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Cybersecurity, breaches, and bad actors
In the past 10 years, giants like Yahoo, Alibaba, LinkedIn, Facebook, Marriott, and Adobe (just to name a few) have all experienced large scale data breaches. Living in the digital age offers convenience and ease at every turn, a double edged sword when bad actors exploit insecure networks susceptible to attack.
Consumers have grown wary, watching information and data being mined, hacked, and stolen across multiple platforms. Industries that deal in sensitive information like accounts receivable need to protect confidential data and build trust with the customer.
Chief Risk and Innovation Officer Michael Meyer works to ensure the safety of the sensitive data housed at MRS. By thinking like an attacker, Meyer is able to implement the kind of safeguards to block their success. Staying one step ahead of “the enemy,” so to speak, is integral to cybersecurity.
Meyer talked about why data breaches are on the rise, “Companies are moving to the cloud, collating all their data into one or two very large databases. Putting all a company’s information into one data warehouse actually increases exposure and vulnerability. One single breach has a huge impact. It’s like putting all your eggs in one basket.”
Playing defense against an unknown offense is difficult, but MRS prioritizes security and risk. “At MRS, we don’t put all our data in one place. We also use defense in depth which includes layering security tools around all our data. Part of the challenge is that as a company, we always have to be right, and an attacker only has to be right once. We have to guard everything all the time.”
Cybersecurity is a layered and evolving system; what we did yesterday is not what we’ll do tomorrow. Because technology is rapidly changing, security measures must keep up. Meyer and the entire security and IT team innovate on a regular basis to meet the moving target that is cybersecurity. Meyer emphasized awareness as a facet of security. “You can learn a lot from other breaches,” Meyer said. “It’s important to be vigilant and remediate vulnerabilities and act quickly. Good security is learning and educating.”
In the past year, data breaches have shifted, resembling digital muggings in which bad actors extort companies and customers. Work from home security parameters further complicate the issue. Prevalent but preventable hacks, like the Colonial Pipeline ransomware attack, demonstrate how imperative cybersecurity and risk management are to a business. “I think companies are putting more of a priority on security. It’s being added into a lot of business structures,” Meyer said.
A single breach is fatal for many companies. Preemptive defense is MRS’s backing philosophy. Bad actors with penchants to breach are out there, but the MRS team stays one step ahead to ensure the safety and security of sensitive data.
Conference in review
From July 13th through the 15th, insideARM held their annual Strategy & Technology conference. As a sponsor and attendee of the event, MRS’s presence couldn’t be missed. Chief Customer Officer, Chris Repholz was also featured on a panel about self service called “The Increasingly Independent Customer,” and Chief Operating Office, Jim Beck spoke on the panel titled “Meeting the CFPB 7×7 with Intelligent Contact Data.”
Repholz’s panel delved into the shift from traditional collection approaches to meeting the customer where they want to be met. Instead of calls, MRS utilizes multiple digital channels to reach a customer, including text, email, chat, interactive voice agents, and a self-service portal. “We believe that customers will gravitate to service providers who give them communication options and those providers will get top of the mind and top of the wallet status,” said Repholz.
With the new CFPB rules implementation date fast approaching, Beck’s panel focused on how to stay efficient and compliant. MRS uses analytics to ensure each contact attempt is at the best time of day and through the best channel for the customer. Beck highlighted that the new rules do not change the way MRS operates, but provide some much needed clarity in policy regarding technological advancements.
The iA Institute is an exceptional thought leader, hosting events like Strategy & Tech that enable industry members to connect and innovate. At MRS, we love participating in these events and sharing our unique approach to collections with the industry. Repholz said, “While we are a 30 year old collection agency with deep roots in the industry, we are very focused on progressive technology that creates automation, better customer experience, and more efficient ways for customer contact.”
MRS thoroughly enjoyed its time at iA’s Strategy & Tech and we’re excited to see what iAST2022 will bring!
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We all donned our comfy pants during work-from-home, but now we’re beginning to head back into the office. So don’t forget to ditch the pajama pants and the bunny slippers!
Women leaders in the ARM Industry
In years past, women were largely outnumbered in the financial sector, especially in leadership roles. However a shift has been occurring. While women face barriers due to inequality, statistics show that in the United States in 2019, the financial services industry was 54.3% female. Despite this gain, women still face a pay, promotion, senior/executive leadership, and mentorship gap.
The accounts receivable management, or ARM, industry however, is a bit of an outlier. There is no shortage of exceptional women, steering thought leadership, catalyzing change, and paving the way for the next generation. No journey is uniform, but all these women share perseverance and grit in the face of adversity.
Though Joann Needleman is a familiar face and a fountain of knowledge in the industry, she faced many challenges when first practicing law. The Member at Clark Hill and Leader of the Consumer Financial Services Regulatory and Compliance Group said, “When I was a baby lawyer, judges would refer to me as ‘young lady’ which is so condescending. When I started to actively litigate, male opposing counsel would behave so badly when you disagreed on a point. (I later learned that the louder they yelled, the more my argument was correct). It wasn’t until about 10 years into practicing law that I was treated as a lawyer and not as a woman.”
