Thriving in Third Party Collections: An Interview with Harry Strausser III

Interview with Harry Strausser

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Today we present a very special edition of our Thriving in Third Party blog series. In the past, we’ve interviewed career-long debt collection professionals such as Matt Logan and Richard Hoffman. We’ve even spoken to an accomplished second-generation collector, Kelly Parsons-O’Brien. But today’s interviewee is perhaps one of the most widely-known individuals we’ve had the pleasure to speak with.

Harry Strausser III is a veteran of collections both as a second-generation member of the industry and as a business owner. In his current position as Director of Education and Membership Development at ACA International, he now devotes his time to facilitating educational experiences and support to collectors nationwide.

  1. Can you tell us about your background in the debt collection industry?

When I was 12, my parents opened a collection firm in northeast Pennsylvania. I grew up in the business and started by licking envelopes, and emptying trash cans along with filing ledger cards. I went on to manage my family’s business and started another firm, Remit Corporation, in 1992. I served as president of that firm until I sold the business in May 2017. I have been an active speaker and industry consultant for 30 years. I became a Certified Instructor with ACA International in 1989. I joined ACA as Director of Education and Membership Development in June 2018.

  1. What is the biggest change in this industry since you started?

I would definitely say compliance. Operators today have to navigate through fields of regulatory landmines every day. Predatory law firms target our industry resulting in thousands of suits annually. Prior to the creation of the FDCPA in 1978 we really didn’t have industry regulations. The other significant change is related to technology. In the early days we used paper ledger cards for collections and manually typed letters. Technology has changed the industry dramatically.

  1. What has the ACA done to help agencies adapt?

ACA International, once named The American Collectors Association, has been instrumental in perpetuating the success of credit and collection professionals for 80 years. The association first formed in 1939 and 2019 marks our 80th anniversary. ACA offers cutting edge education and corresponding designations that uphold the professionalism and efficiency of industry staff members. The association maintains libraries of searchable documents that aid members in gaining the knowledge they need to be compliant and profitable. Our staff in Washington, D.C. heads our advocacy efforts in the Capitol and continually has the best interests of the industry in mind.

  1. What do you think has contributed to your longevity and success in this industry?

My longevity is certainly related to my status as a second-generation debt collector. Many collection firms were started by families that have proudly introduced their children into their operations. My Dad was well known in the industry and I in turn followed in his footsteps. Additionally, I have always loved education and maintained the position as a professor at Bloomsburg University of PA for 16 years. My role as an ACA educator has been rewarding and my column in the Collection Advisor Magazine for almost 15 years has helped keep me contemporary and in tune with the industry.

  1. Where do you see the future of debt collection industry heading?

There will always be a need for the valuable services of the debt collection industry. I believe we will more aptly be accounts receivable management firms as we offer a variety of products and services that assist creditors on all levels of the collection process. There has been a huge reduction in the number of agencies in the U.S. over the past 10 years. The large firms will continue to get larger and the small firms will continue to encounter sustainability challenges as they are faced with expensive compliance modifications and data security mandates along with client reductions due to mergers and acquisitions in the creditor space.

  1. What is your proudest moment in business?

My proudest moment undoubtedly has to be when I became President of ACA International in 2004. The inauguration ceremonies and banquet were a wonderful testament to the pride that we have in our industry and in our respective companies. My Dad addressed the membership at our gala dinner, and it was wonderful to see his excitement and pride at that moment.

Interview with Harry Strausser
  1. In life?

I would have to say that my proudest moment in life is when I was married. After many years of partnership and friendship it was a wonderful moment to take our bond to the next level through marriage vows attended by 200 supportive friends and family. Our three golden retrievers were the “flower girls”!

  1. If you weren’t working at the ACA, what would you be doing?

I have been a very active speaker, trainer and consultant in the industry concurrent with the running of my collection firm. I would most certainly be continuing that work as a private industry resource for collection organizations.

  1. What resources are most valuable to you with staying up to date on the industry changes?

Being part of the inner workings of ACA gives me the opportunity to be actively engaged with the assimilation and distribution of information that is critical to everyone in our space. As ACA is THE association of credit and collection professionals worldwide, I obtain the information I need through our rich collection of resources at ACA.

  1.  What was the last great book you read? Why was it great?

I have read many books over the years, but one that has resonated with me for a long time is The Celestine Prophecy. The message that has guided me for a long time is the notion that there is never such a thing as a “coincidence” …. everything happens for a reason. As I navigate my life, I continually keep that concept in check and always ask why when events unfold.

  1. What jobs did you have in high school or college and what lessons did you learn from them that you still put into practice today?

Coming from a family that owned a collection firm, my entire work life has been in collections. Growing up in a business-oriented family taught me about the importance of work ethic. Operators in our industry work very hard. Long days, much stress, many frustrations and a hope that in the end you have something positive to show for your efforts. No business success comes from a lax attitude. You will obtain from your business what you commensurately put into it.

  1. What resources are most valuable to you with staying up to date on the industry changes?

RMA and ACA are both useful. Florida Collector’s Association is also good because it’s very much an educational environment. It’s an opportunity to share information. Mike Gibbs at Accounts Recovery has done a great job the last few years too.

I also have a compliance manager who keeps me up-to-date and stays on top of all this stuff. He gets it, sources it, puts it in matter of importance and briefs me on what’s going on.

  1. What are you most looking forward to for 2019?

More communication with collection agencies and consumers. With new software and programs, offering more options to pay without talking to a person will be a big advancement for the company.

Upcoming Events with the ACA

Each year, Harry and his colleagues at the ACA work hard to bring credit and collection professionals high-quality opportunities for networking and education. There are many events coming up in 2019 to mark on your calendars. Here are just a few events and courses you’ll want to look out for:

Destination:

Online:

Also, be sure to watch out for the affiliated unit meetings associated with each region of the U.S. Connect with your local chapter and meet and network with industry professionals in your area.

About Harry Strausser III

Harry is currently Director of Education and Membership Development at ACA International. He is a second-generation collection professional and held the position of President of two successful collection firms until the sale of those firms in May 2017. Throughout his career Harry was active in the Mid-Atlantic Collectors Association where he served as President, and ACA International, the association of credit and collection professionals, in which he is a Senior Certified Trainer. He has served on the ACA International Executive Committee and held the position of President in 2004-2005. He is a member of the International Fellowship of Certified Collection Executives and holds the Master Credit Executive distinction. In 2010, he was one of the first business professionals in the industry to receive the Credit and Collection Compliance Officer designation.   

Harry holds an MA in communication from Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania and a BS in business administration from the same institution. He has served as a full-time adjunct professor for the Department of Communication Studies at Bloomsburg University where he taught interpersonal communication, public speaking, and corporate communication. He has traveled extensively across the United States and internationally during which he has conducted over 1000 educational and motivational programs for associations, private enterprises, conferences, and public seminar events.

Harry enjoys travel, music, working outdoors at his home, and spending time with his three golden retrievers, Tindaqwae (Tin- Dah-Quay), Ausha and Luna.

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