I'm very much a creature of habit, but I've never been satisfied with the status quo as an answer for why or how something is done a certain way. Just another loose strand in the fabric that makes me me, I guess.
This post will raise the idea of challenging the status quo, specifically as it pertains to debt collectors contacting borrowers via text messages and cell phone calls.
Forget the studies that illustrate how many consumers are giving up their landline phones and using their mobile phones as their primary communication tool. Did you know that there were more than 1.5 trillion text messages sent in 2009, which was three times higher than the amount sent two years earlier? There are roughly 900 billion cell phone calls made every year, according to data I found online. Landline phones and snail mail are endangered species.
In the race between technology and legislation, technology is in cruise control and legislation is stuck in the mud.
The argument against contacting debtors via cell phone is that it could cost the debtor money, by having to pay for an incoming text message or the minutes spent on the phone with the collector. Landline phones are a flat rate and thus, there are no extra charges for incoming phone calls.
My argument in favor of contacting debtors via cell phones and text messages is that they have not paid their debt. They owe someone money. We're not talking about a collector breaking thumbs or putting a horse's head in the debtor's bed. We're talking about a phone call. Why does a debtor deserve extra protection? Debtors used to go to prison if they were unable to pay their bills.
If a debtor wants to pay a bill and doesn't have a self-addressed stamped envelope, then they have to buy a stamp to mail in a check. That costs money. In a lot of cases, a stamp costs more than a text message.
From the debtor's perspective, it's just as easy to dodge a call made by a collector to a cell phone as it is to dodge a call made to a home phone. And missed calls do not cost the debtor a penny.
I can see an argument that some collectors may go hog wild and send out hundreds of text messages, thereby levying some hefty charges on a debtor's cell phone bill. But plenty of collectors have gotten in trouble for making an excessive number of calls to a home phone number. Moderation, as it exists within the current framework of contacting delinquent debtors, should reduce those urges.
I think the issue is particularly acute in the auto finance business, where the collateral is mobile.
Collecting via cell phones appears to be gaining momentum in Washington, D.C. A recent proposal floated by the Obama administration to reduce the federal deficit included language that would make it legal for collectors to contact debtors via cell phones. The language may only apply to student loans or other debts owed to the federal government, but once that door is opened, it is probably only a matter of time until all debts become collectible via cell phones.
One potential upside to allowing collections via cell phones is that more people are making purchases using their smartphones. You can buy coffee with your iPhone at Starbucks. Why not make your auto loan payment with your smartphone as well? Doing so would save the cost of a stamp.