2020 has certainly been an unconventional year, and in the unprecedented times accompanying COVID-19, the need for empathy and philanthropy cannot be overstated. As such, MRS hasn’t wavered from our charitable commitments. Quite the opposite, this year, the MRS family devoted a great deal of time and effort to fundraise and give back to the community.
The Food Bank of South Jersey exists to provide an immediate solution to the urgent problem of hunger by providing food to people in need, teaching them to eat nutritiously, and helping them to find sustainable ways to improve their lives.
Partnering with The Food Bank of South Jersey throughout the year, MRS employees made monthly donations as part of our ongoing charitable giving initiatives. The hard work and overwhelming support from the MRS employees allowed us to raise funds specifically for FBSJ. In addition to that, we took the money budgeted for holiday gifts and cards and donated that to the food bank as well, bringing our fundraising donation to $10,000. On Wednesday, December 16, 2020, many MRS employees donated time to help distribute food in Camden, NJ.
MRS has always believed in giving back, hosting and participating in many charitable drives throughout the year. Philanthropy is central to the company’s family values and MRS is deeply moved by our employees’ dedication to lend a hand to those in need.
Chief Personnel Officer Regina Weir said, “The Chief Development Officer at the Food Bank called the MRS Team ‘hunger hero rock stars.’ It was our sincere pleasure to have partnered with this amazing group of volunteers and we look forward to continuing our work with them in 2021!”
On behalf of everyone at MRS, we’d like to wish you a happy and safe holiday season. 2020 brought many unexpected challenges, and MRS is glad to punctuate the year by giving back to the community. We are excited to welcome 2021 and everything that the new year will bring!
Fortunately, pandemics like COVID-19 are usually once in a century occurrences. The last time one of this severity happened, it was the climax of World War I and the Spanish Flu wreaked havoc across the globe. Medicine and scientific knowledge have made massive strides forward and our hope is a vaccine will be available soon for everyone.
The Collection industry really wasn’t affected by the Spanish Flu because it didn’t exist in 1918, but came into existence not long after, in the middle of the Great Depression. While Collections has come a long way via the use of technology and analytics, one challenge for which it was woefully unprepared was a contagious health crisis that required people to shelter in place and work from their homes. Sure, the technology to work from home has been utilized for decades, but it has seldom been used by collection agencies, using work-from-home agent populations, and many were caught unaware, scrambling for a solution.
MRS prepared ourselves for this pandemic in the months and weeks before it hit the shores of America. Needing a better remote access solution to connect with our first party clients and an offshore partner, we developed a cloud-based VDI which enabled us to get over 500 collection agents from three call centers to a work-from-home setting in under three weeks!
The hard part was done by the third week in March. Everyone was home. Now what?
We found ourselves in uncharted waters. Our management team had never managed a remote workforce. They were accustomed to being 10 feet away from their team and able to evaluate their daily performance and provide remediation with face-to-face coaching.
Our Operations teams quickly adapted to this new reality and settled into the rhythms of no face-to-face communications, instead relying on cell phone calls, chats and text messages to stay in close communication with their agents and to provide the support they were accustomed to receiving in the call center.
Throughout the summer, results were positive and we paid a lot of attention to employee morale and made sure that MRS performance recognition traditions and compliant business practices were not interrupted. The formality may have changed a bit, but we still observed them. For example: we hold an annual Gold Club dinner for members of our elite club that recognizes outstanding achievement in collections results. Since that wasn’t possible this year, we created an MRS Gold Club knapsack full of goodies including a $50 Visa gift card and scheduled every member to come to the building throughout the day for a picture, facemasks and all, with Saul and Jeff Freedman, the company’s owners.
We also created a new tradition born of the pandemic: gift baskets. The occasion: great performance during a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic.
