ACM Group’s Response to Federal Court Decision

The recent Federal Court case by the ACCC was regarding incidents that transpired with ACM representatives on two accounts between 2011 and 2015.

ACM is a vastly different business now, with strong cultural changes that has much improved the way we do business.

Well before the judgment was handed down last month, we knew that we needed to do better, and for the last four years, we have been undergoing a dramatic transformation of the business.

This included:
a) Engaging one of the largest consumer welfare agencies, to audit our internal processes
b) Overhauling risk mitigation system controls, staff training and internal culture to ensure we best meet compliance and customer service standards.

This process resulted in a number of practical changes to the way our staff interact with customers. For instance, they now have greater flexibility to freeze accounts, impose longer payment moratoriums and write the account(s) off in circumstances such as poor health, financial constraints and domestic violence.

Additional 10 staff to the Compliance & Ethics Team – A New Compliance Review System now monitors a random sample of customer calls for adherence to regulatory obligations and provides real-time feedback to management, while a “sensitive word audit” immediately escalates accounts with trigger words such as “stroke, cancer, suicide” etc. to ensure that sensitive accounts are flagged to Compliance & Ethics Team (C&E) for review and action in real time.

We’ve also implemented preventive automated system controls to limit the number of times a customer can be contacted in alignment with regulatory requirements, whereby the contact system is automatically locked once the threshold has been met to prevent any further contact with the customer regarding their account.

These changes are a necessary part of ACM’s evolution into a more customer-centric business, and we’re glad to report that we’ve seen a huge drop in the number
of disputes and complaints as a result.

Recent staff surveys have also indicated more than 80% of our employees say their ability to respond to customers appropriately and confidentially is either ‘much better’ or ‘impressively better’ than the year prior.

A review of ACM’s business conducted by Tim Lord (former President, Dun & Bradstreet) of Anteris Consulting (Anteris Consulting were commissioned by the ACCC to undertake a comprehensive review of the Australian Debt Collection Industry on its behalf) delivered a favourable outcome and result. In particular, it found that ACM in partnership with a well-respected and renowned Australian community service consultancy organisation training program had resulted in “obvious, positive changes at the frontline”, which was particularly evident in the way we now handle vulnerable customers.

This process has been a big learning experience for ACM, and as a result, we’ve made many positive changes that have really transformed the way we do business.
This new, revitalised ACM has a customer-first focus that centres on providing Australians with ethical solutions to track and manage control of their financial situations.

ACM is, and will continue to be, open and transparent with the ACCC, and we are looking forward to working closely with industry regulators to explore new ways that we can improve ourselves and encourage best practice across the industry.

ACM Group Ltd. responds to alleged claims of Harassment in the Industry

At ACM Group Ltd. (ACM), we take all customer feedback, complaints and disputes extremely serious in line with our company’s core values, objectives and regulatory obligations. Through experience, we’ve developed robust strategies to ensure our deliverables are managed through a robust Control framework for conformance to Australian legislative requirements. We have been developing our strategies over the last few years, as part of the cultural changes that has been implemented at ACM Group.

 

What have we implemented to address harassment complaints?

 

We’ve enhanced our governance for risk mitigation by building a stronger control environment through an enhanced Compliance framework, IT systems and Quality Training program.

Our key controls include:

 

How are calls monitored at ACM Group?

 

Call Monitoring – all customer contact (calls) by staff are recorded and sample tested for conformance to Regulatory and Company policy guidelines by a dedicated team of Compliance Analysts to ensure strict adherence to Australian legislative requirements i.e. ASIC/ACCC Debt Collection Guidelines, Privacy, National Credit Code etc. and ACM Policy and Procedure requirements.

 

System Controls – automated system controls are set up to identify and limit the volume and frequency of phone calls and notification (letters, emails. SMS) made with customers. These processes are managed and executed through our system controls to ensure adherence to regulatory guidelines.

 

Quality Training Program – All team members are provided with periodic and ongoing skill / knowledge based training program for quality assessment of customer’s financial situation through active listening including identifying sensitive hardship triggers and offering best suited solutions for a favourable customer outcome.

 

With our strong control framework, we’re confident our service model strictly adheres and abides to our commitment of providing a positive and favourable outcomes for our customers.

We welcome feedback as it will assist in our efforts to continually  improve. If you’ve got a complaint, please visit our complaints page for details about addressing complaints to ACM Group.

Exciting Changes are Underway at ACM Group

Trent Vieira, who has been at the forefront of ACM’s drive to innovate and deliver best practice service for both clients and customers, has been appointed as the new Co-CEO at the helm of the business, as Bert Vieira CEO will be stepping back, spending more time with his family and his other interests.

Trent’s vast experience and knowledge of the industry is a major asset to ACM Group, and his commitment to implementing cultural, political and procedural improvements within the organisation has seen it thrive significantly. He has also been instrumental in developing new relationships with community service organisations within Australia’s largest welfare networks and new clients.

Trent has also appointed a new senior management team to support his big ambitions for the business.

