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9/3/15 1:16 PM

Pros and Cons of Learning from Other Unclaimed Property Professionals

by Greg VerMulm

When unclaimed property hits the radar of any company, it can be a challenge to quickly learn and put processes and systems into place to accommodate this important compliance function. Many people seek the advice of colleagues who have been through the same transition. Colleagues can help by explaining the basics and suggesting resources and services—even providing moral support—but the value of peer advice is limited when it comes to specific situations and legal implications of unclaimed property.

The unclaimed property knowledge and experience gap

Enforcement for unclaimed property was minimal for many years, so numerous companies found themselves without internal processes and experienced personnel to manage it. There were few written materials and educational offerings about the reporting process. The only option was to seek other people who could help.

Now, there are many formal educational options available, such as specific industry workshops, the Unclaimed Property Professionals Organization (UPPO) annual meeting, and Lunch 'n Learn networking sessions in major cities. Even so, it's natural to first look to colleagues with unclaimed property experience to begin thinking about it, find out the general lay of the land, and formulate a plan.

Unclaimed property peers offer perspective and moral support

Whether it's formal networking, official collaboration, or one-on-one conversation over coffee, there is much to be gained from connections with other unclaimed property personnel.

  • General knowledge. When others share what they know and explain issues they've faced, you'll learn more than you knew before. You will derive a general idea of the types of issues unclaimed property holders face. Examples help create a more solid idea of steps you might need to take to meet similar needs.
  • Limited specifics. If your peer advisor happens to have the same specific unclaimed property problem your company is facing, you might get trustworthy answers to specific questions, especially if your colleague has consulted with a professional advisor, such as an accountant, attorney or unclaimed property consultant.
  • Confidence and inspiration. Collaboration might give you the confidence you need to continue asking questions, tapping resources and adjusting processes to successfully manage unclaimed property. When difficulties arise, it's helpful to know someone who understands what you are facing and can inspire you to keep pushing for answers!

Limits of unclaimed property peer consultation 

Although peer collaboration and networking offer important benefits, the informal nature of this kind of information sharing limits its usefulness. In fact, it's possible the misinterpretation of peer information could lead to problems.

  • Confidentiality and negative press. One adverse result of a company's struggle to come into unclaimed property compliance can be degradation of reputation. You should not communicate certain facts without permission, and permission could be difficult to obtain. Don't assume your situation is an exception. Especially in group settings, you can't know who exactly you are talking to and what their agenda might be. You don't want to say the wrong thing to a competitor, for example—or someone who might know a competitor. 
  • Trustworthiness of information. Most colleagues cannot give you complete and accurate facts to support your own unclaimed property needs. They can only provide partial or general information.
  • Specificity of information. What applies to one company might not apply to another. Even if a colleague resolved an unclaimed property situation similar to yours, the solution is unlikely to provide the entire answer for your company. Every company has different underlying causes and types of unclaimed property.

Learn what you can from unclaimed property peers…then verify

Collaborating with peers in a discipline as complex and ever-changing as unclaimed property has many benefits. However, be aware of the limitations of this type of sharing.

The advice you receive from unclaimed property colleagues is similar to advice you might receive from a company involved in a court case. You gain perspective from their experience, but you should hire a lawyer before you head to court yourself. It's the same with unclaimed property. Gain perspective from peers, but turn to professional advisors to verify what you've learned, create a plan and help you put it into action.