American Banker Op-Ed by Suzanne Boasmiércoles, 29 de abril de 2009

Online banking is so easy and convenient that Americans now take it for granted. We pay bills online, transfer funds between accounts and even open brokerage accounts in a matter of minutes. But when this technology was introduced, many of us were concerned about conducting such important transactions over the Internet.

Today we are facing a similar evolution in the delivery of credit counseling services. The Internet has made it so easy to communicate that many people are willing to exchange their financial information online and then "chat" with a certified counselor to help solve their financial crisis. My agency's Internet counselors now handle hundreds of inquiries each day, and I anticipate this number will continue to grow.

More Americans need financial assistance, and they are reaching out to nonprofit counseling agencies in record numbers. This year I expect Consumer Credit Counseling Service of Greater Atlanta will serve about 700,000 Americans, including more than 100,000 seeking counseling on how to avoid foreclosure.

The counseling industry needs to respond by embracing the Internet and by providing new, innovative ways to provide quality, responsive services where, when and how people want and need them.

The key will be effective quality control, so that people turning to the Internet for help can do so with confidence. We are asking regulators to require all agencies that provide Internet counseling to offer the full use of a certified counselor throughout the entire chat and counseling process, as well as real-time interaction with a counselor that mirrors the processes used for in-person and telephone counseling.

Consumer demand is driving the need for Internet counseling, but reacting to this change quickly will not be easy, simply because providing financial counseling over the Internet is still relatively new.

When Consumer Credit Counseling Service of Greater Atlanta was founded nearly 45 years ago, all counseling was done in person. In the mid-1990s telephone counseling emerged as a convenient and cost-effective alternative to face-to-face counseling, dramatically expanding access to these critically needed services.

We introduced Internet-based counseling a number of years ago. The reasons for its popularity are clear.