Kelly Feoli, MRS’s Senior Vice President of Third Party Operations wanted to reward top performers who have been consistent and productive through the first six months of COVID-19, so she created gift baskets full of treats, food, stationery and other gifts and identified the top performer of each client group or unit and told them that they were going to receive an award. The winner’s selected demonstrated high productivity, achieved or exceeded monthly performance goals and maintained exceptional call quality. What she didn’t tell them was that it would be delivered personally by the company’s owners and herself to show their appreciation for their amazing contribution.
“I love my agents and respect their hard work and dedication and just cannot believe the results they’ve achieved over the past six months,” said Feoli. “When this started, we had no idea how long this was going to last, or if it would even work at all. Here we are, almost a year into this with no end in sight and I’m amazed by the results of this fantastic and very dedicated team.”
Winning agents were notified and authorized a home delivery but what they did not know, they would be receiving a delivery on a scheduled day and surprised to see Saul and Jeff standing at their front door with a basket in hand.
“Many of these agents have been with us for over ten years and they’re the key to our long term success. I am so proud of them and the way they’ve responded to this challenge,” said Co-CEO Saul Freedman. “Plus, I miss seeing them!”
MRS’s operations floor is a vibrant and energetic environment, where senior management often engages with the collection agents and everyone’s name is known, stories about family are shared, sports rivalries are discussed, kidded and exalted, so this past six months has been a unique and challenging time for both management and the agents who are accustomed to seeing their co-workers every day.
Added Co-CEO Jeff Freedman, “Our agents continue to inspire us. This is a very strange and unprecedented time for our country and for MRS, and our agents adapted to it without missing a beat. We cannot thank them enough for their hard work and dedication.”
It’s be a crazy year for all of us. Working-from-home with new technology and juggling other responsibilities like child care, homeschool and hybrid education has created a situation that will push the best to their limits. But at MRS, our best agents have traded their stress for a basket full of rewards, because recognition is the keystone of MRS’s culture. We know that this pandemic will eventually fade and we’ll get back to being together in the call center, but when that will happen is unknown. What is known though: MRS values its people and is always looking for new ways to show it.
It is MRS’s pleasure to announce that Kelly Feoli has been promoted to Senior Vice President, overseeing all third party operations. Feoli has demonstrated attention to quality, compliance, and operation detail. Her competitive drive to meet performance metrics while simultaneously providing excellent customer experience will be an asset in exceeding client goals and objectives.
Feoli started as an agent and has continued to grow within the organization due to her ability to demonstrate professional management capabilities, build rapport with all team members, and motivate each unit to achieve and exceed third party clients’ expectations.
Chief Operating Officer, Jim Beck, said, “I am excited to see the impact that Kelly will have in this larger role with all of MRS’s third party clients. Kelly has shown an ability to drive results, increase key agent and portfolio KPIs, and develop her team. She is a large part of the company’s success and I am excited to see her in this role.”
As MRS continues to grow our client base, Feoli will be instrumental in executing our vision of growth and financial profitability. On behalf of the Senior Executive Management team, we look forward to the impact Feoli will have on the entire organization and our clients in this new expanded role.
We are all grappling with a crisis that none of us could have imagined just a few short weeks ago. While I know you are busier than ever, I wanted to take a moment and remind you that we are here to do our part, as best we can, to support you, your organization, and your customers.
Obviously, the safety and security of our employees is paramount and we have been following all of the guidance provided by WHO, the CDC, and other government bodies to keep our staff safe. In addition, we are working tirelessly to reduce the headcount in our office locations and facilitate, where possible, for our staff to work from home. We have made tremendous progress in this regard and we are confident in our ability to continue to service your customers in this time of crisis with compassion, understanding, and patience.
Furthermore, we recognize that this situation is fluid and changing rapidly. While we believe that continued communication with customers is paramount at a time like this, there are others who believe collection activities should cease. It is with this in mind that we have been preparing contingencies to aid you and your organization. Should MRS, and all other collection companies, be forced to cease outbound collecting efforts, this will no doubt lead to massive layoffs within the industry. With a dramatically reduced supply of qualified agents at virtually every collection organization, there will be an enormous need to still handle large volumes of inboundcustomer contacts.
