

 

How is The Stark Collection Agency involved in the community?

We at the Stark Agency are deeply committed to the Madison community and surrounding areas. We regularly participate in annual charitable fund raising events for a variety of worthy causes including the March of Dimes, Madison Area Down Syndrome Society, Middleton Outreach Ministry, Rainbow Project, The Exchange Center for the Prevention of Child Abuse, The American Cancer Society, The Alzheimer’s Association, Literacy Network, Relay for Life, and UW Athletics (Crazylegs Classic).

 

Members of our management team either have or still serve on hospital boards and on the boards of the Financial Crimes Investigators Group of Wisconsin, and Wisconsin Collectors Association, as well as other local church committees and service organization boards and committees. We also have team members serving on national-level committee assignments for ACA International. In addition, our team members donate their time to several other area groups including the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Dane County Humane Society, Toys for Teens, local sports teams and several programs for the arts. Middleton Outreach Ministry (MOM) is one charitable group that has been especially important to us. Our association with MOM began in 2005 when our staff sponsored a family through MOM for the Christmas season, providing gifts to a family in financial need. This tradition has continued in our office as we have sponsored larger families in more recent years. Our staff also regularly holds non-perishable food drives to help stock MOM’s food pantry, including a food drive to benefit MOM held in conjunction with our company’s 60th anniversary celebration in 2008. We also annually raise money for Thanksgiving baskets for MOM families.

 

In addition, we have participated in events designed to help the ACA Education Foundation initiative of increasing and improving financial literacy.

 

What do you enjoy doing in your free time?

I very much enjoy gardening, both flower gardens and vegetable gardens. When I am not gardening I am in my kitchen experimenting. I love to cook. I enjoy mind challenge games and am an avid reader of fiction. In the winter, my husband and I enjoy snowshoeing. And, if my grown children and two grandchildren would live nearby I would be spending a great deal of time with them—unfortunately they are spread out across the nation. However, that allows for some great trips!

Keeping the Tempo Between Music and Collections

  • Written by Joshua Fluegel
  • Parent Category: Cover Stories
  • Category: May/June Cover Stories

Foehl-drumsACA International vice president and general counsel Robert Föehl rocks. While I’m sure many would agree in the figurative sense, I mean it literally. Of all the outside-of-work activities collection professionals engage in, Föehl’s involves rehearsals, concerts, television performances and recording sessions with his band The Sunny Era.

Music has long lingered in the periphery of the collection industry due to occurrences such as ACA’s CEO Pat Morris playing on stage with World Class Rockers at the 2013 ACA convention. Even more numerous were conversations between collection professionals about getting together to jam. One such conversation involving Collection Advisor’s editor Steel Rose, Search Net Corporations’ Marco Trezza (harmonica), Applied Innovations’ Albert Rookard (bass), and DialConnection’s Michael Vesper (lead guitar).

Föehl became the drummer for The Sunny Era in 2006 after meeting fellow bandmates, musicians Eric and Laila Stainbrook, through his wife. The following years involved numerous performances, the release of three full length albums and charting on various radio charts. However, Föehl’s dedication to music and percussion long predated The Sunny Era and his association with collections.

“I got started in my Mom and Dad’s kitchen,” said Föehl. “I was really young and I used to drag out the metal pots and pans from my Mom and Dad’s cabinets, grab utensils and bang on the pots and pans.”

Not long after the clatter of these early kitchen jam sessions Föehl began receiving formal percussion lessons. This eventually led to involvement in the high school marching band and playing drums in a rock band. As life often does, it got in the way. Föehl shifted focus to his studies to become a lawyer.

“Going into law school I had a period of time where I didn’t do much playing,” said Föehl. “I was really focused on getting through school and starting my career. For a period of several years I did virtually no music in terms of playing. I was like ‘oh my gosh! I get up, I go to work, I come home and I go to bed. I have 40 more years of this?’ What I realized was I had really squelched that creative side through those years. At that point in time I made the decision that I got to get back into doing that. It’s part of who I am.”

Föehl got involved with a drum and bugle corps to resume performing. He also got involved with high school marching again, this time as an instructor. He went about this balancing act for almost 10 years before quitting the drum and bugle corps for The Sunny Era then eventually committing solely to the band after that. Föehl’s exposure to music through multiple facets over the years allowed his musical taste to grow eclectic. Citing influences such as Stephen Glass and Rush’s Neil Peart, he learned to play music to suit even the most difficult to classify genres; a skill most useful for The Sunny Era.

