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.

Trent Vieira at the Helm of Leading Change at ACM Group Ltd.

Trent Vieira, ACM Group Ltd.’s (ACM) recently appointed co-CEO is the main architect behind the company’s renewed success and responsible for revising the company’s framework through an internal restructure of the company’s leadership team responsible for driving ongoing quality training, service, compliance and process enhancements for optimal output and efficiencies thereby taking ACM to the forefront of the debt purchasing sector as its new co-CEO.

“I’m glad to be a part of ACM Group Ltd.’s management team, and look forward to continue driving positive change and high quality output along with my new highly engaged and energetic senior management team.”

 

Trent spoke about the company’s recent achievements vetted through an independent examination of the company’s Training, Governance, Credit Risk and Compliance framework led 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) in September 2016 that delivered a favourable outcome and result. In particular, it found:

  • ACM training models focus on respective communication, active listening, identifying hardship triggers and treating customers fairly resulted in “obvious, positive changes at the frontline”, that was particularly evident in how we handle vulnerable and financially concerned customers.
  • ACM Quality Management System (ISO9001:2015) certification provides the framework for our management controls and documentation.
  • ACM Compliance Framework of systems, processes and controls are in place to ensure compliance with regulatory requirements.

 

Our objective with making these organisational changes is to highlight our commitment to delivering enhanced quality service to our clients and customers in adherence with regulatory and company policy guidelines.

 

ACM in partnership with a well-respected and renowned Australian community service consultancy organisation introduced an exclusive tailored training program in 2014 for all ACM Relationship Managers handling customers with a high level focus on identifying customers’ needs through respective communication, active listening, and offering best suitable solutions for hardship and financially concerned customers for an amicable resolution. In alignment with our enhanced risk appetite, we’ve further re-engineered our Compliance function and rebranded this independent business function ‘Compliance and Ethics’ with sole responsibility in looking after ACM’s risk, control and compliance governance framework. Responsibilities include Internal Dispute Resolution (IDR), External Dispute Resolution (EDR), Internal Audit, External Audit, Call Audits, Sensitive Word Audits and ACM Policy, Procedure framework. Our IT department have developed enhanced system controls within our operation systems platform to track, record and monitor call contacts, privacy and communication in alignment with regulatory requirements.

 

ACM Group Ltd. Supports a Great Cause this June

ACM Group Ltd.’s Co-CEO Trent Vieira, has voluntarily joined this year’s Vinnies CEO Sleepout, a noble cause supporting homelessness and poverty in Australia. Trent, who was recently appointed ACM Group’s new Co-CEO will join many leaders in the business, community and government this June who will sleep without shelter on one of the longest and coldest nights of the year to help raise awareness and funds to support the lives of Australians experiencing homelessness. The funds raised will also provide education, counselling, employment and health services to help people overcome poverty in the long term.

At ACM Group, we share in the belief that everyone deserves a safe place to call home. In the debt acquisition industry, one of our main challenges is to assist our customers who’re experiencing all forms of hardship i.e. mental illness, loss of job, addictions, domestic violence and even homelessness and help them get out of debt through the support and assistance we can provide. This is one of the main reasons why Trent’s decided to take part in this great cause, by helping to raise money and awareness to provide people experiencing homelessness with vital access to food and accommodation, it’s a wonderful opportunity and a good fit to ACM Group’s core values.

On Thursday 21 June, Trent will be participating in this one-night event among hundreds of other CEOs, business owners as well as community and government leaders. Each participant commits to raising thousands of dollars to help Vinnies provide essential services to the people who need them. This event will also assist Trent raise awareness through staff and clients of ACM Group Ltd., as well as his friends and family.

For those who would like to share and help by donating anything they can spare to this great cause, donations can be made by clicking here, as any amount can make a difference to someone’s life. Last year, the Vinnies CEO Sleepout raised 5.6 million dollars for people experiencing homelessness. This helped provide individual support programs, beds and meals to those in need. ACM Group wishes to help make this year even bigger, one night isn’t a lot, but it can make a whole lot of difference and help break the devastating cycle of homelessness.

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 Group’s Aim

ACM aims to be leaders in assisting Australians take control of their financial situations. We work with our customers to find practical solutions to provide a pathway out of debt.

 

ACM STORY

 

  • We acknowledge we needed to improve and we have and will continue to do so. As with any business, there will always be challenges, we have a great team at ACM and we will continue to move forward. Just to be clear – there is no place within ACM Group for any inappropriate behaviour and/or breaches of any regulatory guidelines, full stop.

 

  • We now have the processes in place to work towards preventing these unfortunate incidents. We are confident that we now have solutions to ensure that best practice is being observed – right across the entire business.

 

  • We have taken enormous steps to transform the business. It was not a simple process but it was a process that was necessary.

 

  • One of our initiatives was to partner with a well-respected “Welfare Agency/Consumer Advocates” to completely overhaul our business from top to bottom. They’ve helped us a lot. They’re the experts. They helped advise a framework and ethical solution as to how to best work with people in debt.