Needleman recounted in the past, when the ARM industry was dominated by men, conferences were daunting if you didn’t play golf. Getting involved, especially on the leadership level, helped, she said. “I was very involved at NCBA. I quickly joined committees, got elected to the Board of Directors and eventually became the first woman president.”
Needleman’s determination and hardwork have not gone unnoticed; she is an incredibly visible and accomplished member of the ARM industry. And she is not alone; there are so many other women who stand alongside her. One of those women is Stephanie Eidelman.
Stephanie Eidelman, President and CEO of The insideARM Institute, is always ready to spark change. As leader of insideARM, one of the leading news sources and advocacy groups in the sector, Eidelman has helmed key projects that have advanced the industry. But getting to where she is today took work.
In the past, the financial services industry was dominated by men. Eidelman remarked that she was used to being the only woman in the room. Regardless, she placed her focus on growing herself and her business and pushing past her comfort zone. “I was always very comfortable in operations roles, behind the scenes, and with projects that could be clearly defined and accomplished. But to be a CEO I needed to get comfortable with unstructured outreach, starting something from nothing, managing through ambiguity, developing external relationships, engaging in marketing, and asking for the sale. These were huge new skills that took years to develop. I wish I had the benefit of a mentor (or mentors) through the process.”
Eidelman’s experience highlights the mentorship gap that has been identified in the industry, but her company’s work pioneering the Women in Consumer Finance Conference offers a fantastic networking platform to mend the gap.
Many of the impactful women in the ARM industry are part of the MRS family and work everyday to create an impact. Guiding their teams, leading by example, mentoring new talent, fostering growth, and championing charitable endeavors, these women work to leave the industry better than they found it.
Throughout the country, women accounted for 26% of all Senior Vice President roles in 2019. MRS ranks above the national average, with an executive team made up of 40% women. Though many women started their careers at other companies, they consistently remarked on the welcoming environment here at MRS. Regina Weir, Chief Personnel Officer said, “The culture has always been like a family.”
Executive Vice President of Sales and Marketing, Misty Carson added, “I am very fortunate to have the leadership support and encouragement at MRS of our Co-CEOs and Executive Team members.”
MRS prides itself on a family culture. As such, a welcoming community of people have always worked together to ensure the company’s environment remains open, friendly, and as always, equal.
Though MRS has a warm culture, not every company does and that can be difficult to navigate. Weir offered advice to women looking to enter the sector, “Be confident and professionally assertive in your area of expertise when you have the opportunity to present your ideas.”
Kelly Feoli, Executive Vice President of Operations, continued, “My advice to all women is to stay true to who you are. Do not change your beliefs based on those around you. To all the young ladies out there, you are so smart and powerful and can do anything you want as long as you work hard to make things happen. Never settle for less because you deserve more!”
Women in the workforce have witnessed and experienced plenty of inequality, but MRS’s commitment to equality for all is unwavering. The ARM industry has transformed over the past few decades and the impact so many women have had on its growth cannot be underestimated.
How to do it all
Working in accounts receivable management, it is not only important but imperative to be able to service multiple industries successfully. MRS nimbly navigates different sectors in order to provide best-in-class debt solutions to clients and their customers.
Over the 30 years that MRS has operated, we have serviced clients in Banking, FinTech, Auto Deficiency, Municipality Government, Student Loans, Telecommunications, and Utility sectors. This wide range showcases MRS’s unique capabilities. Understanding the clients’ varying business needs and the sector in which they operate is key, and coupled with MRS’s cornerstone innovation, partnerships blossom and excel. MRS stays agile across industry sectors by prioritizing client satisfaction and customer experience.
Vice President of Business Development Rob O’Brien said, “The common thread to the success of MRS across the many industries we serve has been the premium our organization places on client satisfaction. Over the years, MRS has consistently demonstrated the ability to customize our services and approach the business with the goal of not only meeting, but exceeding our clients’ lofty expectations. In today’s competitive marketplace, creditors have become heavily invested in customer experience and ensuring that their partners in the recovery and collections space are in lock step with those ideals. MRS is able to adhere to specific quality guidelines and outperform our peers from a call quality and customer experience perspective. Conversely, oftentimes the client focus is weighted heavily on competitive recovery performance and being able to lead the monthly batch liquidation race.” MRS has created an operational formula that allows us to provide both: operational excellence and best-in-class call quality.
Crossing industries poses challenges, but there’s a universal tool that benefits both client and customer—digital capabilities. As consumers overwhelmingly show preference for self service, MRS utilizes an omni-channel solution to streamline the financial recovery process.
O’Brien continued, “MRS has the ability to push ahead of our competition through our unique blend of advanced technologies, deep domain industry experience, and the core of any strong organization—an operations team that gets the job done.”
