In the military, if you disobey a direct order during wartime they will place you in front of a firing squad.

We are more fortunate as soldiers and officers in the War on Debt – if we raise objections or concerns, we are simply fired – not fired on. But the effect can be just as life-(as we know it)-threatening.

This is what has happened to one of our own, Linda Almonte, a banking professional and former employee of JP Morgan Chase. When she questioned the intelligence (and legitimacy) of selling off a flawed portfolio of credit card write-offs to a debt purchaser in September and October of 2009, she discovered that some 5,000 accounts out of 23,000 did not meet the bank’s own criteria for resale (“Former Chase Exec Makes Debt Sales Allegations in Lawsuit,” March 10).

However, this portfolio (which was comprised of judgment accounts that had been obtained by internal Chase attorneys or attorneys-of-record) had a face value of $200,000,000 and Chase would realize a cool $23MM on the purchase (while also reducing its bad debt load for reporting purposes for the quarter). Her superior chose, instead, to fire Linda and make the sale. In return, she chose to file suit. Chase did not make the better choice.

This week, the New York Times published a major article by David Segal called “Debt Collectors Face A Hazard: Writer’s Cramp” and ran it front-page in their Business Day section. Linda’s story, along with others of a similar nature, outlined the shoddy – if not illegal – practices that some debt sellers and debt purchasers regularly engage in.

The article does not explain that Linda is no ordinary credit and collections professional. She is a Six Sigma Black Belt graduate of the respected GE Capital Group and a veteran of millions of dollars in their commercial and small business leasing and loans.

After four years of training and likely a quarter-million-dollars invested by GE in her development in all aspects of IT, legal, and compliance, you might say that she is qualified to pass judgment on the quality of a debt portfolio…and of that industry in general. She was responsible for “vetting” billion-dollar-deals for GE.

Her banking career (now effectively ended) followed with her being hired away from GE by WAMU to move to Florida in 2004. Her work at Chase ran from May of 2009 until her firing.

What she saw was horrifying – giant data dumps running through scores of disparate accounting systems connecting hundreds of lawyers, collection agencies, and debt purchasing firms.

For a person trained in Six Sigma, where only 3.4 defects per million opportunity is allowable, she saw that the only guaranteed outcome given the state of this industry is pain – for all involved.

Debt buyers, often unkindly referred to as the “bottom feeders” of the ARM industry, expect to buy clean paper: no judgments errors, prior garnishments, liens, post judgment remedies, incorrect balances, incorrect names, addresses and account numbers, etc., so that their collection process might proceed without the distraction of these errors.

It was Linda’s job to meet those expectations. In trying to do so, she was fired on November 30, 2009, without severance. The reason given for the dismissal? Her boss did not agree with her “operating principles.” The reason for no severance pay? Because she was being terminated, although she was told by the VP of HR on the way out the door that they would not contest her unemployment claims and that they would respond to any employment inquiries that she was “laid off,” not terminated.

Well, I have expressed enough outrage for the moment. I call on my fellow travelers in this industry to give this woman’s plight some thought. Some day, if it has not already happened, you may be faced with the decision to either “go with the program” or lose your job. Did she do the right thing? Would your choice have been different?

I encourage people to connect with me on Twitter as @WrittenOffUSA and Linda Almonte as @LindaAlmonte to follow this issue further.

This is when integrity meets reality. How would that challenge be faced in your world?


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