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Interview with Denise Albanese
By Eileen Kowalski, PNC
Tell us about the origins of your firm – Cost Reduction Solutions:
My husband, Michael F. Albanese, CPA, started as a sole practitioner field examiner in 2001. I was working in sales at the time and I acted as his part-time administrative support person and began reading and reviewing exams from a business point of view, having majored in business and mathematics, myself. After about 10 years, I decided to focus 100% of my time to the firm as the full-time business development officer with the focus to grow the business. Two years later, at a pivotal growth point, our son, Michael Jr., joined the business. We now service more than 90 lenders of varying size and have 15 full-time employees plus 40 contractors covering 49 states, the UK, Mexico and Hong Kong. We are still waiting for our first exam in Hawaii! CRS is dedicated to servicing our clients in a manner that we would wish to be treated. Our motto is "Collateral, Collateral, Collateral; Quality, Quality, Quality, with no obligation to you, but we will be here for you when you call on us!"
What new procedures did you implement when the Covid-19 crisis began?
Prior to this crisis, our operations department had already started to adapt various innovations to streamline the business. We were already set up for remote work because we are a field exam firm, which has to be able to function remotely. Our examiners have worked in all sorts of locations, from a cold storage unit to the boiler room. Our smaller size allowed us to be more flexible to quickly implement some of the necessary health-related changes. As soon as we realized that Covid-19 would heavily impact New Jersey, we limited office attendance to one person at a time and asked the examiners to work 100% remotely. Our online phone system was already set up to work seamlessly and our laptops were positioned to access the servers remotely with ease. I also made sure to reach out to all of the lenders that we service to affirm that we were online, working, and available for any due-diligence needs. Our team developed alternative field-exam testing procedures using experiences, already created procedures and the various media available so we were able to assure our lenders that we could provide a temporary solution for most of the requested or required procedures, where necessary. Our staff has been busy performing field exams in this new manner since “stay-at-home” measures were announced in most of the markets that we serve.
What do you think a field exam will look like in the future?
Covid-19 has proven that some of the work performed during a field exam can be done in a remote manner. However, once it is safe to do so, I believe that field exams will be performed in a hybrid manner – partially remote and partially at the borrower. I believe there is great value in the examiners being on-site at the borrower and interacting with the staff. There are nuances that would be missed if all documents are copied and sent to an anonymous drop-box. Often, interaction with company personnel adds appropriate color and context to complex business transactions. We do need to be flexible and use technology where appropriate or where necessary. We have already invested time and resources into these technologies, finding some of the space lacking in “future proofing” our industry. During quarantine, we chose to use Zoom for inventory test counts and remote meetings because it is recordable. Coupled with very specific procedures created and shared with lenders for their consideration and using other readily available technologies to confirm the exact location of the computer/phone/tablet at the test count site, we feel that we have developed a viable test count option for lenders going forward. However, we see this option as a future enhancement for standard in-person test counts rather than replacing them. I also don’t see a lot of billable hours saved by moving to a more remote-based model. You may save on travel costs to client locations in some cases, but those savings might be minimal if borrower cooperation to supply the documents to the drop-box is lacking or slow.
Given that secured lending is counter-cyclical and we are headed for a recession, what do you plan to put into place to meet the potentially expanded demand for outsource field exam services?
We are always of the mindset that to be better as individuals and as a firm, we have to continue to push ourselves. With that mentality, we have continued to grow our infrastructure, both technology and human capital, before “biting off more than we can chew.” Because of that, we are well positioned for an immediate influx in volume. We also have formal procedures, already proofed and tested over the last 10 years of immense growth, which provides us the ability to scale our team in a comfortable manner.
Finally, what do you think makes your business so successful?
Firstly, I think the fact that we are grateful for all of the business we obtain and the great relationships we have developed. We never take a step of the process for granted, no matter how small or big. We developed the firm based on core business principles taken from our own experiences, with Mike Sr., myself and Michael having worked for fortune 50 companies as well as small businesses over a 25-year period and tried to keep the good policies and improve on the policies we didn’t agree with. As a family business, there is also a bond that has been developed amongst ourselves and employees. We want our staff to always focus on doing the right thing, have integrity and care in what they are doing, be willing to take the extra step and be there for each other. I utilize the following in my email signature, “With integrity, you have nothing to fear, since you have nothing to hide. With integrity, you will do the right thing, so you will have no guilt.” - Zig Ziglar
Denise Albanese is president and owner of Cost Reduction Solutions a national due diligence firm. Denise has over 30 years of business experience in business development, sales, marketing, management and administration. A graduate of Montclair State University with a B.S. in Business Administration, Denise heads business development and relations. Denise is a member of the Secured Finance Network as well as an active board member of the New Jersey Chapter of the SFNET, an active participant in the Garden State Credit Association and the IFA. Denise has founded a charity named Paulie & Pals (www.paulieandpals.org). The charity offers stipends to families who have children with autism to help defray costs of summer camp. Denise enjoys travel, gardening and golf.