Information is power -- but only if you keep it. While we're all familiar with horrific scenes of 'hoarder' reality television shows, in the credit and collections world, hoarding isn't necessarily a bad thing. If you are a collection agent, you communicate with thousands of consumers every year, and you can affect them for years with credit reporting or a judgment -- you absolutely should keep every bit of data, correspondence, and original documentation you can possibly get your hands on. This documentation may be the ammunition you need to defend your client's rights, or protect your role as the creditor's agent down the road.
Case in point -- we had a case this week where a consumer had alternatively argued on an account and acknowledged a debt over a period of two years. Because they didn't follow through with any arrangements, we posted the outstanding account to the credit bureau, and continued to work the file, applying interest. Two years later, we received a fax from Trans Union where the consumer is attempting to have the item taken of the credit bureau, claiming it was fraudulently reported. Looking at the bureau, it's fairly clear the consumer applied for credit, was denied, and was now trying to find a way to remove the item from the bureau without actually having to pay it. Because we kept the email correspondence and had a copy of the original invoice on file, it was a simple matter to report back to the credit bureau with documentation and details surrounding the acknowledgement of the debt in writing from the consumer. The 'dispute' was denied, and our client's right to their outstanding money was protected.
If you have access to any of the following data as an agent or as agency management, it should be kept, and stored in such a way that you can easily access it (within the same business day):
* Original invoices or contracts signed with the creditor provided to the agency should be noted on the collection file, shared with the agent, and then stored for future use. The agent will be able to speak knowledgeably about the terms of the invoice or contract, and can provide it upon request.
* All correspondence between the consumer and the creditor, or the consumer and the agency should be kept in hard or soft copy storage -- letters received by mail, fax, or email should all be stored in an original format to be reproduced if necessary. This can be a bank of filing cabinets, or a series of scanned documents -- regardless, it should be noted on the collection file and accessible to the collection agent.
* If the agency's telephone system (and provincial or state law) allows, recordings of all telephone calls should be kept and accessible if a consumer denies authorizing a payment, or acknowledging a debt. If credit card payment information is taken by telephone, then these recordings need to be stored securely to meet with PCI compliance, but nevertheless they should be retrievable if a dispute or question arises.
* Any legally binding documents issued by the agency to the consumer (minutes of settlement, court documents, proofs of claim filed on a consumer proposal, etc) should be stored as well. These arrangements can be binding on the original creditor, and a record of arrangements needs to be kept.
While it would be nice to live in a paperless society, documentation is a crucial part of third party collections, and a system needs to be kept for storing physical hard copy. As well, soft-copy documentation such as email transmissions or recorded telephone calls needs to be kept and backed up on a regular basis -- this is key for proving what has happened prior to a dispute or misunderstanding.
It's not always the consumer who is the author of the dispute -- there are occasions when the creditor becomes concerned the agency has engaged in improper representation of their company, and it always helps to be able to be forthright with proof of actions or conversations taken by the agency -- if you are hoping to represent large national or multinational clients, many have data stewardship requirements, contract requirements for sharing recorded telephone conversations, and so on. It's in the agency's best interests to be able to document their activity.
Of course, this data needs to be kept securely and only distributed to authorized parties -- the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA) is very clear about the sharing of data with a third party and the agency must show permissible purpose before distributing documentation to any party other than the consumer or (in most cases) the client, but that is a subject of another blog here.
If you want to talk about data stewardship or data retention as part of an operational workflow, or ISO-27001 compliant policies that address data retention and security, I'm always interested in talking -- I can be reached at my office at Kingston Data and Credit at 226-946-1730.
Blair DeMarco-WettlauferKingston Data and Credit