Max Alves is the new Head of Compliance & Risk, bringing with him 13 years of compliance and risk management experience in the finance and banking industry. Having recently come from American Express, Max has a broad skillset spanning operational, compliance, regulatory, audit, operations risk and people management skills. This new role will subsume the previous Compliance Manager and COO roles.

Peter Vieira is the new General Manager, with more than 35 years of experience in finance, banking and debt management – primarily with ACM Group.

These new hires and appointments are expected to assist ACM Group to continue to succeed well into the future.

 

ACM response to ACCC allegations

ACM Group Ltd has today been notified that the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) has commenced civil proceedings against it in the Federal Court of Australia alleging breaches of the Australian Consumer Law in the recovery of two small Telecommunication debts.

The allegations made by the ACCC regarding the two accounts, are not representative of our hundreds of employees nor of our over 165,000 customers.

Further, the two matters do not reflect the incremental change management processes ACM has embarked on. By mid-2015, ACM had implemented numerous processes to ensure compliance and improve customer interaction. Also in 2015, to assist in positive outcomes for our customers, ACM worked with a consumer advocate to rewrite all staff training material and customer correspondence.

ACM is mindful that these matters are now before the Federal Court, and as such, it is inappropriate to make further comment.

ACM GROUP LTD EASES BURDEN AS SOUTH AUSTRALIA STARTS TO RECOVER FROM BUSH FIRE DISASTER

No-one could have predicted the severity and destruction of the bushfires that have engulfed South Australia and the irrevocable destruction and pain handed out to communities.
It’s difficult to contemplate the total loss of everything you own and, worse, the lives of family and friends.  ACM Group Ltd (ACM) staff and management offer their prayers and help to those affected by the disaster.
To help those in need as of today (10th November 2015) ACM will:

  • Suspend any collection activity for three months in all fire affected areas by postcode in South Australia (see list below).
  •  Write off debts in the event of the death of a customer or a member of their family due to the fires.
  •  Write off debts where a customer’s home has been destroyed or has suffered major damage due to the fire
  •  After the three month period, or if required an extended time frame, ACM will work with customers and establish payment plans that will suit their circumstances. Our goal will be to assist them on their pathway to recovery.

“Families whose hopes and fortunes have been crushed by the unprecedented fires do not need to be burdened by debt recovery activities.  As these people start to get back on their feet it is a pressure they will not have to worry about”, said ACM Managing Director Mr Bert Vieira.
“Under no circumstances in the postcodes nominated will an ACM Relationship Manager contact anyone with an outstanding debt with ACM for the three-month period.  After that time we will review the situation to consider whether we need to extend the time period”,  Mr Vieira said.
The Management and Staff of ACM Group Ltd wish to express their condolences to the bereaved and express their sympathy to all the people who have suffered due to these catastrophic fires.

Achieving Cultural Change Through Improved Training – The ACM Experience

In 2012, ACM Group went through a very public court action. When companies go through a period of reputational damage, they can follow different pathways. They can try to limit their losses by pointing the finger at the two employees who carried out the inexcusable actions, or they can do what we have done: acknowledge that while not representative of our hundreds of employees, it reflects badly on everyone, and people were hurt. Most importantly, companies can cross their fingers and hope staff learn that if they don’t comply with the laws governing our industry, they won’t have a job – or they an embark on more challenging, incremental process to achieve lasting cultural change. They can choose to implement a proactive program of structural change to ensure the past actions of individuals cannot be repeated. We chose that journey, and the results speak for themselves.The first thing we did as leadership team was look at what was actionable in the short, medium and long-term, and plan accordingly. In June 2012, we established a separate, centralised department for financial counsellors, hardship customers and public trustees so that they interact with specialist staff, whose years of experience our customers, and the company, could trust. Notice that I use the word ‘Customers’ . It’s incredible to see how much a seemingly simple thing can impact behaviour. We all know form our everyday lives how we like to be treated with respect. We can all relate to how we feel if someone is rude to us, doesn’t answer our questions or doesn’t try and help us. Why should anyone whose debt has been assigned to a collection company expect anything less?Around the same time as we embarked on our change program, we were looking towards opening our Manila operations, which double in size in just over a year. This took considerable planning and resources from the management team, but we knew we could not afford to lose sight of the big picture. That’s where our medium-term gold setting came in to play – addressing compliance issues.

Starting in December 2012, we implemented stricter compliance controls and updated training materials and documentation. By January 2013 we had put in place a more rigorous training and exam program requiring an 80 percent pass rate. After an initial training program, all staff complete a 10 week in-depth training schedule and sit a refresher compliance exam every three months. Since then that regime has undergone two amendments as we strive for continual improvement.

As part of our compliance commitment, in April 2013, ACM instigated frequent and regular meetings with the Credit Industry Obudsman to ensure customer complaints are handled in a timely and efficient manner. Working with the CIO, rather than seeing compliance as something we have to do, really shifted our thinking.