 

  • We have also added 10 compliance staff members and implemented a Compliance Review System in which they monitor a random sample of customer calls and provide real-time feedback to management and ensure we have complied with all regulatory guidelines. We have updated our IT systems to comply with the latest OAIC Privacy legislation in regards to credit reporting.

 

  • What we have done is humanised the process of debt recovery with a focus on our relationships with each and every customer. ACM now receives regular “thank you” testimonials from people who we have helped escape the debt cycle.
  • We have created systems and processes that go beyond what is recommended by regulators.

 

  • We know people have fallen on tough times and it’s something we’re acutely aware of … and that’s why the focus is getting people back on track on a workable plan for a pathway out of debt – with a helping hand along the way.

ACM Group’s Achievements – Lessons Learned

With over 35 years in the debt acquisition industry, ACM Group has undergone major changes to the way business is done over the past few years. The company has transformed through the owners’ vision and belief in the need for a major changes to improve every aspect of the business.

 

The Change

 

ACM Group had major cultural changes completed, with key processes including engaging a well-respected welfare agency – consumer advocates, to do an internal overhaul to meet best practice compliance and customer services standards. We have also added a team of compliance staff members and a comprehensive compliance review system, so that we can monitor and study a sample of calls and improve our service through a strict quality control system. Our senior staff also meets regularly with the Credit and Investment Ombudsman to ensure any complaints are handled appropriately.

 

We have also decided to go the extra mile and developed a unique system that captures any sensitive words and allows the call to be escalated quickly to management who will take care of any call where a sensitive word is mentioned. This is an initiative by ACM Group to identify vulnerable customers or those more likely to be suffering from financial hardship.

 

The Strategy

 

We empowered our staff with increased and improved training. This allows them to make the right decisions to help the customers, and find new ways to offer better resolutions smoothly, improving the quality of the service which prevents disputes from happening in the first place.

 

In order to improve compliance with Industry Standards we now have a Contact Counting System. This system allows us to track all sorts of communication with the client, including phone calls, emails, SMS, and letters to each customer or third party. The system will lock down any accounts that reach the allowed limit, leaving no room for harassment.

 

We also now request the least amount of paperwork possible on client cases, to avoid sensitivities about passing on information.

 

The Results

 

ACM Group has seen a noticeable drop in the number of disputes and complaints, an annual decline of 16% when comparing FY16 to FY15 with a general downward trend starting since 2014, with a remarkable success through a decrease of 44% over prior year (FY16/FY15).

 

Internally, we have completed staff surveys to see what they think about the change. More than 80% of our employees say their ability to respond to customers appropriately and confidentially is either ‘much better’ or ‘impressively better’ when compared to the year prior. 90% of our staff say that customer relationships and the consistency in their approach to dealing with customers has been either ‘much better’ or ‘impressively better’.

 

 

 

We looked carefully and examined our strengths and learned from the past, especially in areas in which we could have done better. It’s been a big learning curve for us including training, hard work, and huge achievements that helped us transform the business to where we wanted it to be. We have changed for the better from the top down and we believe it became noticeable to the public in everything that we do.

 

 

The absolute proof of the improvements through our intensive cultural changes are clearly visible in the unsolicited “Thank you Letters” on our public website.

 

ACM Group at the Forefront of the Debt Purchase Sector

Operating since 1982, ACM Group Ltd (ACM) is a prominent Australian owned debt purchaser, with -its main focus on the finance, telecommunications and utilities sectors. The ACM head office is located in Sydney, with the company maintaining an offshore presence through operations based in Manilla. ACM employs around 260 full time employees.

 

Starting May 2012, the company undertook a formal review of its debt collection procedures in order to improve its processes and the broader compliance approach through a remediation strategy. We implemented a proactive plan that ensures all key activities comply with the laws governing the debt collection industry.

 

As part of our compliance commitment, in April 2013, ACM instigated frequent and regular meetings with the Credit Industry Ombudsman 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 to work with new OAIC privacy legislation and came up with innovative IT solutions requiring staff to internally register every customer contact. It’s an efficient and effective system that ensures ACM Group works within the regulatory guidelines and offers our customers peace of mind.

 

We analysed new ACCC/ASIC guidelines and updated our training accordingly, and by the end of July 2014, all existing and new staff had been up-skilled in these areas.

 

ACM have adopted a formal approach to managing compliance, which is represented through the identification of four components:

 

Identify:

The identification of compliance obligations and the laws and regulations that apply to debt collection, and how ACM keeps itself informed of changes or updates to those obligations.

 

Communication:

This relates to how obligations are communicated and applied across the company. This includes the systems and processes to support knowledge of the obligations, such as policies, procedures, work instructions and training.

 

Audit:
A formal quality assessment (QA) process to ensure ongoing adherence is checked. In addition, system controls exist to ensure compliance against mandatory requirements.

 

Follow up:

The reinforcement of knowledge and learning gained through each stage of the framework. This is managed through a formal training process for new employees, and ongoing, through specific or targeted training based on identified need. These needs are then fed back into the other components to provide opportunities for improvement.

 

Provided each of the four components are managed appropriately, the framework provides a solid basis for development of an effective end to end compliance program.

