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William R. (Bill) Bartmann (1948–November 29, 2016) was the founder and CEO of CFS2, Inc, a consumer financial recovery company based in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and earlier the founder and CEO of Commercial Financial Services Inc., the nation’s biggest debt collection company for a time during its operations from 1986 to 1999. One officer of the company was involved in accounting fraud and the company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy though allegations of wider fraud were later determined to be untrue.
In October 2013, "Bouncing Back" the autobiography of Bill Bartmann's life was published (Brown Books), detailing Mr. Bartmann's unlikely life story from homelessness and abject poverty to Nobel Peace prize nominee. It became an Amazon number one best seller.
He was born in Dubuque, Iowa in 1948. At age 14, he dropped out of high school and joined a traveling carnival. He later joined a gang called the Manor Boys. He attempted to join the Marines but was rejected for hearing problems. Bartmann became an alcoholic by age 17, and one night fell down a flight of stairs while drunk. He became paralyzed and was told that he would never walk again. Against his doctor's wishes, Bartmann embarked on a nightly regimen of physical activity until he eventually regained the use of his legs.
For several years Bartmann worked at the Dubuque Packing Company, a large local slaughterhouse. While there, Bartmann organized a wildcat strike to force the company to give benefits to part-time workers. The strike was successful. Around this time, Bartmann ran into a high school principal who earlier had expelled him from school. The principal challenged Bartmann to get his GED certificate, which he did. Bartmann later earned a BS from Loras College and a JD from Drake University.
After passing the Iowa Bar Exam, Bartmann immediately went into private practice, specializing in consumer law. He also invested in real estate. Bartmann moved to Muskogee, OK to devote full-time to real estate investing. Bartmann was later asked by a local bank to take over a struggling oil equipment company in Oklahoma. He turned around the company and grew it substantially. It folded in 1985 due to falling oil prices, with Bartmann one million dollars in debt due to personally guaranteeing some of the corporate obligations.
Commercial Financial Services
Hounded by debt collectors, Bartmann looked for other opportunities. He saw an ad in the newspaper about buying defaulted loans from the federal government. He bought a portfolio of loans, financed by the bank he was $1 million in debt to. Bartmann succeeded in collecting enough money from that first portfolio to recoup the cost of the portfolio, plus make a partial repayment on his bank debt. That led to more purchases of loan portfolios that allowed Bartmann to repay the entire $1 million obligation. Bartmann created a consumer friendly company that would buy delinquent debts from banks and then attempt to restructure them according to terms the customer could afford. The strategy was successful, he was able to help 4.5 million consumers resolve $15 billion in debt, all of it without ever suing a consumer, producing net margins as high as 48%.
By 1997, Bartmann was listed in Forbes magazine as one of the 400 richest people in America. Inc. magazine estimated Bartmann's net worth to be in the range of $2.4 to $3.5 billion. Goldman Sachs offered to buy a 20% stake in the company and Norwest Bank offered to acquire, but Bartmann refused both offers.
As the company grew, Bartmann gained a reputation for doing the unexpected. He challenged his staff that if they beat their performance goals, he would take them all to Las Vegas. They exceeded the target and Bartmann flew the entire company to Las Vegas. Bartmann arrived and wrestled Hulk Hogan at the Thomas & Mack Center in Vegas."  On another occasion, Bartmann leased 27 Boeing 747 Jumbo Jets to fly thousands of employees to Disney World for the weekend. CFS offered free on-site daycare that grew to 500 children, as well as free full health care and a 250% company match in its 401(k) program. BusinessWeek magazine called CFS "One of the top 10 family-oriented businesses in America" and Working Mother Magazine named it "One of the top 100 best companies for working mothers."
In 1998 the Harvard Business School published a case study on the methods Commercial Financial Services used to securitize non-performing debt. The Smithsonian Institution's Museum of American History awarded CFS its Computer World award for technological innovations.
Also in 1998, an investigation began after an anonymous letter raised questions about the propriety of certain transactions at the company by a rogue employee. Throughout the ensuing investigation, Bartmann maintained his innocence. Jay Jones, a shareholder of the company, later confessed to the questionable transactions and admitted that Bartmann did not know about them. Nevertheless, the U.S. Department of Justice persuaded a third grand jury to indict Bartmann and other senior executives.
In the trial that followed, Bartmann was found to be not guilty of all charges. One of Bartmann's co-defendants sued the government for malicious prosecution and won. Even so, the controversy meant his company could not obtain financing and Commercial Financial Services declared bankruptcy. A bankruptcy trustee liquidated the company, laying off its 3900+ employees.
In 2002, the Governor appointed Bartmann to the board of Oklahoma Futures, a public-private partnership whose goal was to advise the governor, legislature, and judiciary on ways to promote economic development in Oklahoma. The Senate confirmed Bartmann's nomination.
In 2003 Bartmann founded Bill Bartmann Enterprises in order to offer business training and information to entrepreneurs. In 2008 he noticed that the banking bailout and TARP subsidies presented an opportunity to buy defaulted debt from troubled banks, mirroring the situation he built Commercial Financial Services on in the 1980s and 1990s. Bartmann developed a series of training programs to enable individuals to buy portfolios of defaulted credit-card debt and then taught them how to collect without using litigation or other abusive behavior.
