A reader wanted to contribute the following series as a guest poster. And before anyones gets going, the author of this series is not me.
Our guest author comes from inside the debt settlement world and wanted an opportunity to share their story.
This marks the first installment of what the guest author says will one of many. Enjoy this work of dramatic fiction.
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Sex, Drugs, and Debt Settlement – Part 1
Sometimes stuff needs to be said that steps on toes. Sometimes stupidity needs to be exposed. Sometimes by a source that nobody knows.
Enter – The Masked Adjuster
This story begins where many stories begin and end – The unemployment line. This is where our sullen hero finds himself standing after a storied career in the debt world. Having entered the room and dutifully taken his “next in line” ticket from the old school dispenser in the lobby, he scans the room for an empty chair. There are none. The room is so filled with others similarly situated that our hero wonders what would happen if the fire department were called.
He sees a former debt relief company executive he used to work with in the far corner and heads in that direction. Halfway there he looks at his ticket number and sees that he is #67,010. His gaze wanders to the digital display on the wall that reads: Now Serving #2111. We can see and read the lips of our hero that appear to say “This frickin sucks”.
He reaches the corner where his former associate has now placed his head in his hands and cannot see him standing in front of him.
“Hey Bob, it’s me. Remember me from back in 07?”
Bob looks up and slowly a look of recognition can be perceived on his face.
“Hey. Yeah, I remember you. You were the one the sales crew used to call “The Bandit” right?”
The Adjuster displays a wry grin at the memory of when he used to be able to close 60% of live transfer TV commercial leads. “Yeah, I guess they did.”
“Dude, things must be worse than I thought if a guy like you cannot get work” Bob said.
Our hero shrugs and replies “Last place I was at I was doing back end as one of the adjusters. They made a go of things using the performance fee model for a couple months. They spent 300k in advertising and got a shitty conversion that resulted in a CPA of 1200.00. 20% dropped out by the end of January so the brass said fugit and pulled the plug. How long you been in line Bob?”
Bob shifted in his chair to wake up his left cheek and said “I was one of the first guys here. Got here on October 28th last year”.
Just then a loud ting announced that the now serving digital display had advanced to #2112. Bob stood up with a long stretch and said “That’s me dude. Take my chair Bandit. Good luck to you”.
The Adjuster watched Bob walk to the counter as he took a seat.
Unbeknownst to the Adjuster, sitting next to him is an intrepid female reporter keen on developing ongoing coverage of the unraveling of the debt space, once a viable business for those ranging from quick buck debt settlement marketers to decades old credit counseling organizations being slowly put out of their misery by the very masters they serve, the banking oligarchy.
photo © 2007 Lee Jordan | more info (via: Wylio)That’s me, the intrepid reporter. My identity is unimportant at this time. The story that needs told does not require a name or a face in so much as it needs telling in a way that can only be told through the words and deeds of those most knowledgeable – the guys and gals who were there and are still there today.
After several minutes of silence, I decide to break the ice by asking this newcomer, whom at this time I only know as “The Bandit” a simple question:
“So, you and Bob go back to 07 huh”? “Sounds like you knew what you were doing”.
“Yeah, I figured some stuff out along the way” he says.
“How long were you doing it” I asked.
“Which part” the Bandit replies.
I am thinking I have a real genius here, so I clarify “Debt Settlement is what you and Bob were doing right”?
“Yeah, but the settlement side is just one piece of the debt space and this one piece has several moving parts that work together and apart from each other at the same time. I worked every part.”
This got my attention. I had been back to this room every day for over a month and had yet to speak with anyone who could comment on the many different aspects of the debt space with all of its verticals that had been and continue to be monetized. I continued my query:
Me: “So, you been at this a while then”?
The Bandit: “Yeah, I boarded the train at the station in the way back days. Stayed on board watching the lead cars fall off the tracks one at a time and kept on moving back towards the caboose. The slow motion train wreck is about over now. Just look at all the bodies piled up in this room. The people here are industry players who had a good run for a time. The real casualties are all the consumers who didn’t get to enjoy the ride. Most of um got taken out back and shot the moment they signed on for misrepresented debt relief products. They just couldn’t feel the bullet or see the blood right away. You could fill a few college stadiums with victims of the debt relief locomotive”.
Now I knew I had a guy that could help me fill in some of the gaps in my understanding of the debt relief space and its many angles. He even seemed to portray a bit of remorse. I was excited to dive in with questions, but intuitively knew I had to play it cool. This guy had some visible rough edges, but his eyes reflected an intelligence that I had not seen in the many zombies I had been talking to, including the just departed Bob who was an executive at his three former call center shops he had started with some partners. Bob’s intelligence reached as far as knowing enough to change his marketing company name every time the complaints piled up with the BBB, Attorney General and all over the web. I decided to take it slow.
