Integrating Texting into Debt Collection: The Importance of Consumer Preference
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Compliance expert Tim Collins sat down with Arbeit account manager Mike Sutz to discuss what agencies can do to better understand and utilize SMS text messaging as a form of outreach.
What Are the Existing Rules for Texting as a Form of Outreach? [2:00]
Unfortunately, there is no hard-line rule in place for texting, although there has already been a tremendous amount of litigation.
Right now, the key piece that anything related to the TCPA is consent. According to Tim Collins, creditors should begin to capture not only consent, but consumer preference. Capturing consumer preference makes it a little bit bigger, he says, and there’s no reason a debt collection agency can’t capture the consumer themselves, and will be crucial going forward.
The fine for a text without consent is $500 and can go up to $1500.
Texting and E-mail were grouped together under the NPRM released by the CFPB.
How Should Collectors Handle SMS? [5:25]
According to Tim, typically texting is used to drive inbound phone calls, not two way communication. Handling real texting messages that come in can get tricky, but may be a missed opportunity.
There is a generation that grew up on text messaging, and they may fire a response right back, and take text messaging personally. They may be the ones revoking consent or responding, and that’s something agencies should pay attention to.
What Should the First Outreach Look Like? [7:45]
First, make sure you’ve scrubbed the numbers to find out the provider and model of the phone you’re texting. That will help you gauge the kind of message you should send. It’s safe to assume most of the phones you’ll be contacting are smartphones, but it’s not always the case.
“This is an attempt to collect a debt” is most likely a disclosure you should include, but always work with outside counsel to include the correct disclosures.
There are also services that can attach an image to a text. Tim recommends this as a way to attach the notice you would typically mail.
What about Texting as a Form of Payment Reminder? [11:00]
Once consent has been captured, ask the consumer to opt-in to payment reminders.
You can then build a database with consumers (that you’ll need to continue to scrub) to indicate which consumers prefer text messages.
Will this Trend Stick? [12:35]
Tim believes that texting is not just a trend. With right party contacts continuing to drop, agencies will have to turn to something. E-mail is difficult to do at scale, unlike texting.
It’s important to note that the TRACED Act covers text messaging as well as phone calls. He believes there will be a rush to use text messaging, and consumers will begin complaining. Carriers will respond to that, and certain text messages may be marked as SPAM.
More likely, text messages marked as SPAM will simply not go through. He believes we should see federal action taken in 12-18 months. After that, sending a text message will be just like making a phone call.
What Advice Would You Give an Agency who is Looking to Try Out Text Messaging? [14:55]
Understand your appetite for risk. Payment reminders are less risky as long as consent has been captured. Make sure consumers have the ability to opt-out or revoke consent. Opening up text messaging as a form of outreach will always open you up to more exposure.
Keep in mind that consumer preference is just as important as consent, and agencies should be careful not to miss revocation of consent. According to Tim’s resources, there are 13,000 ways to say “stop texting me.” Agencies should monitor the responses they get, no matter what program you build.
Finding a way to capture revocation of consent will set the good agencies apart from the great agencies.
He recommends that agencies understand this first wave of new technology before all the other channels that are coming make their way into the debt collection space.