 

 

A significant amount of ACM company material is continuously reviewed, including policy and procedure documentation, training content, collection strategy, collection processes, system controls, management controls, quality assessment, and audit controls in order to ensure that we are always improving our processes to maintain our position. This ensures we will be the  leading debt collection organization in Australia as well as the largest privately owned Debt Acquisition company in Australia.

 

A review of ACM Group was undertaken by Tim Lord who was previously  President of Dun and Bradstreet for 7 years andis now with Anteris Consulting. Mr Lord   via Anteris Consulting was commissioned by ACCC to conduct a comprehensive review of the Australian Debt Collection Industry. Anteris consulting was given a free rein to conduct the  areview of the entire ACM Group collection activities and procedures.

Anteris Consulting found that the Compliance Action Project had been effective, with ACM maintaining all of the standard compliance controls that would be expected of a company operating in the Debt Purchase market. It also found that ACM had particular strengths in relation to specific system controls that were recently introduced, as part of ACM’s significant effort in developing an active call audit process. Additionally, there was no evidence of any serious or obvious deficiencies, or any process requiring urgent remediation. The actual findings of his review can be found in the PDH file attached.

 

 

The adoption of the Kildonan training framework, providing the basis for ongoing engagement with customers, had particular relevance for customers who may be suffering from hardship of some form of vulnerability. The key principles of respect, active listening, and not judging in day-to-day activity has led to a significant decrease in complaints submitted to ACM Group.

 

ACM Group also uses a Quality Management System (ISO9001:2015) to provide the framework for documentation and management controls.

 

“We are actually feeling very positive and proud of what has been accomplished since 2012 to date”, said Trent Vieira, Director of Operations of ACM Group in Sydney. “There is an obvious commitment to ensuring ACM Group is conducting itself in a professional and compliant manner”, he added. There is no doubt that significant effort went into the development and implementation of these initiatives.

 

Like any other entity, we are aware there maybe other aspects of the compliance environment that could potentially benefit from further development and we are constantly working to ensure all of the fundamental systems and processes are in place to ensure compliance with regulatory requirements.

ACM Group: What You Should Know

Established in 1982, ACM Group has over 35 years of Debt Purchasing experience. With a predominant focus on the finance, telecommunications, and utilities sectors, ACM group is the largest privately-owned debt acquisition company in Australia.

When you are in debt due to an overdue  bill, credit card payment, or loan, you might be contacted by ACM Group. We take a professional and positive approach when interacting with our customers and clients. With approximately 300 employees, we would like you to know what you would  expect when dealing with one of our representatives. This can be viewed on the links on this page.

 

How and When Can ACM Group Contact You?

We can contact you via different channels, including phone, mail and email., Visiting you in person ais a last option., this is only in cases where we are unable to make payment arrangements through the other channels.

We respect our customers’ privacy and will not provide any information regarding your financial situation to any other person without your permission.

We follow industry regulations and will not contact you on national public holidays. We will call you between 7.30am-9.00pm on weekdays, or 9.00am-9.00pm on weekends for no more than 3 times per week or 10 times per month.

 

What Will Happen When You’re Contacted by ACM Group

We will provide information about your account and any outstanding payment, explain the consequences that you might face if you choose not to pay, offer payment settlement arrangements or notify you of previous communication attempts regarding an payment plans. In certain circumstances, ACM Group advises that in case you receive a notice that you may have legal action commenced, you need to take action or seek legal advice immediately.

 

What ACM Group Won’t Do: Our Promise

We will not be threatening, trespass, or intimidate you in any way. We will not make false or misleading statements or engage in deceptive conduct in regards to your financial situation.

Our policies strictly dictate that we do not harass or verbally abuse customers. Also be assured that we do not take advantage of our customers.

 

What Should You Do When Contacted by ACM Group?

We request your cooperation to reach a mutual agreement for the best possible benefit of all parties. We are very professional and we understand your rights as well as ours.

You are asked to be honest about your financial situation, as this will impact the consequences regarding your debt. Our communication guidelines are constantly reviewed and monitored, so we ask you to respond to us when needed to arrange your payment plan and let us know whenever your contact details change.

 

Negotiations of Repayment & Hardship Variation

We may agree to provide extensions for your repayments in some circumstances. You should let us know as soon as possible if you are unable to make agreed payments on time.

You may want to change your repayment plan on the basis of hardship,. If you wish to do so, please contact us immediately.

While every effort will be made to reach a repayment agreement, in some cases we might reject repayment pans. to help prevent this situation please explain to us your circumstances in as much detail as possible.Also, let us know how much you can afford to pay.

 

Disputing a debt

In very rare cases, our records might show that you have a debt which you have already fully repaid tomthe previous owner of the debt. In such cases, we request that you forward any records or information that prove the debt has been settled in order to allow us to update your details.

 

From a compliance standpoint, there is a principal requirement to ensure debt collection practices are compliant with stated requirements under the Australian Consumer Law (ACL) and the ACCC/ASIC Guidelines. We welcome the opportunity to open lines of communication and work with customers to resolve any issues or concerns that they may have. Please feel free to contact us on 1800 081 704 or by email to compliance@acmgroup.com.au

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.