Most agencies will no longer have the capacity or the ability to aid in handling the volume of communications. MRS, however, has spent years developing our conversational IVA called ADAM. ADAM can handle an infinite number of calls simultaneously and can aid in a variety of functions. ADAM can handle everything from dispute, deceased, and bankruptcy notifications to single payment set-ups and payment plans. In addition, ADAM can further be customized to handle a multitude of functions unique to the current circumstances such as an expected flood of customer calls looking to alter, change or defer existing arrangements or respond to customer concerns about their account status. As we are all in this together, and trying to figure out ways to help each other through this nationwide crisis, this is a tool at your disposal.
In addition to, and supplementary to ADAM, we recently deployed our new Customer Portal on the web. The MRS Portal enables customers to self-service a multitude of different functions far beyond what most agencies or their vendors can handle via their older and more static websites. Customers can visit the MRS Portal directly, or through integration with ADAM, and be redirected there when they prefer engaging on the web rather than via an IVA.
My point in sharing all of this is that we have both the experience in deploying these strategies and the bandwidth to aid you at this critical time. It is also worth mentioning that we also offer live chat on the website, so the core MRS team could also engage customers in this capacity as well when they prefer not to call.
If you would like to discuss ways we might be able to help you, please let us know and we can begin working together, in these unique times, to best serve your customers and aid your organization.
We are hoping you, and your employees, remain safe and as a business partner we are here to help you in any way we can.
It’s no secret that in the past, women have been chronically underrepresented within the financial services sector. The lack of representation perpetuates an ambition gap and creates an imbalance in the industry. The 2019 insideARM Women in Consumer & Commercial Finance Conference recognized these concerns and is actively working to combat them.
In its second year, the conference attendance tripled and the women present focused on growth, inclusivity, and support. Introducing a conference solely for women within the finance industry allowed attendees to share their experiences and advocate for each other as well as themselves. MRS Director of Payment Processing and Bank Reconciliation Jessica Lovelace said, “One theme that came up often was don’t be afraid to speak up for yourself. I learned that I need to advocate for myself- no one else can do it for me.”
With an ever increasing female population entering the financial sector, the WCCF Conference couldn’t come at a better time. Executive Vice President of Sales and Marketing Misty Carson recognized this trend and her dedication to the advancement of women in the industry was echoed at the conference. “With the recent economic uptick and growth in our industry, the number of women entering the workforce in the financial services sector will continue to grow with the addition of entry level management positions and middle management…It is important for me to mentor and promote the growth and development of women not only at MRS but also within our industry,” she said.
MRS is devoted to evening the scales for gender representation in the industry and recognizes the importance of the WCCF Conference. MRS is a company that is heavily populated with women, with a split of 76% female to 24% male. “Of that 76% female, 17% are in Management Positions, and of that 17% in Management, 77% are in Senior Management Positions. MRS is confident, based on our current employee population, that we exceed the norm regarding female representationin the financial industry spectrum,” says Chief Personnel Officer Regina Weir.
Lovelace, Carson, and Erin Kerr represented MRS at the WCCF Conference to share their stories as well as listen to others’ experiences. The Conference provided a meeting for women across the country to come together and work towards bettering the industry. Compliance Manager Kerr said, “There is always room to add women’s voices at higher levels. I feel that MRS is actively doing what it takes to make that happen. Their commitment to women in leadership is illustrated by their support of a group of women attending WCCF Conference this year, last year, and in the future.”
Much work has been done, but there is still a way to go. The recent McKinsey Study offered research and insight into women in finance. The statistics present a narrative that MRS, insideARM, and the WCCF Conference attendees are working to combat. Carson said, “As highlighted in a McKinsey Study, women account for over half the entry level positions in Financial Services in North America, however only 1 in 5 positions in the C-suite. The conference focused on several topics to bridge this gap including a session on advocating for yourself and championing diversity and inclusion.”
