The fourth quarter is almost over and the holidays are upon us. I’m trying not to gloat, but I’ve already gotten all of my Christmas gifts and they are either mailed or wrapped and under the tree. It’s a great feeling; being ready for Christmas.

The holidays can be a stressful time and I’ve found that being proactive about the things I have control over, like buying and mailing out my gifts, eliminates some of that stress. I still have nightmares when I think about trying to track down a Ghostbuster jumpsuit, proton pack, and projector when my son was six.  In my defense, when the kids were little, their wish lists changed at least a half-a-dozen times before they finally settled on what they wanted.  I think my kids’ letters to Santa were probably the last ones he received—talk about last minute.

Procrastination can also add stress in the workplace, this is why I always suggest that clients send in new collection placements as they accumulate.  But if it is your practice to stockpile them, please know that December with year-end bonuses tends to be a very productive collection month.  If you haven’t gotten your placements in yet, don’t despair, the upcoming tax season is typically our best collection period. However, to take advantage of this great collection time you need to get your placements in quickly.  Regulations require a 30-day debt validation period—remember it takes time to get all of our compliance ducks in a row.  The sooner your placements are in, the more successful we will be collecting your debts.

On a lighter note, you might have noticed we decided to do something a little different with this issue of our newsletter.  I hope you not only learn something from the 3 articles, but also have some fun with it as well.

I would also like to take this time to thank our team members for another successful year and thank our clients for allowing us the opportunity to serve them. We truly appreciate your business!

I wish you all a healthy, happy, and prosperous new year!

Best regards,

I am the ghost of collections past. Rise and walk with me. We are going back to 1950 when United Credit Service was established by Hubert J Kartes as a collection agency for local physicians. Today, healthcare remains the primary industry served.  Hubert and his wife, Corinne, ran the business by themselves until 1965. That’s when they hired their first non-family employee, Jean Lile.  If the name sounds familiar it is because Jean still works at United Credit Service. She has seen a lot of changes since she first began working here over 51 years ago.

 Jean: I started with UCS when I was a senior in high school back in April of 1965. I was hired to do general office work: answering the phone, typing, filing, and Dictaphone.  Back then there were a lot of family owned collection agencies.  Unable to compete with big corporations many have had to close their doors. 
There have been many changes that have taken place since 1965.  When I started, everything was entered manually—either typed or written.  We used index cards to keep track of any activity on an account.  We used a 3-fold folder for a consumer’s personal information and anything pertaining to a person’s debt(s) was contained in that small folder.  Of course, laws and regulations are continuously changing, but I have to say the biggest change would be when United Credit Service became the first “paperless” system in the state.
The most rewarding aspect of my career has to be our growth. The company went from a small two-room, three person office to what we are today.

1974 - After the death of her husband, Hubert, Corinne Kartes sold UCS to Dan and Judy Weis who sold it shortly thereafter to Edward Cox.

1980 - Ed’s twin sons, Tom and Jim, join United Credit Service. During the same year, UCS expands and moves down the street to a larger location at 5 W. Walwoth Street. 

 Jim: Fresh out of college with a degree in Business Administration, I was young and naïve.  There was no computer, therefore no computer files or electronic record storage.  Everything was contained on printed paper and if you lost or misplaced the paper record you could not collect the debt until it was relocated. In today’s world this is not an issue.  The push-button desk telephone was the most innovative telephone communication device of that time.  There was no “voice mail”. Messages were left if a human answered the telephone, who had to find “pen and paper” to write down what message you wanted conveyed and to whom. There was no caller ID until the person who answered said “hello”. The basic collection “process” hasn’t changed all that much, but the way we go about the process has changed dramatically, due to the technology we have today. I’ve seen a huge change in attitudes about debts and bankruptcy from then until now.  While there have always been people who do not pay their debts, back in my early years bankruptcy was not an accepted avenue to debt resolution.  Today, many people seek bankruptcy as a quick and easy way out of debt and it is an acceptable means to start over financially.  Many years ago bankruptcy meant living without the ability to obtain credit for many years, now it is just a short term set back to new credit.  Finally, the laws and regulations we face in doing our jobs have become a tremendous burden.  I believe consumers do have rights and we should follow the law in our collection activities, but there should be more emphasis given to creditor’s rights who have extended credit with the expectation of being paid promptly in return.  The creditor and debt collector are being looked down upon for demanding to be paid when they just want the consumer to meet his/her financial responsibilities.