I came back by saying “Slow motion train wreck. That fits. I started selling for an outfit a couple months before the FTC announced the new regs. The guy I was working for turned into a real asshole after that so I left and went to one of the shops selling debt settlement using the attorney model. My follow ups with leads started going bad a couple months ago. I was not very good at one call closes. On the follow up money call they started bringing up all the crap they found about the company on the net. I wasn’t closing enough so they kicked me out of the chair.”
I paused for a response, but I guess he did not have one, so I said: “To bad the FTC killed an industry and all our jobs in the process virtually overnight”.
The body language from the Bandit came alive at that point. His posture straightened, his chin tilted up a bit and I could swear there was a perceptible flicker of flame in his eyes that were cast out the window where a chill northeasterly was blowing snow that had fallen through the night.
He took a deep breath before saying “The FTC had nothing to do with the train wreck. Regulators don’t come on the scene until the bodies start piling up. The train left the tracks long before that. Until last summer most people in debt relief thought FTC stood for “Focus on The Close”.
He turned to look me in the eye and said, “Look, you got to the party after 2 am and all the booze was gone. All you saw was the remaining die-hards all liquored up. The FTC didn’t walk in and shut down the party or declare prohibition. This shit has to do with a whole host of issues and none of it happened over night. We obviously have some time to kill and I want to get some things off my chest, so if you want to know some of the history and moving parts that led to this, there is a ton of stuff I could go into detail about”.
He paused for a moment and looked up at the now serving digital display that remained unchanged, looked at “Boiler Room Bob” talking to the employee at the help window then back to me and began speaking again:
“Debt problems or someone’s inability to pay back debt is nothing new. That’s a fact. If you want to look back and posit what brought the need for debt relief from unsecured credit card debt, you can trace it back to a Supreme Court decision. Marquette was decided in 78. Combine Marquette with 2 states, South Dakota & Delaware, whose short-bus-pass-carrying politicians, in pursuit of short term benefits for their constituents, conceived and birthed what turned into legal usury and bank induced loan sharking, which in turn created modern day debt slavery for American consumers. That’s not the whole story. I mean congress did its part by passing some deregulatory crap in 1980. Then the Supremes saw fit to further take away state enforcement of usurious type fees in deciding Smiley in 96. Any conversation on how we got where we are today has to start with opportunist banks, political motivations, regulatory capture and consumers whose IQ’s have to be questioned when falling for the buy now and pay 2 to 3 times as much as the listed price later on by using credit to make their purchases.”
At this point, I reached into my purse and switched on my digital recorder. I did not trust my ability to later recapture from memory what the adjuster was saying.
He continued with a bullet list of topics to discuss:
“So, what should we cover? I mean, we can talk about stuff like:
- Banks losing money hand over fist and how Princeton economists are driven by retired short bus chauffeurs.
- The credit counseling industry contribution to the wreckage and the inability for the DMP providers as a whole to think into the future.
- Gullible consumers who buy into the hype delivered by advertisement and carefully crafted sales scripts. You know, the ones who are about as smart as that fence post out there on the corner. They sign up for services in the past and even now with companies they don’t bother to research or whose contracts when fully vetted favor everyone but the person in need of help. These same people that cry foul who loaded up the debt in the first place and then scream online about how they got taken all over again by not using the tool God gave um – Their brain.
- Attorneys whose egos and greed won’t allow them to admit that they are freakin clueless and are being had by marketers who promise customers and profits but who ultimately are willing participants in dragging their own name through the mud.
- Industry associations who are ineffective and have all the wrong motivations. Not just the usual whipping posts, but AICCA, NFCC, ACA, ABA and a host of others. You wanna talk about short sighted and short bus award recipients of the year for 2010, than yes, we can talk about TASC and USOBA.
- We can talk about how the whole industry is shrinking. How the companies trying to make a go of it and following new laws are fooling themselves.
- I negotiated debts. Perhaps we can talk about the bum deal I will get someone on an inflated balance where that same consumer could have done things earlier and for better saving than I would have… and I am really frickin good at what I do!
- Did you ever consider that the do-gooders aren’t doing anybody any good? There are companies who were part of the problem just a half year back that hold themselves out as doing the right thing now, but use the same or similar business practices that were part of the problem all along. Now they just charge later for it.
- Lead gen is a whole-nother murky side to the debt space.
There’s that and more to talk about. So, what should we talk about first?”
I really was racing to keep up with everything the Bandit/Adjuster had said. I wasn’t sure where to start. I could see that those sitting around us had stopped playing with their smart phones and put aside the want ads and were listening as intently as I was.
As I made furtive eye contact with some of the other former passengers on the debt relief gravy train who were listening, all I could come up with was “um… you decide”.
Just then the familiar ting sounded announcing #2113 could now be served.
Stay tuned for the next installment.
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