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Since President Trump declared a national emergency due to COVID-19, ARM leaders across the country have been forced into a minefield of swift decisions to continue operating, meet client requirements, and stay compliant with state restrictions. The last five weeks have undoubtedly been a whirlwind of chaos in these unchartered waters.

But as I speak to leaders, I’m beginning to detect a sense of calm as companies see their response plan settling into a new operational rhythm.

As the ARM industry operates under this new normal and prepares for a wave of increasing delinquencies, we have a unique opportunity to take a step back, evaluate our business as a whole, and ask ourselves, “What should our business look like post COVID-19?”

How You Care for Your Employees Today Will Follow You Post COVID-19

Because the ARM industry relies predominantly on human capital, its employee base is often at risk during times of crisis such as the Great Recession and the global pandemic we’re facing now. Even without a crisis, employee attrition has long plagued the ARM industry.

I believe now is a good time to take meaningful steps to address this issue.

We are working through a pivotal moment in our history, which will likely be defined by the contrast between pre and post COVID-19. Your future job applicants will be interested in understanding how you responded to this pandemic and how you plan to protect your employees in the event of future pandemics.

It’s critical that you determine now how you’ll handle staffing decisions in the coming days and long after COVID-19 recedes. Here are a few things you’ll want to consider.

If debt collection activity has decreased, identify ways you can repurpose your systems and employees.

Most ARM companies could easily convert their businesses into any call center operation. Start by reaching out to your existing clients and offering them customer care services, and then put your sales team to work on new opportunities. Don’t be afraid to think outside the box; whatever new opportunities come your way will help you diversify and strengthen your business.

This is a great time to invest in your employees’ education and professional growth.

There are opportunities across the ARM industry and beyond that offer free training on a multitude of subjects. In addition, industry conferences are transitioning to virtual conferences, which gives you an opportunity to expose more employees to the collaboration and thought leadership these events support.

If you must reduce staff, think about ways to continue supporting them as you work through rebuilding your company.

I’m inspired to see companies that have furloughed or laid off workers opt to continue paying for their health benefits. At a minimum, consider providing personal recommendation letters and referrals as well as guidance on industry training opportunities and certification programs that may help the recently unemployed further their careers.

Defining Your Company’s “New Normal” May Be the Difference Between Surviving and Thriving

As ARM companies settle into their new routine—i.e., leading a mostly remote staff—leadership teams are asking, “How do we return to ‘normal’?”

My question for you is, what constitutes “normal”? Should you go back to the way things were pre COVID-19? I question whether creditors will even let their third-party service providers return to business as usual.

If you’re in a position to lead your company to the next level, I have a few thoughts about where you might focus during this chaotic situation to build a stronger company from a business continuity standpoint. A great first step would be to expand your company culture by embracing a hybrid approach of working from home and providing more self-service options for consumers.

Conquer your fear and embrace digital channels

The ARM industry has been talking about text messaging for several years, but adoption is still limited. Establishing a compliant and effective text messaging program begins with obtaining TCPA consent and express consent to text as well as E-SIGN consent if you’re going to send out legally required written disclosures.

This is where companies often lose heart, because they don’t see easy options to obtain the consent needed to feel comfortable with this communication method.

The truth is, digital communications can actually be simpler from a compliance management standpoint—and more essential to business—than many ARM leaders believe.

The COVID-19 pandemic has put 80% of Americans under stay-at-home orders, which presents a unique opportunity to engage consumers and learn about their communication preferences. Capturing the required consent for email and text messaging communications in the future helps the consumer as their situation changes. It also sets your company up for more effective communication channels as stay-at-home orders begin being lifted.

Introduce or expand self-service options

Take this time to evaluate how effective your consumer-facing website is for your business. Is it merely a storefront, or does it help drive consumer engagement and payments?

Your website allows you to connect with consumers 24/7—and, as a result, optimize your collection efforts. As you consider consumer demands for convenience and look ahead to the post COVID-19 era, I recommend integrating your website with a consumer portal where consumers can manage their account, make payments, request information, file a dispute, or send a complaint.

Lean into work-from-home arrangements

Fostering a work-from-home culture has been traditionally difficult across the ARM market. But as the pandemic risk heightened, financial service providers were thrust into embracing it quickly. As you evaluate your business structure moving forward, you may want to consider implementing a long-term work-from-home environment.

It’s widely understood that work flexibility is a top priority among millennials and the upcoming generation Z. The best way to appeal to these job seekers, and retain them long term, may be to offer a work-from-home option. Having a work-from-home structure can also help your business weather future disaster or emergency declarations more easily.

As you work through managing your remote employees’ productivity and compliance, take this time to document what works and what doesn’t so you can begin mapping out a work-from-home plan for your business. It’s entirely possible that the post COVID-19 business world may look less like beautiful brick-and-mortar buildings, and more like small offices for essential onsite employees and virtual meetings with mostly remote staff.

When The Crisis Ends, Be Ready to Accelerate Your Success

As you begin the journey of discovering what’s next for your business, I encourage you to use this turning point to push past your comfort zone. Look for new ways to incentivize your employees, and establish new markets to serve. Streamline your processes and communicate more effectively with consumers.

Take these steps now, and you’ll be able to hit the ground running in the post COVID-19 era.

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Disclaimer: Ontario Systems is a technology company and provides this blog article solely for general informational and marketing purposes. You should not rely on the content of this material for any other purpose or as specific guidance for your company. Ontario Systems’ advice, services, tools and products described herein do not guarantee compliance with any law or industry standard. You are ultimately responsible for your own company’s actions and compliance efforts. Because everyone’s situation is different, you must consult your own attorneys, accountants, and/or other advisors to obtain specific advice on your company’s compliance, legal, tax, regulatory and/or other business needs. Despite Ontario Systems’ efforts to provide current and up-to-date information, you need to recognize that the information contained herein may become outdated quickly and may contain errors and/or other inaccuracies.

© 2021 Ontario Systems, LLC. All rights reserved. Information contained in this document is subject to change. Reproduction of this publication is not permitted without the express permission of Ontario Systems, LLC.

Posted by Sara Woggerman

As the lead in-house Compliance Consultant for Ontario Systems, Sara Woggerman provides consulting solutions for banks, collection agencies, and other financial service providers to prepare them for regulatory examinations, manage litigation risk, and improve the consumer experience. Sara has spent over 11 years in the accounts receivables management industry, managing nearly 200 collection service providers for debt purchasers and serving as the relationship manager to creditors.
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