1981 - UCS initiates the development and programming of an in-house computerized, paperless collection system—the first of its kind in the state of Wisconsin.  It is up and operational in September.

1995 - UCS continues to grow and moves to its larger, newly renovated, present location, 15 N. Lincoln Street in Elkhorn.

1997 - After Ed Cox’s passing, sons Tom and Jim take over the business: Tom as president and Jim as vice-president.

2012 – UCS President Tom Cox sells his half of UCS to Rick Brammer. Jim Cox retains his half and remains vice-president.

2015 – United Credit Service celebrates anniversary—65 years strong.
“Come in, -- come in! And know me better, man! I am the Ghost of Collections Present. Look upon me! You have never seen the likes of me before!”

Welcome to this new day at United Credit Service!  Grab my Robe.

The office is buzzing with holiday cheer because there is a Christmas party today.  The communications director has been working diligently to spread the word, while also organizing, decorating and planning the party.  It’s her desire to enhance the spirit of giving among the workers in the office and to lift their spirits. She’s done an outstanding job since there are a few dozen gifts under the tree for a local family.  Hear and see the rustling of paper bags and boxes filled with non-perishable food items as all who arrive for work today bring in food donations to Hope Now’s Christmas Food Basket for local families in need.  You can feel the Christmas spirit in the air! See the smiling faces of those working in the office today as each places a ‘white elephant’ under the Christmas tree with a chuckle. 

Smell all the meal dishes shared among the workers.  Gaze upon the glorious beauty of plate after plate of homemade cookies and baked goods for the company bake sale.  All proceeds from the sale are put in the “Change-a-Life” Jar.  This jar full of money becomes a donation to the charity, The Time Is Now to Help.  This local community charity serves those who need a helping hand up.

The clerical staff greet the public in person and by telephone while they assist consumers by answering general questions and routing telephone calls to the appropriate department. These employees enter all new business debt accounts not sent over electronically into our state-of-the-art collection system, Quantrax.  They focus on the complete accuracy of data entered.  One of the clerks is reviewing the bankruptcy work map for debt accounts now in Chapter 13 bankruptcy proceedings. She calls local attorneys to confirm bankruptcy proceedings and gathers the itemized statements that will be submitted to the bankruptcy courts when claims are filed.  The accounts are coded and then removed from the collectors’ queue. 

One of our client services liaisons is diligently working the debt disputes she received today.  She is verifying with the creditors: the amount due, the work performed, and the information’s accuracy.  She gathers the necessary paperwork to provide to the consumers, validating the amounts due.

The ACA certified Collection Specialists are busy plowing through their own respective work maps in Quantrax.  The collectors are negotiating with consumers on the telephone about their debts while typing notes into the system. The collection specialists focus on compliance with federal and state law before, during and after contacting consumers.  The collectors are polite and professional on the telephone with every consumer. They educate them on their accounts, offer financial solutions, overcome objections and stalling tactics, and negotiate payments. They document each call, outcome and each instance of communication with consumers into Quantrax to accurately portray all events.  That way, the next collector to touch the account will know what previously transpired.

Senior collectors are going over accounts that remain uncollected after exhausting all traditional collection methods. They are searching for assets and a checklist of other criteria to see if litigation would be an appropriate avenue for collecting.  Clients are then sent a Permission to Sue Authorization form for those accounts where legal action is recommended. 

