Collector - October 2020 - 12

BESTPRACTICES

Perfecting the Pivot
How some ACA member companies are finding new ways to supplement
their income through contact tracing and outsourced call center work.
By Anne Rosso May

W

hen the COVID-19 pandemic
exploded earlier this year, it
disrupted every business in the
world. In the accounts receivable management
(ARM) industry, some companies found
themselves busier than ever as consumers
flush with stimulus money reached out
to settle their accounts, while others-
particularly companies working with the U.S.
Department of Education on federal student
loans and firms that rely on garnishments-
were in a serious bind due to federal and state
emergency restrictions.
In March, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and
Economic Security (CARES) Act suspended
collection activity on federal student loans
through Sept. 30, 2020, and as a result
approximately 200 employees at F.H. Cann &
Associates in North Andover, Massachusetts,
were at risk of being furloughed.
"That's when we took a very close look at
how we could pivot in order to save as many
jobs as possible," Frank Cann, executive vice
president and chief operations officer, said.
ARM employees are uniquely qualified
to tackle many in-demand jobs today. Here,
two ACA International members describe
their experiences expanding their business
models and offer some tips for companies
considering the same path.

EVALUATE YOUR OPTIONS
If you're looking to get additional business,
first assess your strengths, location
and technology. How can one, or all, of
these put you in a position to help other
businesses or organizations?
When the CARES Act passed, the F.H.
Cann executive team immediately met
to brainstorm how they could pivot, first
considering how they could help their
current client base, potentially with firstparty work.

12

Although that didn't pan out, F.H.
Cann knew its employees had skills that were
transferrable to a variety of call center work.
In late March, the company reached out to
government officials in two states where it
had offices to see if it could help with any
current needs. Ultimately, one of the states
granted the company a contract for call
center work to support the Department of
Unemployment. F.H. Cann's experience with
Federal Information Security Management
Act compliance, as well as its history of
doing business with the federal government,
helped sell it as a good fit.
"That contract ultimately served two
purposes: it saved 200 jobs and it helped
people in our community who were
unemployed to gain and secure the benefits
they needed," Cann said.
Similarly, when the CARES Act put a
large swath of their student loan business
on hold, Central Research Inc. (CRI),
headquartered in Lowell, Arkansas, also set
out to find new business opportunities. Don
Taylor, chief strategy officer, said that the
company briefly performed call center work
for the U.S. Small Business Administration
before diving into the practice of contact
tracing-identifying people who have been
in touch with someone who tested positive
for COVID-19.
In a bit of synchronicity, in March
2020, unrelated to the pandemic, CRI
acquired Global Emergency Response
(GER), which offers software-including
mobile apps-to monitor and screen
employees for infectious diseases with
their Disease Surveillance System. CRI's
experienced call center representatives,
who are skilled in addressing personal
matters and maintaining consumer privacy,
combined with GER's technology, made it
highly qualified for contact tracing work.

EMBRACE MARKET CONDITIONS
In a recent article for Harvard Business
Review, writer Mauro F. Guillen noted that
there are three conditions required for a
successful pivot. The move must: align with
a long-term trend created by the pandemic,
fit with your company's existing capabilities
and offer a "sustainable path to profitability."
Let's be honest: the work you pivot to
right now likely won't replace your
long-term business model, but it can
highlight your employees' professionalism
and expertise, provide you with critical
options in a time of need and give you the
ability to weather another crisis down the
road (hello, recession!).
F.H. Cann's contract with the
unemployment office lasts through
the end of 2020, which, at press time,
should carry the company through the
prohibition on collection activities for
federal student loans (recently extended
through Dec. 31, 2020).
For CRI, while the immediate need for
contact tracing services may be limited to
the length of the pandemic, it does set the
company up as an expert should we be faced
with another infectious disease outbreak.

PREPARE FOR CHALLENGES
Making a pivot like this isn't easy,
especially during a global crisis. The
first step is simply getting the message
out that ARM companies have a lot to
offer communities and businesses outside
of collections.
"The general population and many
municipalities and state governments don't
know that we have a lot of people who are
idle that we can repurpose for other reasons,"
Taylor said.
Another hurdle: Taylor said that he
noticed some request for proposals

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Collector - October 2020

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