13
Jul

Reach Out to Your Community or You Will Get Run Over

I spent 6 years with FSCF (Financial Service Centers of Florida) as a Director.  The organization had a mandate to communicate with regulators and LOBBY for positive changes in regulation that would protect the consumer, and still allow the industry to exist in Florida.

We clearly failed in our mission.

On MY watch, Florida passed a law that introduced a State Database program that  limited options to consumers.   Even worse, each year after that, they continued to tighten regulations, and increase fines.  Under the guise of “protecting” the consumer, the regulations made the product MORE expensive, created barriers of entry to new companies, and added costly and cumbersome compliance requirements.

The Financial service centers quickly became a piggy bank for the OFR (office of financial regulation).  We had to PAY for the joy of being AUDITED, then the fines were expanded beyond reason.  The objective was not compliance with regulations, but revenue generation.  Missing a date, or an initial on a page?  $1,000 fine.

We rolled over and got run over.  Repeatedly

Here’s a clear example of how we’re viewed by Government officials:

MY Check Cashing/ Payday Loan business was the victim of a series of fraudulent checks, and we had filed a civil lawsuit to collect.   I’m on the stand explaining the mechanics of the transaction, and the Judge stopped me.  He was incredulous and openly stated that as a “criminal business”, what right did I have to try and collect these funds?

The Judge wanted to toss the case and me out of the courtroom in the first 30 seconds of the trial.

Furious, I had to shut my big mouth and master my temper.  I took a moment to compose myself and patiently explained that we were a carefully regulated and licensed business.  I explained how we worked very hard to provide access to financial services and products, often where there was no other options available.

I explained that many smaller contractors cashed checks with us, as they ran very tight and a bank would sometimes hold their funds for 5-10 days.  These contractors needed instant cash to make payroll, and/or buy materials.  99% of our business was about people trying to financially make it through the day.  We certainly didn’t encourage nefarious activity, and we don’t profit from illegal activity, as most often WE were the ones that lost money and were in fact the victims.

I was able to educate him enough to continue the case and we eventually won a judgement.  But this is the uphill battle that comes up with our business, and how it’s portrayed by the media.

Look.  People just don’t know about our business.  You go to a cocktail party with these professionals that are well employed and educated.  They call you a loanshark and think your clients are victims.  This is because they have never needed our services.  And have no understanding of what it’s like to have to live check to check.

Complaining about how people don’t know, won’t protect your business.  And you have to protect your business.  Nobody else can do it for you.

If you’re a small operator, you have to reach out to your local politicians and invite them into your store.  Buy them lunch and let them see how you operate.  Let them see how many people come into your store.  What they come in for.  How they are treated.

The association encouraged our membership to do this, but most didn’t bother.   Instead, we focused our attention on fundraising and lobbying.

You cannot bring the regulators onside if they’ve never been in a store.  Until they’ve been in a store and realize that the consumers NEED these services, they will ignorantly vote for more restrictions that will LIMIT the options for consumers and actually increase the costs of these services.

Call city hall.  Call your local county commissioners.

Tell them that you’re a tax paying business, and that you want them to spend a day in your store.  Tell them that you’ll donate the earnings of that day to a local school, library, charity.  whatever.

Get the judges, police chiefs, and other “prominent” members of your community on your side.

Just get them in there to SEE and understand what you do.  It can’t happen without you.

I’ve done the work in the State.  We wrote these guys fat checks.  We told them tearful stories of how we were able to give our customers the money to buy medicine for their sick child.  We gave them clever reports on fancy paper that NOBODY reads.  It doesn’t work.  It’s all just talk and scholarly debate.  It doesn’t matter.  Until they see and understand.  And YOU, on a local level have to make that happen.

One day that ambitious local politician will be in the HOUSE, or in the Governers’ office.  Then it’s too late.  If the local government doesn’t know who you are, and what you do, it’s easy for them to assume you’re a criminal and pass local ordinance to prevent you from expanding, or close you down entirely.

Don’t just sit back and think that your State association and their teams of lawyers are going to handle it.  I can tell you that we did our best.  The teams are smart. Committed.  But it doesn’t matter.  The arguments and explanations are just noise.

 

Written by: Miro Posavec