For those in the debt settlement industry I think the following interview with Alex Viecco with New Era Debt Solutions is important.
New Era has just been awarded an A+ BBB rating in an industry where most debt settlement companies have an F rating.
Alex talks about the process of getting their rating upgraded to an A+ and he even shares his thoughts that many debt settlement companies would never be able to provide the data necessary to have their rating reconsidered.
Putting customers first and watching out for the needs of the consumer ahead of the company was a key value in being able to get the BBB to evaluate New Era Debt Solutions based on merit rather than a blanket F.
Alex also states that new FTC regulations were a positive step for the debt settlement industry and helped New Era in raising their grade. The BBB took notice that New Era was now a fully compliant, no advanced fee, and not an attorney model debt settlement company and that provided some value for the BBB.
The tips offered by Alex regarding what other debt settlement companies need to do to improve their rating is helpful.
You can listen to the interview below.
Steve Rhode: I’m here today with Alex Viecco from New Era Debt Solutions. And New Era has just received recently an A plus rating from the Better Business Bureau. The controversy has been that debt settlement companies have been unable to get better than an F rating by the Better Business Bureau. But as shown by New Era’s new A plus rating, it is possible to get a better rating. And I wanted to talk to Alex to find out what was involved and to tell us more about the process. So, thank you, Alex for joining us.
Alex Viecco: Well, thank you, Steve. If you’ve been following our trials and tribulations, it’s been a long, long battle to try and get to this point. And not really to any fault of the BBB’s since there is a vast majority of the industry that was out there taking advantage of consumers. And so, obviously, when you paint the industry with a broad stroke, this is where most people end up with an F. We’ve been trying to work very diligently with our local chapter. But, obviously, the local chapter as well as all the BBB’s are influenced by what the rest of the country is experiencing, and consumers being taken advantage of. So it’s been a long, long battle. Like most companies in this industry we had a very good grade with them. and as the industry continued to grow and they made the algorithm changes to our industry, it affected us as well. And we went from an A to an F, due to the industry that we were in. It took a long time, a lot of convincing and conversations with our local chapter. And I do want to give them kudos, that in spite of everything that is going on in the industry that they took the time to really do their due diligence to find out more about what we were doing different than perhaps other companies in the industry.
Steve Rhode: So I can only imagine that they asked you for just a ton of information. But on top of that, did they actually come out and take a look at your facilities and talk to staff?
Alex Viecco: Yeah, it took awhile for them to actually come out. We had requested. We’ve always been an open door. We have an open door policy. We welcome anybody from anywhere to come in and take a look at us. But it did, finally the president of the local chapter took the time to come out himself. He obviously had seen, even though we didn’t have that many complaints that our number of complaints had continuously continued to drop. And so he took the time to come out, take a look at us. Chatted with both my partner, Dan Smith, and myself. And looked at our operation, our day to day operation. Walked the grounds and saw what we were doing on a daily operations basis. And, of course, gathered a ton, as you said, of information. They pretty much, they know everything including our blood types, I guess, at this point.
Steve Rhode: Now the BBB noted in it’s change of your grade to an A plus that it has noticed, as you mentioned, a decrease in the number of complaints. Was there anything in particular that lead to the decrease of complaints? Was it a change in attitude or business policy or what?
Alex Viecco: I don’t think it had to do much with any of that. I think what happened is as the industry continued to grow and the consumer’s knowledge of it – and I’m not going to make excuses because some of the complaints, whether they were frivolous or not. We did for a long time, obviously, market the fact that we were with the BBB. And I anticipate even now and in the future, consumers may say, okay, we’re going to use this as leverage. We’ve had a lot of consumers that have gone directly to the BBB in order to try and collect a refund for the services. Not that we’ve ever been opposed to giving clients a refund if they find that they’re not getting their services. But we’ve never had the opportunity to talk to the clients. So they use that as leverage. And if you don’t know much about how the BBB reports it, they file a complaint against you. It gets on there whether it’s valid or not until you go in there and clear it up. But it still stays on your record. As a matter of fact, two of our old complaints, I believe they’ve fallen off now. Two were complaints from clients that felt we did too good of a job. So go figure that one. We saved them so much money that our fee was a little bit higher than what the creditor got paid. And they thought that was unfair for the creditor. So they complained about that.
