bill collectorA movie I ordered from Amazon, The Bill Collector, arrived two weeks ago. Uncle Frankie employs direct collection techniques more than frowned upon by ACA (Association of Credit & Collection Professionals). It was quite the coincidence to receive an e-mail from Walter Bell, not his real name, just a day or two later. He had read one of my books a couple of years ago where I state the business of professional collections is to collect AND keep the Customer. He was facing a dilemma.

Walter wrote that he was involved in some challenging collections from consumers in the lower economic scale. If they broke a promise to pay, his supervisor was directing him and others to take much stronger action, bordering and crossing the line of harassment. Most of what was recommended involved questionable ethics and some may have been illegal. “I am uncomfortable,” he wrote, “but he’s my boss. What can I do?”

What is a Walter to do? Great questions do not have a single or simple answer and I posed this question to some of the best international collection experts I know.

Blow the whistle to senior management of the firm:

They may be shocked that such practices are taking place in their organization, appreciate the person who brings it to their attention and take immediate action. On the other hand, their response may be more along the lines of Captain Renault from Casablanca who said, “I am shocked – shocked to find out that gambling is going on here”, just before the croupier hands him his winnings from the table. It is entirely possible they know, suspect and perhaps even secretly encourage such activity, but ‘don’t ask don’t tell‘ works for plausible deniability.

However, even in the former case where they were not aware of the activity, we live in a society that may appreciate the report of one who blows the whistle, but we don’t care for them much. Nobody likes a rat, snitch, a tattletale.

Blow the silent whistle:

This could be an anonymous letter or email to senior management with a threat to go to the press or authorities. I don’t care for the approach too much, but I appreciate it may be the best option in a few circumstances. It helps to remember the 11th commandment in a situation like this: “Thou shalt not get caught!”

I don’t cross the line – so there!

Krista Walsh owns her own successful collection agency in Prince Edward Island. She says that she would not break the laws or cross the line. ‘I would say no, courteously, and if I lose my job – I shouldn’t be there.’

Why not use effective techniques?

Based in Poland, Borys Sadowski has trained many hundreds of collectors over the years and says that debtors are more resistant and educated than in the past and harassment is not only old, prehistoric, primitive and dangerous – it is not effective! He teaches approaches that bring in the money – simply, without resorting to anything that is questionable.

Are you sure you want me to do this?

This is a question that Len Sklar, author of ‘The Check is NOT in the mail’, suggests that Walter could ask the Supervisor? ‘I could be wrong, but isn’t this technique against the guidelines of XXXX and might this not result in some bad publicity for us…or worse.’

Depends…on dependents:

Steve Coyle is the author of Debt Collection – Stir Fried or Deep Fried, has been based in Malaysia for quite a few years. He says if the approach is systematic in the organization and you don’t leave quickly you may never get out or if when you finally do, the reputation of the previous organization will stay with you for years.

If it is just the direct supervisor who may be dysfunctional, you could highlight to management but you need to have your facts straight, have support of others if you can and be creative (sneaky if you must). He agrees that perhaps one needs to leave the organization, but if you have bills of your own to pay and a family to support, better to resign in your own mind and start looking for another job.

This is similar to the recommendation by Michelle Dunn, author of Get Paid and other books. ‘It may be best, she said, ‘to let ‘em think you are following orders but start looking for another job.’

Tongue in Cheek:

When your supervisor tells to follow an order that is over the line, just say, ‘I was thinking, why stop there? How about we call them and say we’ve placed a I.E.D. (improvised Explosive Device) at the home or office (this works for consumer as well as commercial accounts) and it is set to go off in 24 hours if we don’t have full payment.‘

Once he or she stops hollering at you and calms down, ‘Help me to understand the difference between the two illegal and questionable techniques?’

If he still wants you to ‘follow orders’, say o.k., just send me an email.

There is a recent advertisement where the message is, ‘if it is not o.k. to say, it is not o.k. to do’. It deals with harassment of a different nature, but we could state ‘if it is not o.k. to put in an email or letter’ it is not o.k. to do.

P.S. Be warned that The Bill Collector is well short of Oscar material. However, it is of interest to some of us in receivables, particularly third party. The Lump Sum Collection agency manages to survive, despite the boss taking an extended vacation and leaving a con man in charge.

P.S.S. Speaking of con jobs, don’t let the movie poster fool you. Danny Trejo of Machete fame plays a minor role.

Pithy Quote:

“He earns whate’er he can,
And looks the whole world in the face,
For he owes not any man.”
…A quote used by Professor Blakeslee as a collection technique in the movie ‘The Bill Collector’ (Longfellow’s Village Blacksmith)