The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.
In December 2004, I stuffed my dorm room into my 1991 Dodge Dynasty, crossed the Throgs Neck Bridge one last time, and headed home to Connecticut having finished my degree at Long Island University, CW Post. Part of me stops to wonder, has it really been that long? But then I remember that that Dynasty was junked 3 cars ago—god, I loved that car—, my alma mater is now known as LIU Post, and I’m a mom. So, yes, it has been that long.
Anyway, home I came. I settled back in to my mom and dad’s house and took a lazy stab at a job hunt. I say “lazy” because I really spent no time at all before my sister suggested I help out at her office. “You know, temporarily.” She worked for a collection agency and their data entry clerk had quit right around the time that the agency acquired another…so not only was new business piling up but there was also an entire database of existing accounts to transfer from the old agency to the new.
It only took me a few months to get things caught up. But they were in no rush to get rid of me because without me, they’d be back to having no data entry clerk. And without them I’d be back to actually having to job hunt. So I stayed. And they gave me new tasks. I spent the next couple of years not only doing data entry but also acting as “legal liaison.” When a bill didn’t get paid and the debtor had verifiable assets (a job or a home), it was my job to transition the account to legal status; I obtained authorization from the creditor to sue the debtor, forwarded the account to a collection attorney, and then proceeded to be the link between attorney and client throughout the litigation and post-judgment process. I taught myself everything I needed to learn for that position and loved it. I learned a bit about small claims court and judicial process. And I learned the art of skip tracing.
And they soon realized that I’m pretty adaptable. And organized. And quick to teach myself whatever I need to know to get a job done. So they moved me to their sister company—a repossession agency. My job: “manage the operation.” And I was quick to realize that the “operation” was, for lack of a better word, a clusterfuck. I came in at a time when the company was transitioning from paper orders to an online system and pretexting was an acceptable means to obtain information. Notes weren’t kept about what the drivers were seeing and doing in the field or what office staff was doing on the inside. Fee schedules and paperwork were ad hoc at best. Invoices were sent out with the wrong fees then never paid by clients and no one ever followed up to request payment. And, in general, everyone seemed to be making their own rules.
I organized. I streamlined. And, once again, had to teach myself everything I needed to learn to do my job effectively. There was no training. I just did it. Interviewing and hiring, training and retraining, using our software to its fullest potential, creating policies and procedures, keeping accounts payable under control, monitoring and enforcing client contracts, contracting with insurance providers and other vendors. I have mediated conversations with angry debtors who woke up to find their cars missing. I have helped move repossessed vehicles to auction. I have negotiated contract terms with new clients. I have fine-tuned my skip tracing skills, which is honestly THE favorite part of my job. I have done ride-alongs with my drivers and even personally repossessed a few cars. But most importantly, I have been an integral part of taking the agency from what it was to what it is. And what it is is an agency that repossesses collateral safely and ethically, all the while remaining within compliance with all laws, regulations, and contract terms. And I’m proud of that.
Yet I feel like I’ve hit a wall. The repossession industry is changing. More and more regulations continue to pop up, like the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Clients—especially the big banks—expect their repossession agents to work harder and do more but often aren’t willing to pay more. In some cases, clients in 2013 are paying the same as or less than they were in 2008…yet the price of fuel, insurance, EVERYTHING has increased in that time. I feel overworked (not enough vacation time), underpaid (I can’t remember the last time I received a raise), and unappreciated (by my superiors, my staff, and—with rare exception—my clients). And all the while, my degree is literally collecting dust. Is this what I busted my butt for (graduated suma cum laude, thank you very much) in school?
I’ve had the notion for a couple of years that there’s nowhere to go in my position. Unless I aspire to own said repossession agency when my boss retires—which, let me be clear…I don’t!—then what am I striving for? Nothing. When I first got the “I came, I saw, I conquered” feeling, I began another half-baked job search. Checked Monster.com here. Emailed a resume there. Even interviewed at a few places. I’m employed, so there’s no sense of urgency in that “OMG-where-is-my-next-paycheck-coming-from?” sort of way. But my goal for the not-too-distant future is to figure out what I want to be when I grow up and then go do it. Step one: I updated my LinkedIn profile. (If you’d like to connect: http://www.linkedin.com/pub/sierra-sorrell/33/94a/78.)
I should’ve made this decision about two or three years ago. But today is as good a day as any to plant that tree, right?