The Learning Curve

New tricks for an old dog.

Predators and prey

The dynamic between predators and prey in the world of wild animals played an important part in Michael Crichton’s 2002 novel titled Prey.  Scientists had modeled the hunting behavior of predators in the wild to produce computer algorithms that were incorporated into microscopic robotic nanobots, which escaped and turned on their creators in lethal self-directed and goal seeking predatory swarms.  It’s an engrossing read, if you like suspense novels.

In the world of personal finance  is it easy to see the same predatory tactics described in Prey at work in the dynamic between debt collectors and some debtors.  Stripping all moralizing from the issue and with no intent to be pejorative about it, debt collectors function most effectively (i.e. get the money more often) when they adopt the hunting tactics of predatory animals.  In this analysis, the inherent business goal of debt collectors is to force a certain class of debtors into the role of acting like hunted prey.

It is not a universal truth.  A lot of debt collecting behavior is more analogous to an agricultural activity, where the low-hanging fruit can be shaken loose with a simple reminder notice or a phone call.  But, when the payment of an outstanding debt is perceived by the debtor as a personal survival issue, the predator – prey relationship is more likely to emerge.

The debtor who asked this debt collection question describes a good example of the predatory tactics used by debt collectors, whether intentional or not.  Shuffling the debt between multiple different collection agencies and the long delays culminating in a lawsuit out of the blue can be seen as predator pack behavior, encirclement, laying in wait, and surprise attack.  All of these are typical tactics used by hunting animals, and the unstated goal is to instill fear and confusion  in the debtor so that he or she reacts irrationally.

It is very effective, as can be seen from the example.  All objective indications gleaned from a smattering of information and research point to the debtor having some very strong legal defenses to the lawsuit, and a favorable negotiating position, if . . . and this is a big IF . . . the debtor responds prudently.  Unfortunately, the debtor in the example did not have sufficient familiarity with the new environment into which he had been thrust in order to make good decisions.

A disoriented and isolated animal is vulnerable.  Consumer protection laws can help to minimize the more outrageous tactics that debt collectors can use, but they do not shift the strategic balance.  The predator-prey dynamic is impossible to change simply because it is inherent in the relationship.

One possibility is for debtors to adopt the successful tactics of animals preyed upon in the wild, like forming mutual support groups to share information and experiences.  A process of education and individual empowerment is the order of the day.

In fact, such debt collection communities are forming online.

Likewise, debt collectors – or account receivable managers – swap information online.


Written by Tom Fox

03/02/2009 at 3:43 pm

Posted in Debt collection

One Response

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  1. […] the Internet to meet to share information and help each other deal with debt collectors.  It is a natual emergent development made possible with the new technology.  Of necessity, the type of help and advice that is being […]

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