In 2009 Bartmann published a book, "Bailout Riches", which describes the opportunity he says the bank-bailout and recession of 2008-2010 has created. The book became a #1 world-wide bestseller on Amazon, and also made it to the Wall Street Journal, USA Today and BusinessWeek bestseller lists.
Bartmann re-established his former consumer financial recovery company, naming the successor entity, CFS2, in July 2010. Later that year the company leased space at the CityPlex Towers complex in south Tulsa, returning Bartmann to the location where CFS had previously operated. Bartmann is in the midst of reviewing potential sites across the country for expansion, with Nevada, North Carolina, Ohio and Arkansas having offered incentives. Counter-intuitively CFS2 offers a unique array of free services to those they are collecting from, including: employment assistance, credit specialists who negotiate reductions of other personal debt, resume writing, medical discounts and help accessing government assistance. An anomaly to the debt collection industry, CFS2 has pledged to never litigate in order to collect from their accounts and has encouraged others in his industry to follow his lead. This helping hand approach reduces the banks reputational risk while enabling CFS2 to collect at rates twice the industry average.
In April 2013 CFS2 became the first and only collection company to ever win The American Consumer Council's "Friend of the Consumer" award. In bestowing the award American Consumer Council CEO, Thomas Hinton, remarked "as a financial recovery company, CFS2 is offering valued services that millions of consumers desperately need as we emerge from one of the longest recessions in our nation's history." In 2014 he won this award for the second time. CFS2 has also won the Compass Award for Business Ethics; the Beacon Award for Community Involvement the “Stevie” Award for Customer Service, and has been named as one of the most admired CEO's in Oklahoma by the Oklahoma Journal Record.
In October 2013 CFS2 was featured on CBS Evening news as the debt collector who thrives using the unique strategy of kindness.
Industry reform efforts
In the 1990s Bartmann gained a reputation for collecting debts by avoiding strong-arm tactics. He is following the same consumer-advocate approach in his new company, CFS2. He says: "We’re going to go at it the same way we did before, treating people with respect and helping them out of bad situations."  A Bartmann-run website, StopTheseCriminals.com, urges consumers to sign a petition that calls for drastic legislative and regulatory reforms of the debt-collection industry. Among those recommended reforms are the barring of all collection efforts on debt that is older than the statute of limitations; allowing consumers to record telephone calls from collection agencies; and requiring the licensing of both agencies and individual collectors.
Bartmann has persuaded 200 Debt Buying companies to take the “Bartmann Pledge’. The Bartmann Pledge requires all signors to agree not to use litigation against debtors; not to charge interest on the obligation, not to attempt to contact debtors more than twice in one day, not to pursue debtors beyond the statute of limitations and not to resell delinquent loans.
Bartmann has worked with members of the U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate to reform the current federal debt-collection rules. In addition he helped to enact a recent change to the Oklahoma debt-collection rules, which the Governor of Oklahoma signed into law in June, 2011.
Bartmann authored Oklahoma Senate bill 1430 “The Bartmann Bill” which would require debt collectors to follow stringent practices designed to protect consumers. This bill passed the Senate 40-2. In 2011 Bartmann was nominated to the Consumer Advisory Board of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) by the president of the American Bankers Association (ABA), Frank Keating. The nomination was seconded by six sitting state attorneys general.
In October 2012, Bartmann was invited to the West Wing of the White House to meet with the Deputy Director of the National Economic Council and Senior Policy Advisers to discuss the creation of a moratorium on debt collection litigation that would reduce the national bankruptcy rate by as much as 50% while also reducing the national unemployment rate. Bartmann has worked extensively with Attorneys General across the United States to promote debt collection reforms and has testified as an expert witness at their request at numerous proceedings.
Bartmann is a regular contributor to publications like The Huffington Post and The Christian Science Monitor. He authored Out of Control: Cases of Debt-Collection Abuse In America And What We Can Do About It, an expose´of the debt collection industry.
Bartmann created the non-profit organization, The Center for Consumer Recovery, which, in October 2013, launched the Shutdown Affected Forbearance Relief (SAFR) program to help the 400,000 federal employees furloughed by the government shutdown. The Center for Consumer Recovery contacts the creditors of these furloughed workers and persuades them to grant a forbearance of interest, principal and credit reporting until the employee is called back to work. The organization's primary charter is to assist families victimized by natural disasters and act as an advocate and intermediary by dealing with the victim’s creditors, insurers and governmental agencies.
In April 2014, The Governor of Oklahoma appointed Bartmann to the Council of Bond Oversight. This five-member Council is responsible for reviewing and approving all financing requests by state agencies, authorities, departments and trusts.
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- Official site
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- "For CFS, Bad Debts Are Sweet Profits. Never heard of CFS? It's reaping eye-popping gains from delinquent credit-card loans", Business Week, August 11, 1997.
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- Bill Bartmann's Blog