As we move on, we can see the pre-litigation manager is busy determining the collectability of an old judgment awarded to a UCS client years ago.  She is searching databases to determine whether or not a financial supplement should be sent to the debtor on this old judgment.  A Supplemental Hearing would require the consumer to appear in court to give their financials to the attorney working the account. She handles some of the most difficult consumer debt cases on the telephone with poise, determination and superior professionalism.  I can see she is also busy preparing several case filings for court.

Working closely with the pre-litigation manager and attorneys is the company’s paralegal. She drafts various legal documents such as: First Demands, Stipulated Dismissals, Payment Agreements, Motions for Contempt, Garnishments, Orders of Dismissals, and Supplementary Hearings.  She e-files the previously mentioned documents along with Affidavits and Summons and Complaints with the appropriate circuit courts and refers documents to the attorneys for those courts that are not electronic.  

 The director of operations is busy fielding questions from the newest clerical staff member about how to respond to consumers on e-OSCAR, the web-based system used by both Data Furnishers and Credit Reporting Agencies to create and respond to consumers’ credit history disputes. She is also reviewing the collectors’ work maps and is listening to the recorded calls between the collection staff and consumers.   ‘Call Monitoring’ is an effective tool used to ensure compliance and quality assurance.
As we walk through the office we can hear a sales executive ask a prospective client on the phone how UCS may be of service to them. After listening to his concerns, he advises him on how best to utilize UCS’s collection services for his dental office.  He searches for, and enters new prospects into a marketing CRM system known as Prophet.  He is making 20 prospecting calls today with a smile on his face.  This activity leads to sales today and generates future opportunities.  He then assists clerical personnel by obtaining the proper documents to validate a debt account sent in by one of his client.  He is also researching a topic for the next company blog he will author in a few weeks.

Today, the executive branch is purchasing a major upgrade to the network’s infrastructure in order to handle the company’s expected growth.  Adding a new server will enhance the system’s capability.  After his telephone call with their IT partner, the president goes over the information about the new clients brought to his desk by the sales department. He sets the new clients up in the system so the clerical staff can enter their new business accounts for collection.  The president then reviews his daily reports to determine if the company is staying on track to meet its monthly goals.  The vice-president is handling a special project today.  He is sending a newly drafted letter to a couple dozen clients.  These particular clients had been sent a remit check from UCS, but have not yet cashed the checks.  Because of state regulations, the VP may be required to send the uncashed checks to the State of Wisconsin’s Unclaimed Property Fund.  He would prefer these funds to go to the clients, not to the State of Wisconsin.  Today he is using various databases to locate these clients. He will be compliant with the state law, but his goal is to locate these clients so they may receive their hard-earned money after waiting so long for it.

The day was productive and fun too!  Morale is high in the United Credit Service office.  New clients are signing up for business, present clients are seeing results, and the company is preparing for growth.  
Predicting a Better Tomorrow? Start by Building Upon a Better Today.

Will Rogers once famously said: “Things will get better despite our efforts to improve them.” There is a lot of truth in that. 

Over the last decade or so it is hard to argue that things have gotten better for business. Despite the government’s promises to help us, additional and more cumbersome regulations seem to come at us almost daily. 

As you have read elsewhere in this newsletter, in the past 65 years of our history we have shown a remarkable resiliency to face every government, regulatory, economic and advocacy hurdle that has been thrown at us.  Through it all we have served or clients well, and managed to thrive as a business.  We have set the table today for what we think will be an even better tomorrow.

Predictions for the future?

We are not prophets, and predicting with any degree of certainty what will happen in the next year, let alone the next decade, is an impossible task.  What the impact will be of the seismic political change we are going through as a country is anyone’s guess.  About the only thing we can say with certainty is that…well…things will be uncertain until the new direction for the country will be charted in the months and years ahead.

Looking into our crystal ball, however, we think some broad predictions for the immediate future can reasonably be made on what we know today.