Women are an important part of the financial industry and MRS understands this. The WCCF Conference fostered important discourse on representation and being agents of change. MRS believes change starts small and takes the steps necessary to lead by example.
On October 30, 2019 MRS’s Co-CEO Jeff Freedman, and Chief Customer Officer Chris Repholz attended the awards ceremony, held at Toyota’s corporate headquarters in Plano, TX, where they accepted the award for Professional Services Partnership and Delivery for Collections.
2019 was the first year that professional services were added to the award ceremony, which previously was focused exclusively on the manufacturing side of Toyota’s business.
MRS was recognized for outstanding performance, quality and innovation for our work on pre-chargeoff (first party) and post-chargeoff (third party) collection services.
“We are very proud to be an inaugural winner in these expanded awards at TMNA. Toyota is an amazing partner who enthusiastically collaborates with their suppliers and truly values our perspective. We look forward to being a repeat winner for these prestigious awards,” said Repholz.
Using data analytics as a way to maximize efficiency and optimize performance is no longer a luxury to most companies, it’s absolutely required to survive and thrive. According to Bain & Company, businesses that employ data analytics are “five times more likely to make decisions much faster, three times more likely to be highly effective at executing decisions, and twice as likely to be top quartile performers.” MRS uses data analytics like many other companies, but what is different about MRS is the way the company employs data analytics successfully to create an environment of client and customer satisfaction.
By examining data patterns, MRS extracts meaningful facts and figures that inform changes to the business model. Data Scientist Gil Abanil says, “MRS contextualizes data and draws new insights from it in order to continuously improve understanding of day to day operations.”
MRS uses analytics to determine the best time to reach a customer that benefits the client as well. Being able to predict trends and behaviors allows the company to have better outcomes and greater services. Pouring over the data can lead to identifying new business opportunities that could have otherwise been overlooked. Abanil says, “The potential for improving customer experience, refining marketing strategies, and turning data into growth becomes endless and more intelligence based.”
Adopting analytical strategies has also allowed MRS to anticipate how to contact a customer, which customers to contact first, and the number of attempts that should be made before ceasing. These changes are major departures from other industry prebuilt techniques that launch random calls and make guesstimations that ultimately minimize customer satisfaction.
The use of data analytics allows MRS to solve problems rapidly, develop deft improvements, and maintain quality customer experience. In a service based industry, MRS understands the importance of not only meeting, but exceeding the needs of customer and client, alike. Abanil says, “The difference between a good contact center and a great one typically lies in a company’s ability to efficiently monitor and respond to key activities within its operations, predict future demand, and provide service elements to achieve the best outcomes.” MRS implements these small improvements regularly, exhibiting collection success.
Analytics will play a large role at MRS as the CFPB’s proposed rules around digital communications and call caps are implemented. Reaching the customer not just at the right time, but with the right medium, will become mission critical and virtually impossible without analytics in place.
The harnessing of data analytics allows MRS to excel in an ever changing technological landscape. Collection is no easy task, but by leveraging data analytics, MRS makes tactical innovations that benefit both clients and customers.
FCC’s Proposed Legislature and its Impact on the ARM Industry
Call blocking has been an important focus of the Federal Communications Commission, especially recently at the Senate Commerce Committee hearing on June 12. The Telephone Robocall Abuse Criminal Enforcement and Deterrence Act, or TRACED Act, approved in May by the Senate gives the FCC the power to enforce robocall rules.
However, despite ACA International advocacy, the Declaratory Ruling made by the committee does not take into account consumer desire to receive certain legitimate robocalls. The major concern of the ARM industry is that lawful calls will be caught in the call blocking net, preventing important information from reaching consumers.
