As we move into the new year, it’s clear already that 2022 will be a turning point for the entire collections industry. And that’s particularly true in the community where we are most active—the creditors, lawyers, and service providers involved in recovery litigation. All of us are still confronting the tragedy, disruption, and uncertainty of the coronavirus pandemic.
And though we’ve spent several years preparing, we are all still figuring out how to adopt the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s Regulation F, which finally went into effect at the end of 2021.
As I think about 2022, I do not expect that the CFPB or other regulators will swoop in during the year with major enforcement actions in collections. It’s more likely than not that they will watch carefully how we implement the standards for consumer contact and the other changes that Reg F imposes.
Nonetheless, the specter of being charged with violating the new regulations hangs over every player in the industry. Indeed, this new reality has started to set off a chain of events that is only just beginning. Three of the four predictions, in fact, flow directly from Regulation F. I start with one issue that we all must confront right away.
1. Cyber security will become an urgent priority.
Computer security breaches are becoming more frequent, more serious, and a lot more costly. We’ve seen how ransomware attacks and new software vulnerabilities can set off a chain reaction of disruption throughout the economy that ultimately can cause days of uncertainty for many players throughout the industry. For everyone involved in collection litigation, a hacking incident can expose sensitive personal information, disrupt legal proceedings, and raise the ire of regulators.
Accordingly, everyone from the largest bank to the smallest collection law firm is looking at all the computer systems they depend on and asking for assurance they have every possible defense in place. These concerns and demands will escalate, favoring those operators at the vanguard of cyber security technology and procedures.
2. Creditors will become more involved in the collections and litigation process.
Regulation F has put an end to the days when creditors could assume that by outsourcing their litigation and collection that they were protected from penalties for any violations made by their vendors. The new rules make clear that the institutions that hire law firms or other service providers are responsible for their actions.
Compliance departments in 2022 will rigorously interrogate all their law firms and other vendors to determine if they can track and follow requests consumers make about how they want to communicate.
Prediction 2a is that often enough the big banks won’t like what they see. Too many players are doing business the way they did 20 years ago. They can’t communicate with customers over email or social media. And they can’t take payments electronically. These gaps not only risk running afoul of Regulation F, they also don’t live up to the standard of service that banks expect of their brands.
3. Vendors will start to retool their systems—or exit the business.
What happens at the collections agency or master servicer after they realize they can’t deliver the service level that the creditors and regulators expect? A scenario along these lines: The CEO calls the head of technology and discovers that they’ve been running the same systems since email was delivered via a dial-up line. Translation: If you want to do business in today’s world of instant communication and cloud computing, you will have to invest in a modern computing platform.
Some will step up and build or buy the technology they need. Others, I’m sure, will see 2022 as the right year to sell their company to a buyer that already has modern systems or at least has the capital to acquire them.
4. A generational shift will begin at collections law firms
Ultimately, the demand for new business practices and technology will flow from regulators through creditors and master servicers to hit individual collections law firms hard. Yes, the lawyers on the front lines have ultimate responsibility for following the rules. But they are generally local or regional players with limited resources.
This is a big opportunity for the legal minds coming into the upper ranks at their firms now. They have trained and formed their practice around a shifting landscape and in anticipation of technological upgrades that will quickly become a “ticket to play.” That is expertise their firms will value deeply as they grapple with the industry shifts outlined here and more.
In all, 2022 is going to be a year when the collections litigation world will rethink many practices and relationships that have been stable for years, sometimes decades. At Oliver, we’re in the middle of this, of course, building a technology platform designed to make the entire litigation chain more productive. We look forward to exploring all of this with everyone in the community. Don’t hesitate to give us a call or find us at industry events.
We’ve also written a white paper that explores the new world of creditor-driven collections. You can get your copy here.
Here’s to a successful 2022.