“It’s really interesting,” said Föehl. “Some people classify our music as indie rock, gypsy rock, gypsy jazz, indie rock world fusion. There’s a number of different ways to describe it. I don’t know that we as a band fall into one category. We look at our music as being an extension of ourselves and what we’re interested in at the time we are putting it together.

“Anyone who listens to our full catalog chronologically I think will feel some ebbs and flows in direction. We started out squarely as a five-piece indie rock band; and in 2008 we paired down to a three-piece, Eric, Laila and I. At that point we were really interested in exploring world music influences within the context of indie rock.”

In this fusion of music from different cultures, Föehl described his role in the group and the creative process involved with writing a song.

“I’m very much what I would consider an ensemble percussionist,” said Föehl. “I serve the group by being the foundation for which Eric and Laila can put on all kinds of color. I approach each of our songs in a way that causes me to play what I think the music is calling for. You don’t hear any super large drum fills or solos or any of those types of things when you listen to The Sunny Era or go see us live.”

foehl robertFöehl has been practicing law for over 20 years. Virtually all of that time has been in financial services. He was with Target for nearly a decade before coming to his current post at ACA. Such an involved work schedule leads many to wonder, if not ask, how does one find the energy and initiative to get home from work, pull up to a drum set and continue to create?

“That’s always the question that people ask me. ‘How do you do that? I can’t imagine you doing that.’ People think about when they go to bed at night and it’s usually not around two or three in the morning. What I tell them is ‘yeah, I’m human, I come in tired. But I’m mentally energized; and exercising that creative side of things is a nice rest for the heavy work that I do.’ More importantly, what I tell them is ‘I’m physically tired but I guarantee that by doing what I’m doing that I am not just a better employee for my employer but also a better manager, better father, better son, better husband by doing this.’ It’s worth it to me, the tiredness that you experience for one day after you’ve played a show and get home in the wee hours of the morning.”

As Föehl explains how a late night now and again helps make him a more effective person, he also attributes his support at home for allowing him to pursue his own definition of happiness.

“The other question I get is ‘how do I even find time to do this; what you do for your job and your travel schedule and those things and having a wife?’ I have two little kids. They ask ‘how do you even find time to do this?’ Quite honestly, it’s like anything else. You make time for the things that you love. I’m very very blessed to have a very supportive wife who understands that and understands this is a part of who I am; it’s part of the man she fell in love with. While it can be burdensome for her, she is on board with me doing this because she understands the importance of it. She has her things that she loves to do as well that I am incredibly supportive of as well for the same reasons. I wouldn’t be able to do it if I didn’t have that kind of support from the best person in my life.”

If anyone were involved in this many projects it would be easy to call him/her a collection professional, drummer or musician. Many feel they derive identity from being a particular “blank.” However, Föehl does not wish for such labels.

“I have never defined myself as what I do for a living,” said Föehl. “Usually if someone asks me out of the gate, on a plane or at a party what I do for a living, I’m usually taken aback by that. That’s not how I usually define myself. It’s a part of who I am, don’t get me wrong. I’m not ashamed of it by any means but I don’t typically define myself that way. I’m not the type that’s very comfortable with being defined by what I do for a living or being just defined as a drummer for a band.”

sunny eraThe Sunny Era’s concert schedule has been light the past year as they are currently working on a new album, the first music to be released since 2012’s "Lost in the Sea of Ghosts." Föehl hopes to be playing more shows soon after its release. This seems to suit Föehl just fine as he thinks the ability to make and/or play music with others can be intriguing for anyone. He ties it to some primal urge in everyone to communicate with others.

“It shows you that there is a human communication and bonding through stuff other than words,” said Föehl.

To learn more about The Sunny Era and hear their music, go to www.thesunnyera.com. While Collection Advisor is still interested in forming a collection-based band, we would like to hear from other musicians and enthusiasts about what they do to pursue their own happiness be it in music, sports or art. Contact Collection Advisor at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and share it with us.

To continue reading,
please provide your name and email.
We never spam your inbox