Steve Rhode: Well, I guess anybody can complaint about anything at anytime. That’s true. Now what about the company’s – you and I have chatted over the last year or so about some of the cowboy companies out there that have been, not necessarily been doing the best job. Do you see that those companies could pass the muster that you went through? Would they be able to improve the rating?
Alex Viecco: If everybody in our industry had to provide all the information and data that we had to provide – I would say that in any industry. Forget about just our industry. I would find it very difficult for most companies to be able to get to that point. Like I said, it’s been a long process. I’m particularly proud of our company for having been able to persevere in this thing. But it’s a lengthy list. And I would say most of the cowboy companies that are out there certainly wouldn’t even want to entertain the list, let alone try to meet all the requirements. The other thing that is worth considering is the fact that I know there are companies out there that may have decent ratings still that have figured out a way around the algorithm. Maybe by putting themselves as a different type of business. I think one of the things we’re going to see a huge growth in is a lot of, so called, attorney models. And the algorithm for an attorney is certainly very different than in most other financial services companies. So just the fact that they’re an attorney model may put them in a better criteria to begin with. Which hopefully the BBB will wake up to that little scheme relatively quick to protect the consumers.
Steve Rhode: In fact, I think I wrote about legal helpers a couple weeks ago and looked at their BBB rating. I think they had an F. So I–
Alex Viecco: I’m not sure. I haven’t checked it. I can look it up but I haven’t checked it recently.
Steve Rhode: You have to look at their Chicago rating because they have ratings all across the country.
Alex Viecco: Okay.
Steve Rhode: So if a company was just starting out today and they wanted to improve. They’re seeing that you now have an A plus. And they know logic only is that you’re going to market the hell out of that and you’re going to use it to tell people you are an A plus agency with the BBB. And that’s great. But if somebody else wanted to get an A plus rating too, how long do you think it would take them? A year? Six months? What?
Alex Viecco: That’s hard for me to be able to answer that question, Steve. It’s all going to be determined and based on their particular jurisdiction that they’re working with. And the suggestion that I would have is to build a relationship with your local BBB. One of the things that I think this industry has been affected by is the secrecy of it all. A lot of companies did not want to put their head out there, head and shoulders above other companies because they thought that they were going to have a target on their back. I think one of the most effective tools for us is to really be transparent. Kind of like what we started talking to you, our transparency has really helped us in many ways, with our relationships with consumer groups, with consumer advocate groups, consumer advocate individuals, like yourself. When you become transparent – and we’ve always been transparent but we now are more than ever absolutely transparent with everybody, the consumers and everybody else. I think it literally put some people a little more at ease where they’re willing to go out more on a limb because you’re not working hand in hand with them to protect the consumer. Ultimately, I think every industry, certainly in our industry, every company needs to put the consumer first. If we all focus on putting the consumer first, I think everything starts falling into place.
Steve Rhode: Well, if you don’t have an A plus rating and you continue to market with a less than desirable rating, do you think that’s going to affect companies? Now that you have an A plus rating–
Alex Viecco: I can tell you unequivocally the dropping grade has cost our company millions of dollars. Absolutely. And we did manage to maintain the numbers, the data, because we understand. And the sad thing that I believe about the rating is not whether a company got a better grade or this or that or whether the BBB made a mistake or not, I think ultimately – and going back to what I just said, if we all just keep the consumer in mind and make the consumer the priority. Then if the Better Business Bureau and whatever chapter they’re dealing with does their due diligence and sees that the company is doing the best for the consumers, then they’ll get whatever grade that they deserve to get. But I think one of the most important things is if that a BBB branch does not do, per say, their due diligence and they rate everybody the same, many of the clients that I know for a fact, ended up going to some of these cowboy companies. And ended up getting taken advantage of. Could have been serviced properly by our company but, of course, because we were all painted with an F, it made it very difficult for consumers to find out. I believe that with the recent changes and maybe spotlight on the BBB, there will be opportunities for consumers to start getting more accurate information in their hands so they can make better decisions for their lifestyles.
