<p>LIVONIA, Mich. – The Southeastern Michigan Collection Managers Consortium is now the Credit Union Collection Consortium, complete with an appointed board. But the group still has no formal membership roster, and meetings are open to anyone who has an interest in collections. That’s simply the way participants like it. Jim St. Aubin, assistant vice president of adjustments/consumer lending at Co-op Services Credit Union, is president. He says the name change reflects interest in attracting a wide range of people. “The previous name suggested it was only a group of collection managers. The group is open to anyone who has an interest in the topics we discuss. We have loss prevention people, people interested in security issues – we bring in a lot more than collection managers,” St. Aubin says. Plus, he adds, the new name is shorter. It also acknowledges people travel to meetings from Lansing in central Michigan and from communities more than 100 miles north of metro Detroit. The informal, open-to-all approach is rooted in the group’s history. The consortium got started eight years ago on a golf course when Al Bileti of Washtenaw Credit Corporation, a University of Michigan Credit Union CUSO, asked other players if they would be interested in forming a collection group. “The group has been very successful since then,” St. Aubin says, “but we’ve never had any formal organization except for Al. He’s been our unofficial leader. Al is going to retire in December this year, and he figured we needed to get something a little more solidified. He doesn’t want it to fall apart when he leaves. “We have a lot of people who have unofficially been helping run the show. Those people kind of stepped forward, or Al asked if they wanted to step forward. They all said yes.” The board includes Bileti, who will serve as director; St. Aubin, president; Julie Hoff of Macomb Schools & Government Credit Union, secretary; Doug Rohlman, Telecom Credit Union, treasurer; Peggy Dombrowski, USA Federal Credit Union, who will be in charge of marketing; and Jackie Oleniczak, SOC Credit Union, who will oversee membership. How many members does the consortium have? That’s hard to say, since there is no official roster yet. Participants come from large and small credit unions, those with state charters and those with federal charters. St. Aubin points out attendance varies from meeting to meeting. When the consortium ran a school for collectors in May, 2001, enrollment had to be cut off at 72. Meetings draw anywhere from 15 to 50 people. “It’s okay if you only show up once or twice a year,” he says. “There are probably 100 people who show up here and there,” St. Aubin says. Credit unions take turns hosting meetings, and St. Aubin believes that’s a good idea. Participants enjoy the opportunity to see what other credit unions look like and the conditions under which their collection peers work. It’s also a welcome opportunity to get away from phone calls and bulging files. Of course, it can be a little tricky when you’re the host – as St. Aubin will be at the next meeting – and you can only seat 30 people. If 50 people show up, they’ll be standing against the wall. The whole idea behind the forum is to provide an educational and networking forum for people interested in collections. It’s important to keep on top of new technology, new ideas, new laws and procedures, St. Aubin says. “The kind of people who are in collection are interested in what they’re doing, have a lot of ideas and are constantly thinking. The best meetings are the ones that are totally disorganized with a free exchange of ideas,” he notes. “For example, every one or two years we have a meeting on collection policies. Everyone brings their own policy. We can just pick one part of a policy, take a poll to see what everyone else does and compare notes. Small credit unions really need this kind of outside input.” In fact, some people arrive early at meetings just to network and swap news and ideas. Consortium participants call each other between meetings to seek advice on handling specific situations. Lawyers are speakers at many meetings, and St. Aubin dubs them a “fountain of information.” The group also hears from examiners and motivational speakers. The collection job never gets easier, St. Aubin says. There are new privacy laws. Cellphone numbers aren’t listed. Bankruptcy filings continue rising. Delinquency is up. Collectors are busy – in fact, at Co-op Services CU they’ve been working overtime the past five or six months. So it can be tough to convince people they can’t afford not to go to consortium meetings. “I think everybody in the business is feeling overwhelmed right now,” he states. -</p> <p>[email protected]</p>

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