Versatility is the name of the game and it begins with a focus on technology. What we’ve learned over the past decade is that digital solutions transcend sector. Previous divisions between industries are negated by the savvy implementation of MRS’s expansive toolkit.
Security Credit Services Vice President of Outsourcing, Darren Price said, “The ability to provide a digital collections option on certain products to reach consumers who don’t want to talk to anyone has provided increased collection numbers and higher liquidation from MRS… they’ve been a solid partner with SCS. MRS always meets the reporting requirements and is always looking for ways to improve collection results and strengthen the partnership.”
One thing MRS knows how to do is adapt. From pioneering a conversational interactive virtual collection agent Adam, to swiftly implementing work-from-home during March 2020, MRS executes. So whether MRS is servicing a sector in which we have experience, or accommodating a new one, we know we have the solutions to benefit client and customer. Versatility and innovation permeate the MRS way of business. Whatever industry or sector a company falls under, MRS has the recipe for success.
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Maximizing the reach of data analytics
Harnessing the power of data analytics to optimize performance has always been a cornerstone of MRS operations—so has innovation. That’s why MRS decided to partner with Neustar, an information services company. In order to increase reach and maximize efficiency in a digitally diverse and rigorously regulated industry, MRS and Neustar are implementing solutions that will benefit both clients and consumers.
New technologies, new regulations, and margin pressures all make employing effective analytics all the more vital. As new technology is introduced, a company must identify when, where, and how to use it. Once regulations are added into that equation, it is critical to have analytics on your side.
Prioritizing analytics and the specificity it can bring to operations led MRS to Neustar. Chief Operating Officer Jim Beck said, “Neustar offered some very unique and powerful data to ensure that we are attempting to contact the customer at the right number and the right time.”
The CFPB introduced new rules regarding the legal limit of weekly attempts to reach a customer. A company must make each call, email, or text launched count. This is where Neustar shines: “We look at a lot of consumer intelligence which tells us about phone numbers and email addresses and the best time to call, or the optimal call window. We enable groups like MRS to increase their RPC rates or drive efficiencies across their portfolios,” said Matt Wolk, Neustar’s Senior Director of Identity and Risk Solution.
With Neustar’s expertise, new technologies governed under new CFPB regulations do not pose a challenge to RPC. Wolk said, “On each phone, we provide data insights on when to call or send texts during a window that we know the phone to be most active. The consumer intelligence we have in our database goes across demographics. You need to know the best number to get in touch with someone on the first try. If you know exactly which phone number or email address is right for a particular person, you’re less likely to fall into a trap. It mitigates a company’s risk by knowing the right way to reach someone.”
Deploying Neustar’s analytical technology allows MRS to optimize operations. Beck said, “With Neustar, we’ll be able to focus our outreach and be more strategic in our contact attempts. In an industry that contacts are rare, increasing this number 15-20% will have an enormous impact.”
Neustar’s strength is its precision, a quality which MRS is excited to utilize. The company’s revolutionary technology offers exciting analytical data that benefits client and customer. Beck said, “I think this data from Neustar is a win all the way around, with agents being more productive, customers receiving fewer calls, and clients with improved financial results.”
MRS is always looking to innovate and improve and Neustar’s services are game changers. As the collections industry continues to evolve in the face of new technology and regulation, one thing is certain—don’t underestimate the power of good data.
How compliance can rewrite the narrative
The collections industry has been understood to be aggressive in the past. Bad actors shape the predominant image of what a collector is and does. However, over the last decade, a shift has occurred—more and more debt collections companies are shedding that misconception due to their renewed focus on compliance and customer experience.
Chief Risk and Innovation Officer Michael Meyer said, “Being compliant ensures better customer and client experience. It reduces risk in operations. Compliance is the key to making the business run.”
While this approach may be new to some agencies, since day one, MRS has held firm on the concept of “compliance as strategy,” a value which has instilled the utmost attentiveness in agents when interacting with customers. Despite comprehensive training, guidelines, and hardworking employees, misconceptions about the industry still prevail.
Meyer said, “It’s difficult to change the narrative when it comes to debt collectors. Many consumers don’t know how heavily regulated we are. We have federal, state, client, and internal requirements that we have to follow. It’s critically important to have these levels govern compliance and what agencies can do.”
With the existing rules and the CFPB’s upcoming additions, the collections industry remains a heavily regulated sphere. All these laws are in place to protect the consumer and reduce the amount of bad actors that still operate. Maintaining compliance at all times and making the necessary changes as new rules are announced, MRS prioritizes the consumer’s experience.
In order to succeed in the collections industry, compliance cannot be overlooked. Meyer offered an apt metaphor for compliance’s role in a business: “Compliance provides the guardrails which allows the car, which is operations, to drive down the road smoothly. Compliance functions as the surrounding pieces, the stop signs, the speed limits, the lines, so everything else can operate without difficulty.”
As consumers have more positive interactions with compliance first agencies, they will reevaluate their misconceptions. The change won’t be overnight, but incremental. Little by little, compliance will rewrite the debt collections narrative.