This article was published in the February issue of Collections & Credit Risk.
Kristin Dougherty, without a doubt, did not grow up telling folks she wanted to be a debt buyer. But when she "accidentally" landed in the business, she did not waste time making her mark.
After first working in the insurance business, Dougherty took a temporary job at debt buyer Unifund in Cincinnati in 1991. Previously, she earned a bachelor's degree in marketing from the University of Kentucky.
At Unifund, she handled data entry duties, a job that turned into a full-time position. Four years later, she was vice president of the company.
"I found the industry extremely exciting," Dougherty tells Collections & Credit Risk. Debt buying was in its infancy and the Resolution Trust Corp. was selling off assets of failed savings and loans – a watershed moment that essentially launched the debt-buying industry as it is known today.
Dougherty left Unifund in 2000, but not before she had helped develop the company's proprietary software, national attorney network and other programs that directly contributed to the expansion of portfolio liquidations.
She joined Collect America in 2000. Today, as senior vice president of sales at the Denver-based company, she oversees all stages of debt sales and servicing. In eight years, Dougherty has been involved with sales transactions involving nearly $10 billion in purchased inventory.
While her entry into the debt-buying business may have been happenstance, her peers consider her a leader in the business. This month Dougherty is wrapping up a one-year term as president of DBA International, an association that promotes standards for self-regulation and ethics – along with representing the industry in Washington.
"I have been doing this for a long time," she says of her time in the debt-buying business. Dougherty joined DBA International in 2001 and became a board member in February 2002, working to improve the industry's image among the government and general public.
"Kristin has been a long-term leader with DBA," says Roger Knauf, executive director and past president of the McLean, Va.-based association, who describes Dougherty as intelligent and a hard worker with innovative ideas.
As DBA International's president, Dougherty's duties included promoting membership and working with the board to build ongoing direction and activities. But it is her work with the federal government that Dougherty has found most rewarding.
"I think we made some great progress in Washington shoring up the process of getting our members days on Capitol Hill, where we would organize visits with members of Congress, as well as hold fundraisers for mostly members of the House Financial Services Committee," she says.
Lobbying is a central focus of DBA International. The goal is to play a role in how laws that impact the industry are written versus merely following the laws after they are passed, Dougherty says. The association closely monitors potential legislation at both the national and local levels.
DBA International employs a lobbying group but members and leaders attend meetings with members of Congress. These industry experts explain the debt-buying business to their congressional representatives – including detailing how many people the industry employs and how the business impacts local economies. Last year, Dougherty says, the collection industry put an estimated $40 billion back into the economy.
"We're putting a face on the business because it has been misconstrued over the years," she says.
In addition to participating in DBA International's lobbying efforts on Capitol Hill, Dougherty has been involved with revisions to the association's code of ethics and by-laws.
Dougherty also has worked to upgrade the association's Web site to be more user-friendly and include more information, instituted Web seminars and worked on projects with other industry groups – such as the National Association of Retail Collection Attorneys and the Commercial Law League of America.
DBA International has a great interest in the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act, which requires debt buyers included in the legislation's definition of "financial institution" to issue annual privacy notices to debtors, says Dougherty.
This requirement imposes an unnecessary hardship on the industry because debt buyers, she says, already are prevented from disclosing information, and the additional mailings cost the industry $25 million annually.
A bill that would eliminate a debt buyer's obligation to send the notices under the Act passed successfully in the House by a voice vote last June.
"It was great that we got our Gramm-Leach-Bliley relief bill passed but because of timing issues we weren't able to get it through the Senate," Dougherty says, adding, "We are going to reintroduce it in 2009. As far as we know there is no opposition so we feel like it should pass."
DBA International is focused on the legislative process, adds Knauf, because the Federal Trade Commission and Congress are looking into comprehensive changes to the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act.
DBA International leaders also have met with members of Congress and U.S. Treasury staff concerning Form 1099c issues, says Dougherty. Creditors issue Form 1099c when debt is discharged. But what was originally a tax issue inadvertently impacts debt buyers and conflicts with some state rules, DBA International members argue.
Dougherty's diligence and dedication to DBA International certainly has not gone unnoticed.
"She knows virtually everyone in the business and understands the fact that DBA is a service organization seeking to promote our industry and benefit our membership," says Gary Wood, president of Collins Financial Services Inc.
Dougherty served as vice president during Wood's term as president and Wood served as past-president during Dougherty's presidential term.
Until recently, the terms for DBA International officers lasted two years not one, says Dougherty.
Two-year terms limited the number of members who could serve as officers, so the terms were shortened to one year to attract people who could not make the long-term commitment, she says. Dougherty wraps up her term as president this month.
Michael Cushing, executive vice president of business development for debt buyer Fourscore Resource Capital LLC, succeeds her in the role.
Though Dougherty tells Collections & Credit Risk that Cushing does not need any advice, she believes it is important for the association's leadership to maintain DBA International's current direction. "Keep the course in what is a very unknown economy and political climate," she says. "The board, Roger Knauf and the support we have from our management company is just incredible, so I think [Cushing] will have the same great resources and support that I have had." CCR