Using Scripting to Prevent Potential Law Violations

  • Written by Debra J. Ciskey

ciskey debra jThe CFPB Supervision and Examination Manual is a 1,697-page tome containing examination procedures and templates for the use of CFPB supervisory examiners. It is organized into sections related to each type of entity for which the Bureau has supervisory authority. Available on the bureaus website ( documents/cfpb_supervision-and-examination-manual.pdf ) anyone can download the entire manual or only the sections applicable to their entity.

In the FDCPA section, examiners are directed to obtain and review scripts for employee use. While it doesn’t specify which sections of the manual might require scripting for debt collectors, scripts provide expectations for consistent presentation of offers which can reduce the potential for discriminatory practices on the part of individuals when making discount offers, for example. Having scripts for required and desired disclosures can provide evidence that shows that any violation in regulated practices was not intentional and was the result of a bona fide error that arose despite procedures reasonably designed to avoid such errors.

A walk through the FDCPA section of the examination manual reveals many opportunities to provide scripting for collection staff. Equally important is a policy requiring that any script must be provided verbatim, focused and specific training related to the use of the scripts, a process for evaluating the delivery of the scripts, either through manual evaluation of phone calls or recordings, or the use of a speech analytics tool, and formal feedback to staff related to their success or failure with proper use of the scripts. Technology based job aids, either incorporated into your account management system or accessed on demand by staff when a script is needed, will be key supports to the implementation of scripting.

While we aspire to hire and train people that can use their best judgment about how to convey information properly to consumers, people also have the capacity to make mistakes. Communication is affected by emotion, memory lapses, attitude, lack of understanding and sometimes just plain laziness. Providing scripting related to key areas of compliance may help combat the human frailties of staff. Following is my list of conversation points that can be more closely controlled with proper scripting.

1. Disclosing the debt collector’s identity and the purpose/ nature of the communication when:

  1. Leaving a live message, an answering machine/ voice mail message, or when speaking directly with a consumer.
  2. Seeking permission or acknowledging permission to call a cell phone, at a place of employment, or at an unusual time or place.
  3. Acknowledging or receiving instructions not to call at any specific time or place.

2. Clarify the character, amount or legal status of a debt, such as when asked by a consumer:

  1. If I can’t pay this will my wages be garnished?
  2. Are you going to sue me? Have you sued me?
  3. Is this going on my credit report?

3. Assist staff in responding to angry or abusive consumers.

4. Seek and obtain location information for a consumer from a third party, and, in that conversation:

  1. Identify the company name to a third party who requests to know it, without indicating that the consumer owes a debt.
  2. Follow up script to handle inquisitive requests.

5. Convey discount offers, along with when such scripts should be used.

6. Request attorney’s name and address upon being informed that the consumer is represented by an attorney.

7. To obtain permission to speak with a third party.

8. To clarify for consumers the nature of the summons and complaint without providing legal advice.

9. To solicit post-dated checks and/or recurring EFT payments, and confirm the payment schedule.

10. Confirm Payment by credit card/debit card.

11. Solicit instructions from consumer for application of payment when multiple accounts exist.

12. Just as you have your collection letters reviewed by counsel, have your scripts and the policies and procedures underlying them reviewed by counsel as well.

Debra is the Executive Vice President at The Collections Coach, LLC. She began her nearly 40 year career in the collection industry in 1980 at ACA International in the federal affairs department, then leading the association’s Education initiatives as Director of Education. As an ACA instructor since 1983, Debra has taught nearly 200 ACA Seminars, and she served on ACA’s Board of Directors for 2 terms spanning 2012 to 2018. In 2000, Debra was inducted into ACA’s International Fellowship of Certified Collection Executives, and was named ACA’s Instructor of the Year in 2005.