Mike Ginsberg believes that if the referral M. Kaulkin & Associates, Inc., – now Kaulkin Ginsberg – received in 1991 hadn’t been to sell a local collection agency, his life would’ve been a heck of a lot different.
“[The deal] turned a lot of heads,” the president and CEO said. “It was a small, middle-market business, so it was the perfect size. And we sold it to an investor out of New York for cash.”
At the time, Ginsberg said, collection agencies were only bought by other collection agencies. No one looked for non-industry buyers.
“That was it, and they were using a cookie-cutter way of buying because they were the only buyers,” he said. “All of a sudden, who are these guys? Kaulkin who from Bethesda where, coming into the marketplace with a big splash? We made a difference.”
That deal served as a launching pad for Kaulkin Ginsberg’s specialization in the accounts receivable management industry. The firm made its mark right off the bat, advising on a number of ARM deals across the U.S.
25 years later, Kaulkin Ginsberg is still pushing the envelope with new initiatives to continue making that difference.
“We’re going to be infomediaries”
One of the earliest ideas that set Kaulkin Ginsberg apart from other M&A firms spawned from a year-end letter Ginsberg wrote to the company’s clients in 1992.
“It was two pages long, just explaining the trends in the industry,” he said. “And [owners] wanted more.”
In 1994, the company wrote the first Kaulkin Report, an all-encompassing review of the state of the industry that ARM business owners could use to guide growth and expansion. Since then, Kaulkin Ginsberg has produced seven Kaulkin Reports, establishing the firm’s pledge to be the foremost industry experts.
Right before the turn of the century, Marvin Kaulkin, the company’s founder, told Ginsberg that he wanted Kaulkin Ginsberg to provide news to collection agency owners on a daily basis.
“He told me, ‘From this point on, we’re going to be ‘infomediaries.’” Ginsberg said. “He thought if we were able to do that, we would be a value-add and [owners] would think of us for our services.”
CollectionIndustry.com was born, and it later became insideARM.com, the industry’s must-read daily publication comprising news and information for ARM executives.
More recently, Kaulkin Ginsberg has reaffirmed its commitment to market intelligence and analysis by creating the Research Fellowship Program for undergraduate economics students at the University of Maryland, College Park. The accredited course provides students with an environment to perform high-level research with an eye to ARM under Kaulkin Ginsberg’s careful instruction. That research is then distilled and presented in both a written report and a visual presentation.
Kaulkin Ginsberg has begun incorporating this research into the firm’s current initiative, a member-only information service called KG Prime.
Ginsberg hopes KG Prime will reengineer the way the ARM industry receives its information by creating a community where leaders can truly find value.
“We’ve always wanted to be trusted advisors, specifically to the owner/operator of a standalone company in this industry.” Ginsberg said. “If we didn’t add value, then I just wanted to go away. That’s always been the core of what we’re trying to do.”
The Next 25 Years
Ginsberg likes to say that the ARM industry runs in his blood.
“My father was a bill collector in Manhattan in the 70s, before and after the FDCPA was written,” he said. “In the 70s, this business was a lot different than it was in the 90s, and certainly a lot different than it is in 2016.”
Although it continues to evolve, Ginsberg believes accounts receivable – and Kaulkin Ginsberg – is here to stay.
“When I first got into this industry, bill collectors were exclusively doing third-party collections,” he said. “Today, those collectors are ARM firms providing a continuum of outsourced business functions. The real core of this industry, in my opinion, should never go away as long as we’re in a credit economy.”
Ginsberg predicts a huge wave of consolidation – a word he’s never used before – to hit the U.S. ARM industry over the next year and a half as firms adjust to increasing costs due to regulatory compliance. This will create a barrier-to-entry, something that hasn’t existed before in this industry.
As ARM decision-makers cut back and reevaluate, Ginsberg said he expects to offer more, not fewer, services, both through Kaulkin Ginsberg and through the firm’s sister company, Topline Valuation Group.
“We will continue to provide strategic advisory and financial products to the ARM industry as its needs evolve,” he said. “Companies need to grow efficiently, and over the next 25 years we’ll certainly be providing those kinds of resources.”
After a quarter century, Ginsberg said Kaulkin Ginsberg’s entire essence has been developed by people who are passionate about ARM and helping others. And that’s why the firm has staying power.
“We care about the industry and we’ll continue to try to stay ahead of it,” he said. “We’re not going to get everything right, and we’re going to take a lot of chances. But if you surround yourself with good, smart people, you’ll figure it out.”