Steve Rhode: So if a debt settlement company has not been gathering or tracking data at this point, what is the most important data for them to track in order to eventually give it to the BBB?
Alex Viecco: Results. I think the one thing that will overshadow all questions is the results. When you’re able to provide people results it puts a lot of people’s minds at ease. Because there’s a lot of people that claim a lot of things. I’m just answering an email right now from a consumer that says that they’re going to go to another company because they were told that they deal with a certain creditor that we know for a fact does not settle. Those are the things that, unfortunately, consumers – consumers need to do their due diligence. And I think as the BBB starts looking at this industry more as a legitimate thing now with the FPC, the PSR ruling, it will put consumers more aware. So they can start looking for ratings as a way to start helping them make better decisions.
Steve Rhode: Did you bring the fact that you had resign from task so publicly to the BBB’s attention?
Alex Viecco: Yeah, as soon as we resigned and you and I had the interview, I sent that to my local chapter. I’ve been keeping them very much abreast of everything that we’re doing in an attempt to certainly, as I mentioned earlier, to be very transparent.
Steve Rhode: So, congratulations.
Alex Viecco: Thank you very much.
Steve Rhode: I guess there’s nothing else to say but congratulations. It’s been a long hard battle. And you worked hard for the A plus. And while there has been this recent 20/20 expose about the BBB, I don’t think that we want anyone to assume that you got a pity A. [Laughter]
Alex Viecco: No. If I were to list the number of things that I had to provide to our local chapter – and not only that, let’s not forget that we’ve been doing this for a decade. So they have a decade worth of data on our company and the numbers available. I think, again, I’m going to give out local chapter a lot of credit for taking that initiative. Because, for the most part, they didn’t even want to accept anyone in debt settlement into the accreditation or membership process. But I think through perseverance and being able to demonstrate our absolute willingness to work always with the consumer in the forefront, they were able to reconsider that. But it certainly was with a lot of information in their hands to allow them to make that decision. So, hopefully, we’ve opened up the path to opportunities for other legitimate, true, PSR compliant companies to be out there and start forging forward towards a better grade. But certainly, yes, I want to take advantage of this and make up for a lot of lost time and help a lot more people that deserve to get the kind of help that we provide.
Steve Rhode: It’s interesting. If we take a look at the companies that have an F rating now, a lot of them – I shouldn’t say a lot. There are companies in that pool that do not necessarily have the consumers first. And not matter what, even if there is a process to improve the rating; do you think those companies would ever go through the introspection that you went through in order to improve it?
Alex Viecco: No, I guarantee they wouldn’t. Absolutely not even possible. Because part of the criteria is to be able to provide the proof that consumers were benefiting from your program. Well, how are you going to get the proof when all you’re doing is taking consumer’s money and running.
Steve Rhode: So on top of having that A plus BBB rating now, where does providing exceptional customer service fall into that? Is that the number one goal at this point of New Era?
Alex Viecco: Well, I mean, I would say not only is it now but it always has been. And if you take into consideration the fact that we’ve always been performance based. Which I believe is the most logical way to operate any business. You don’t go to the dentist and prepay for your services. Certainly, I don’t believe that. To me, it’s always been puzzling how people are willing to pay 15, 18, 20 percent of the debt load in advance of getting any results delivered. I don’t know how people make the decision and that makes sense. But I guess lots and lots of companies made a lot of money off of consumer’s ignorance in that way. We just never operated that way. So for us, it’s always been based on performance. And when you’re talking about performance you got to be there to deliver true service for the consumer.
Steve Rhode: Well, again, I applaud your ability to get the A plus and to show that through performance and customer service that there are exceptional companies out there. And I hope that people seek you out.
Alex Viecco: Thank you very much, Steve. I really appreciate it. And, yeah, we want to continue to be the leaders in this industry to show people that there are absolute leaders in this industry that are willing to do what it takes to really provide the best service for the consumers.
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