Dennis Hammarquist – FMS Inc.

Collections in the age of COVID

Few industries are regulated as much as the collections industry, but that’s not just a legal problem for those in the fast-paced industry—it’s also a technology problem—and one with more levels than being efficient. Privacy and security are also growing concerns.

They’re challenges Dennis Hammarquist is tackling as co-owner and CIO for Oklahoma-based FMS, a company that’s been in the collections business for nearly three decades.

FMS, which specializes in first- and third-party collections in the finance and healthcare sectors, leverages things like a state-of-the-art collection system and modern contact platforms, for clients ranging from large credit card companies to local hospitals.

“When I first started in 1997, the challenge was keeping up with the technology,” Hammarquist tells Toggle in July. “Today, it’s all about security and compliance—and making sure we’re up to date.”

However, his job has been more than just keeping the company IT compliant and current. Due to preplanning and forecasting the pandemic’s outlook—plus some good fortune—about 95 percent of FMS’ staff was working remotely when the Oklahoma stay-at-home order was announced in March as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“As one of three owners, I have responsibilities and obligations to our employees,” Hammarquist says of his readiness when COVID-19 cases began to spike in Oklahoma. “It was all about making sure we were ready and secure.”

Taking security seriously

Hammarquist jokes that the FMS facilities are like Fort Knox—the famous government installation south of Louisville, Kentucky, known for its gold depository—except it’s social security numbers and other essentials that are on lockdown. There are cameras throughout FMS’ offices, especially at call centers, and employees use equipment that can be controlled remotely and locked down at the first sign of trouble.

“You certainly can’t just stick in a USB drive and download a bunch of information,” Hammarquist says. “Everything is audited, and every keystroke you make can be identified and reviewed.”

The need for such heightened security is two-fold: Consumers want their data protected and FMS’ vendors entrust the company to be operating in a way that complies with not only federal regulations, but industry standards, for privacy.

Likewise, the company’s larger clients are very specific about the way information is handled—like a credit card company that specifies its collection calls are only made from an on-site call center.

“The information we handle is very sensitive,” Hammarquist says. “If you had a credit card, would you want to get a collection call from somebody sitting on their couch? Would you be comfortable?”

And so comfort—despite the industry’s sometimes blemished reputation—is a major concern for Hammarquist and his team, he says. One of the big questions: How can FMS give these companies the warm and fuzzy feeling knowing that employees are doing what they’re supposed to be doing?

Collections during a pandemic

To stay ahead of the COVID-19 game, Hammarquist was watching other states and big cities to see how the virus was spreading.

The transition was made easier because the company was in the midst of a technology and equipment refresh, so there were plenty of devices ready for employees to take home—devices owned by FMS that connect remotely to their equipment in the office.

“It’s a pass-through machine,” Hammarquist explains. “Employees aren’t allowed to work from personal devices.”

Once everyone was ready to work remotely, Hammarquist says the biggest challenge, especially from a leadership perspective, was getting department managers to oversee their employees in a different way.

For FMS, though, the work is KPI-driven, so it’s easy for a manager to see how an employee is performing, he says. Call volume, average call times and the amount of time between calls is readily available, so Hammarquist says it’s not hard to see if someone working from home might be mowing the lawn or getting up a lot to change the laundry.

From an IT perspective, to make it all work, Hammarquist has occasionally needed to increase bandwidth to address challenges that come from working remotely. He’s also had to implement additional means to communicate with the team and find new ways to manage the workload, though he says IT is mostly a smooth-running machine.

Collections in the future

As of August, Hammarquist was working with other owners and department managers to bring employees back into FMS offices. And he’s preparing for new rules from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau that will determine how FMS manages collection efforts going forward.

Overall, despite the coronavirus, he says work has been consistent and FMS has continued with its IT initiatives, including its recently completed infrastructure refresh. The hardware was installed prior to the state’s stay-at-home order, but the initiative to migrate to the company’s new technology environment was completed during the pandemic.

Next is a refresh of the company’s printers, a minor detail to some, but something Hammarquist says will increase production and efficiency across the offices.

“We’ve continued to improve, despite the challenges of the time,” Hammarquist says proudly.

Published on: October 12, 2020



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