  • Regulatory environment:  The regulatory headwinds we have been facing seem likely to shift dramatically.  While still in the process of clarification, the trend seems to be toward less regulation rather than more, and more pro-business initiatives rather than less.  We believe the outcome from this sea change will help streamline the processes and hurdles which have been put in place impeding more efficient debt collection. To be sure, adequate consumer protections will always be important, but additional layers of regulation seem to be much less likely, and those in place now subject to less onerous and cumbersome enforcement.

  • Economic growth:  Unemployment rates are at the lowest levels in many years.  Wages are increasing. There is the potential for further tax relief. With this confidence, consumers appear ready to continue to spend, and thus the economy will continue to grow. The resources consumers will have at their disposal to pay down debt will improve.  We believe this will further improve the environment for debt collection.  Yet there are some clouds on the horizon.  Although consumers continue to spend, their debts are at historic levels.  While their income has generally improved their ability to pay their debts, increasing interest rates, or an unexpected wiggle in economic growth, could spell trouble ahead.  We encourage our clients to maintain a close vigilance on their bad debt and employ the resources of UCS to maintain a good handle on collections in the event prosperity suddenly turns south. 

  • Technology improvements:  The tools we use to connect with debtors will continue to evolve and improve.  Not only will we further employ mobile technology to improve our ability to contact debtors, we will continue to deploy ever more robust security measures to ensure the protection and integrity of our client’s data.  We can only expect that the sophistication and frequency of attempted hacking attacks will continue. UCS will always employ the latest technology protections so our clients can sleep well at night!

  • Maintaining a quality collections team: Critical to embracing an uncertain future is the need to maintain a highly motivated, tenacious, well trained team of collections professionals. Training is crucial in an ever-shifting environment, and as regulations and the legal environment change we will maintain the best trained staff to stay ahead of the curve whether at the federal, state or local level.

  • Clear vison and purpose:  With a single eye we move ahead into the uncertain future with the guidance of the principals that have made us successful for the last 65 years.  They have served us well and they are rock solid for the future. Our clients can always count on our integrity, respect, professionalism and tenacity to represent them with the highest ethical standards they have come to expect.  Even in an uncertain future, some things never change!

  • Clear and timely communications:  We are committed to maintaining and improving our direct communications with our clients.  In a rapidly changing business environment it is critical that our clients have the latest, up to date intelligence and knowledge on which to base their decisions.  Using every useful communications medium at our disposal, whether direct contact or using preferred social media channels, we will always endeavor to keep our clients up to date concerning the latest, critical changes that can have a direct impact on their ability to collect on their debts.  With our association affiliations, in particular ACA International, we will be able to rapidly discern any shifts well in advance of changes. 

Building on our solid past, and best practices of today, United Credit Service looks forward to serving all the needs of our valued clients well into the future.

  • It took Charles Dickens only 6 weeks to write A Christmas Carol.
  • The Cratchit family was inspired by Dickens' home life as a child.
  • The first time A Christmas Carol was made into a movie was in 1901.
  • Lionel Barrymore was originally intended to play Scrooge in the 1938 adaptation, but due to arthritis he was unable to play the role. However, he did introduce the film’s          trailer in a “fireside chat.”
  • Many notables have played the role of Ebenezer Scrooge.  They include:           Vincent Price, Alastair Sim, Basil Rathbone (he also played Jacob Marley in an earlier adaptation) Mr. Magoo, Albert Finney, Donald Duck, George C Scott, Jack Palance, Patrick Stewart, Kelsey Grammer, and Jim Carey.
  • A Christmas Carol was published in 1843. Six-thousand copies were originally printed and those sold out in 5 days, consequently more were ordered. Due to its popularity, it has never been out of print.
  • Bob Cratchit's young son, Tiny Tim, is a minor character in Dickens novella, but has a very famous line, "Merry Christmas to all; God bless us, everyone!"
United Credit Service, Inc.
15 N. Lincoln Street, P.O. Box 740
Elkhorn, WI 53121