The professional connection of Jennifer Turnage and Steve Norwood dates to 2005 when Norwood co-founded Consolidated Asset Recovery Systems (CARS) and Turnage served as chief financial officer of the company for seven years.

Primeritus Financial Services acquired CARS in 2019 but hit rough business waters like many operations involved in repossessions and recoveries when the pandemic surfaced.

“When I was asked to rejoin Primeritus as CEO in 2022 to help right the ship, the first person I contacted was Jennifer,” Norwood said. “I knew her unparalleled financial and strategic acumen would be an essential piece to our future success.”

With that ship apparently righted, Primeritus named Turnage as chief executive officer on Tuesday with Norwood remaining on the company’s board of directors to continue a pivotal role in developing the management team and key personnel and fostering valuable client relationships.

In reflecting on the past 18 months, Turnage acknowledged, “It’s interesting in looking back at some of the things that really stand out that we’ve learned. It’s hard to say that they’re unique to Primeritus.

“I think some of the things we were dealing with other companies probably were dealing with, as well,” she continued. “We started by addressing some cash and profitability issues. That’s the symptom of a business issue. I would say a lot of the business challenges that we’ve overcome really had a lot to do with just communication from the top down within a company and from the bottom up in making decisions.

“Another thing that’s not unique to Primeritus is the way we work has changed dramatically if you look at 2020 and 2021 and 2022 and 2023. There’s just been a massive amount of change, and change is hard. How you deal with it, how you communicate within an organization, it all had to be rebuilt,” Turnage went on to say.

As mentioned, Turnage joined Primeritus in 2022 to serve as the chief financial officer per Norwood’s request. One year later, Turnage was promoted to president. She explained why that journey in those roles positioned her well to be in the CEO chair now.

“I think it really helps a lot because in the CFO role I really focused on cash and profitability. Then I shifted into a president role where I was really focused on some cross-departmental projects,” Turnage said.

“So that brings me to the CEO role where it comes down to communication and having trust and transparency, making sure everyone understands what their goals and priorities are,” she continued. “We have to talk about things that are getting in the way, focusing on our people and building those relationships. If we’re not having honest communications throughout the organization, up and down and across, we’ll struggle. We have to be able to speak honestly to each other, but that comes from trust and building relationships and transparency.

“I’m really focused on those things — trust and transparency — so we can have effective communication throughout the organization and with our clients, partners and agents, as well,” Turnage went on to say.

With new leadership in place, Primeritus enters a time in auto finance when delinquencies are steadily rising, according to the latest update from TransUnion.

As far as portfolio health, TransUnion spotted another rise in the 60-day delinquency rate as it came in at 1.61% to close 2023. That’s up from 1.43% at the end of 2022.

What does that trajectory mean for forwarding companies like Primeritus?

“I think looking at it as a business, it’s a time of great opportunity,” Turnage said. “As we sit in the middle, we see that lenders need our services more than ever. We see delinquencies rising. We see increases in consumer debt. I think that means increased volume for the repossession and recovery industry.

“But at the same time, it feels like our agent network is at capacity. Industry wide, we face challenges with transportation. We haven’t overcome some of the changes that started back in 2020. We also have to figure out how to work smarter to make this process more effective,” she continued.

Working smarter. Better communication. Those are strategies Turnage said she’s bringing to the industry as the Primeritus CEO.

“The main message is we have an ecosystem here within the overall economy and there’s a flow amongst finance companies, forwarders, repossession agents. It all has to flow together. We’re all dependent upon each other,” Turnage said.

“We all need to focus on things like agent safety, profits and cash flow, compliance, risk management. But we all need to have a sustainable business,” she continued. “We can do that by looking at where we can reduce losses throughout this cycle, how can we drive costs down while also looking at making sure those costs are being compensated for effectively, especially so the agents can have a thriving business so we can all support this growth we all believe is coming.”

And Turnage likes where Primeritus is now.

She said, “2023 was all about moving quickly, making hard decisions, and implementing change.

“The focus of 2024 is all about the growth of the business and rebuilding our community and partnerships. We now have a streamlined organization, technology platform, processes and people to set ourselves and our partners up for success,” Turnage went on to say.