Jeff Judy

Jeff's Thoughts - October 4, 2017

Yes, Equifax Is Your Problem

The recent massive data breach at Equifax has many credit customers worried. While details are still emerging, I cannot say that Equifax is looking good in their handling of the situation. The hack was open for quite a long time; the breach was disclosed only after a significant delay; and then an element of their response, a year of free monitoring service, caused an uproar over arbitration language in the contract.

So everybody knows this was Equifax's fault, and that fixing it should be their problem.

If only it were so simple. Many of your customers have only the vaguest idea of what role the credit reporting agencies play in their lives. Most of them have never interacted directly with Equifax.

But they have interacted with you. As Rolland Johannsen pointed out recently in an American Banker article:

"Those 143 million consumers whose personal information was stolen are not Equifax’s customers, they are yours."

With all those scary headlines and media stories about identity theft and other issues arising from the Equifax breakdown, many a customer is worried about, say, whether their credit card will be abused by someone who buys stolen data from the hackers. At the very least, they are wondering if they are about to go through the inconvenient cycle of replacing credit cards and updating all those autopay relationships ... something most of them have had to do previously as a result of other breaches, usually at major retailers.

Who do they want answers from? The people who suggested they get the card in the first place. Was that Equifax? Hardly.

And of course, they are worried about much more than replacing credit cards. Will thieves have access to their checking accounts? Will someone else open a new account, or obtain credit, in their name? Will unauthorized activity damage their credit score?

Where does a consumer turn for answers? To a poorly understood credit reporting agency? Or to the institution that gave them a credit card, a checking account, a debit card, a mortgage?

Add to that the confusion many of them feel about the next steps they should take. Should they submit a fraud alert, or take stronger action? What are the options?

Are your frontline staff prepared to answer those kinds of questions? Or when a customer comes for advice on these matters, will they hear things like "It's not our fault" and "Contact Equifax with your questions"?

One thing customers do know is that they never gave a single piece of information to Equifax. But you did. Your customers trusted you to protect their information, and you may have done your best. But in the end, you ended up sharing information with a service that did not live up to your standards, or to your customers'.

Invest the time and management attention to make sure your staff can do more than just point the finger at Equifax. In a time when your customers are worried and stressed, patiently listening to their concerns and truly answering their most common questions can actually boost customer loyalty. Passing the buck can do a lot of damage.

It is a wonderful situation when doing the right thing is also good for your business. Take advantage of it.