Because MRS utilizes several multi-channel communication methods, the new ruling will not largely affect the company. The FCC’s ruling carries weight for the future legislation to be set forth concerning collection and other industries reliant on telephonic communication. The FCC, in collaboration with the telecommunications industry, has devised STIR/SHAKEN a national authentication system that will allow the carriers to identify when scammers are hiding their real numbers.
Chief Customer Officer Chris Repholz says, “We believe that STIR/SHAKEN is the right approach. Give the collection industry, and every other industry that contacts people by phone, the ability to register numbers that will enable the carriers to differentiate the legal and legitimate calls from the scammers.”
The FCC’s desire to target and eliminate bad actors is understandable, but businesses urge the organization to distinguish between legal and illegal calls. Before STIR/SHAKEN the amount of calls blocked was left up to phone carrier’s discretion. Chief Risk and Innovation Officer Michael Meyer says, “Carrier are never 100% accurate at identifying which calls are good and which are bad. STIR/SHAKEN functions as a license, an identification, so that these carriers don’t have to decide which calls to block. It’s validation to carriers to pass through the calls.”
MRS recognizes the impact that said legislation could have on the debt collection industry. Repholz says, “Debt collection is already a heavily regulated industry and compliance minded organizations like MRS take great care to call people compliantly and with restraint. Through telephony technology, we reach customers with offers that allow them to pay off balances that may be negatively affecting their credit score. Collection calls are legitimate business communications and we’d hate to see overly broad law-making that negatively impacts customers.”
In order to launch technology to block robocalls, phone companies will charge consumers. This introduces the troubling conundrum of a consumer having to specifically opt out of a hidden bill. Committee members questioned why such a proposed service wouldn’t be free to consumers.
MRS prioritizes customer experience and client goals. Compliance is strategy, results are continual, and innovation is principle. Regardless of any new legislature imposed on the ARM industry, the MRS way of business will not change.
Chief Risk and Security Officer Michael Meyer is always looking to identify the newest technology to implement into MRS’s operations. Quickly, it became clear to him that voice recognition technology, like that used for Siri and Alexa, was at the heart of the future of all customer interactions. That belief, along with the speed of voice recognition software advancements, led to the birth of a virtual collection agent, who we’ve named Adam.
It took more than one try to get Adam right. First generation issues informed fixes for the future. MRS tried many solutions and found success with IBM Watson. MRS collaborated with IBM Watson, and together, the two worked to improve and implement Adam as an everyday agent.
Adam is a blend of AI and IVR. He learns every day. Meyer says, “Adam exists in an agile technology environment and we are always adding more intelligence and capabilities into him. We’re constantly finding more ways to make use of IBM Watson to help add more intelligence into every facet of Adam. It truly is a revolutionary technology. It allows us to reach a level of customer experience that is unheard of. That’s a huge win for all of our customers and clients.”
Adam greatly augments call handling. The AI is available after hours and can scale anywhere from 1 to 1,000 calls at once. Meyer says, “There’s a whole wide variety of people that agents have to talk to that end up not paying. Adam handles all of the people that know what they want to do. It saves agent time.”
Additionally, Adam cuts down wait time. The average waiting time for customers, sometimes reaching 1.5 minutes, was eliminated. From a compliance standpoint, Adam is exceptional. He does the same thing the same way every time. The implementation of Adam can remove human errors.
Adam’s ability to supplement MRS’s multi-channel offerings demonstrates the company’s endless thirst for innovation. Meyer says, “There’s this constant quest to improve and get better at MRS. Our culture of wanting to be at the edge of innovation and being able to rapidly implement new technology is unparalleled in our industry.” With the coming addition of two-way texting, Adam will have his own multi-channel abilities to communicate with customers the same as a human agent would.
The company’s dedication to excellence is perfectly illustrated through the revolutionary creation of Adam. MRS will continue to innovate, develop, and refine technology to benefit customers and clients.