In 2014 we continued especially on the new OAIC privacy legislation and came up with innovative IT solutions requiring staff to internally register every customer contact. It’s an efficient, effective system that ensures ACM Group works within the regulatory guidelines and offers our customers peace of mind.

ACM experience of achieving cultural change through improved training

We analysed new ASIC guidelines and updated our training accordingly, and by the end of July, all existing and new staff had been up-skilled in these areas. In August, we set firmer controls for IDR and EDR resolution and in October, we implemented a new compliance system and added 10 compliance staff to monitor calls and provide real time feedback to management. by mid- 2015 our deep commitment to compliance led to the implementation of a proprietary software system that counts every contact made to customers and associated third parties.

At the end of 2014, we progressed from our medium-term gold of making sure we met the essential standards of our industry, to our long-term gold of going beyond compliance to true customer concurrence, harmony and increasing customer satisfaction. That required internal change and external assistance. Firstly, we implemented a new call process. At the end of each call with a customer the Relationship Manager is to ask ‘Are you satisfied with the outcome of today’s call’ or ‘Is there anything else that I can help you with?’, ensuring ACM staff are ‘getting it right’ throughout every customer contact. Once that was in place, we sourced external training focusing on listening, respectful communication and recognising financially vulnerable customers which further enforced our culture of ethical customer service.

The critical test for cultural change is whether the people who can be your toughest audience notice it. In May, we supported and attended the National Financial Counsellors conference. The feedback we received was that ‘ACM is doing it right’, which is something everyone associated with the company, from our Relationship Manager to our blue-chip clients, can be proud of. In addition to the raw feedback (or ‘anecdata’), we can measure the cultural improvements our training investment has delivered both in reducing complaints and enhanced staff retention (which annualised rates of 75 percent).

If there is one thing to take away from the ACM experience it that good can come from taking responsibility for wrongdoing. The events of 2012 caused ACM Group to scrutinise and reform its systems. Now we have failsafe IT and compliance systems to complement ongoing team training, ensuring customers receive respectful and responsive service. We also recognise that excellent customer service relies on continual review and improvement, our enhanced online presence is the latest example of the incremental steps the management team takes to this end. Change has been gradual, but had a transformative effect on the way we do business.


Trent Vieira is Director of Operations of ACM Group based in Sydney.

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Incremental steps resulting in big change at ACM Group

Incremental steps resulting in big change at ACM Group

Welcome to ACM Group’s new corporate website.

Our enhanced online presence is the latest in a series of incremental steps the management team has put in place over the last three years to improve training, customer satisfaction and ultimately, collection rates.

Among the most pleasing feedback we have received since embarking on our change program was at the 2014 Financial Counselling Australia’s Conference in Melbourne, where Chief Operating Officer Paul Brabazon was told, ‘ACM Group is getting it right’.

This is a direct result of efforts we have made to upskill our staff and refine our processes, including setting up a centralised department for financial counsellors, hardship customers and Public Trustees so they interact with specialist staff.

Achieving best compliance practice

One of ACM Group’s core strengths has always been staff retention. People enjoy working here; we prioritise professional development and ethical engagement with our customers. Our staff are among the best trained in the country. In addition to updating training materials to reflect new regulatory and legislative guidelines (which all staff must undertake), all new staff complete a 10-week in-depth training and compliance program. New staff must pass two exams in that initial phase of training – then all staff sit a compliance exam every three months to ensure best practice.

That said, our aim is to go beyond what we are required to do. We work with one of Australia’s most respected community services agencies to continue to improve the team’s active listening, understanding of hardship and respectful communications at the beginning of their employment with ACM Group and through refresher courses every six months. This benefits our staff as well as our customers.

Supporting our people with industry-leading software and systems

Our internal culture is stronger than ever. Relationship Managers have an increased sense of ownership, and are empowered to negotiate workable solutions to our customers’ debt problems. All of this happens within a well-structured operating framework featuring in-built privacy compliance systems required at every point of contact.

The Customer Contact Counter System is industry-leading software developed by ACM that counts each customer, authorised or unauthorised third party contact, whether by SMS or phone call. This automation helps keep all staff contacts within the regulatory guidelines. ACM Group also implemented a rigorous new Call Audit System, with a team who monitor approximately five per cent of calls each day, to identify issues, provide real-time feedback to management ensure compliance with regulatory guidelines & the Privacy Act; our respectful communications training; customer satisfaction and problem solving skills.

To confirm customer concurrence, harmony and increase customer satisfaction, we implemented a new call process requirement for Relationship Managers to ask if customers are satisfied with the outcome, or if there is anything else they can help with. This ensures staff are ‘getting it right’ throughout customer contact.

Australia’s largest private debt acquisition company

Our growth has been steady. Change has been made incrementally, but had a transformative effect on the way we do business. With more than 30 years’ service and close relationships to blue-chip financial institutions and telecommunications providers, we leverage our experience in premium debt and receivables management to become Australia’s largest privately-held debt acquisition company. ACM Group offers pathways forward for our customers, our staff and our clients.