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Time for the ARM Industry to Show its Heart, And Extend this INNVITE

posted on 2011-03-09

Many in the ARM world have been wringing their hands in despair over the way that we are viewed in the press.  Some have even advocated a full court press of PR to distribute stories to counter this ongoing, negative image.  Others have individually picked up the gauntlet and set about – quietly – to improve their communities.

A partial list of good works, with hundreds of thousands of dollars going to local charities, hospitals, American Red Cross, Haitian relief, senior communities, healthcare, public libraries, women’s shelters, Autism Speaks, assisting returning veterans (ARMing Heroes) and the United Way.

I would like to suggest an impactful way, nationally, to make that difference.

I formally invite debt collection associations such as ACA International to help create and sponsor a special, charitable program to be called INNVITE – INNocent VIctims of This Economy. The problem (as you will read) is national in scope,but affects practically every town in which we live.  It has such immediacy, that I also invite industry publications to promote this program throughout our industry.

And, who are these INNVITE people?  According to a 60 Minutes special report just this past Sunday night, these are the homeless kids who are the unfortunate and innocent victims of this economy – children now homeless, along with their parents.

Are you aware that nearly 25% of America’s children now are officially at or near poverty level?  Unequivocally, it is not their fault.  Millions and millions of good Americans have lost their jobs and even their homes in this “great recession.” Their kids are the “collateral damage” of an economy that went off the rails.

In Seminole County, FL, featured on this 60 Minutes piece, so many children live in cheap motels that school buses now routinely stop there.  At last count, there are 67 such lodgings that house some 500 homeless kids along Highway 192.  Yes, that road – the one leading to Disney World – “the happiest place on earth.”  (The 60-minute segment can be found here:  http://bit.ly/hGzkce)

Now – given the number of charities we have contributed to along the way, why should our industry reach out to these unfortunates?

At minimum, because it is likely that we met their parents on the way down.  At one time, they were homeowners or apartment dwellers.  At one time, they had jobs and credit cards.  And, as surely as night follow day, at one time they were on the other end of the phone when we made our collection calls.

Yes, we were one more painful stage on the way down to the bottom.  We knew it, because they told us their pain, but we had to do our jobs, quietly collecting what little we could and writing off the balance.  They were now out of our world.

If that is a minimum enough reason, what could be the “maximum.”  Because our industry is large enough, and has heart enough, to make a difference in the lives of these unfortunates.  Surely, there but for the grace of God, any of our collectors might find themselves there as well.

There is another industry connection, as well, to consider.

Linda Almonte, the subject of attention this past year due to her summarily being fired by JPMorgan Chase and then turning “whistleblower,” is our gal-on-the-ground in Florida. Linda – thanks to being evicted from her San Antonio apartment along with her husband and children – ended up in Florida where she had to rely on friends and scramble for places to stay.

As fate would have it, Linda ended up meeting Beth Davalos, the woman who runs the county’s program for kids and reports into the national program, and who was featured in the 60 Minutes segment.

Because of this experience, Linda wrote me about the upcoming 60 Minutes show and requested my help. She didn’t have to ask twice.  Sensing that this could be an important way for the ARM family to show compassion, I reached out to a few people in our industry…without much initial success.  “Why choose this as a charity?”   “Our constituency has their own pet programs.”  Or, “How do we know this won’t blow up in our face?”

Well, I humbly suggest that none of these considerations are good enough to stop us from giving INNVITE strong consideration.  This is a chance for national attention, perhaps even another 60 Minutes piece.

Perhaps the industry should poll its readers for their views.  ACA International might even put INNVITE to a vote, if that is what it takes to adopt it as a high-visibility industry cause.  Think of how many of upcoming conventions and conferences could use Linda and Beth as speakers to support and draw attention to INNVITE.

Linda assures me that she and Beth stand ready to work as special emissaries in any fashion.  Should any of you want to reach out on your own to grow this conversation, Linda can be reached at Almontex6.la@gmail.com.

There is no reason that as agencies and as a group that we have to choose between local (and how much more local can this get?) and national charitable work.  Both are within our reach.

So, what is it?  Spend the money on a high-priced PR to put a positive “spin” on our industry, or put it to work, instead, to make a difference.  I think you know the answer.

Jerry Ashton is a 30-year-plus entrepreneur and specialist in, and veteran of, the field of accounts receivable controls, credit, collections and customer service. Jerry founded and was President of CFO Advisors, Inc., which enjoyed a 15-year-run as a respected and effective go-to firm engaged by companies wanting CFO’s unique approach to receivables management.  That is, the ability to “get the money AND keep the customer.” To find out more and be involved drop Jerry a line @ writtenoffusa@gmail.com.