Technology isn’t the only thing that’s changed since my father, Cal Rynerson, opened his Orange County bail bonds company in 1971. The Internet, fax machines, and cell phones have all changed how customers find us and how we do business. Another big change has been in how bail bondsman are trained and licensed.
Unlike 30 years ago, it’s now possible to wake up one morning, say: “Hey! I think I’ll become a bail bondsman!” and about 6 months later open your own company. Sometimes, the old ways really were better.
When Dad became a bondsman, he was required to complete what was called an apprenticeship with another licensed California bail agent. After learning the business and basically getting the approval of the licensed agent, the apprentice could get licensed and go out on his own. The licensed agent would invite an apprentice into the business and sponsor him.
My father worked with a bondsman named Pete Devitch. Pete is a bit of legend in the bail industry. I remember Pete as a colorful guy, full of great stories, who always carried around a wad of hundreds.
The apprenticeship process seems slow and cumbersome today, but it gave a beginning bondsman extensive experience dealing with the court system, with customers, and most importantly learning to access risk (which protects the bondsman, the court’s interest and the public) before working independently.
I got licensed in 1986 and worked part time for my father. I guess you could call that my apprenticeship because I did enough to get my feet wet and see how the business worked. You might assume that, growing up with it, I’d have known more about the bail bond business already, but Dad didn’t talk about it much at home. Unlike Pete, he wasn’t a real colorful, talkative guy. Dad was quiet and professional and didn’t fit the public’s image of a bail bondsman. I guess Tonya and I don’t either.
I was fresh out of college in 1986, but I knew enough to get licensed. And, when Dad retired and offered me the business, I knew enough about the risks and the 24×7 commitment to clients to decline the offer to take over the business. By the time I entered the bail bond business full-time in 2001, I understood what I was getting into and the personal and financial implications.
Contrast that to someone enters the business on impulse and thinks of it as a way to make easy money. He could literally get up one morning, complete 12 hours of study, obtain a bail license in about 3 months, find an insurance company to work with and be in business in 6 months.
I’m certainly not criticizing people who want to start their own businesses! I left the insurance industry after over a decade because I got fed up working for a corporation. I’m grateful though, for the knowledge I gained in business – and from life – as I got older. If I had started right out of college, I wouldn’t have had as much experience reading people and dealing with financial matters.
Sometimes, the most important things are those you can’t learn from books – like reading clients, advising them, and assessing risk. Is this person going to jump bail and head to Mexico? Does this mother really understand what she’s doing when she puts up her house for bail collateral? What’s the best information I can give this family about the process and jail system?
I’m glad I had the benefit of my father’s experience when building my own business. Experience and judgment are important no matter what your job, but in this business, they’re critical to our success because we can give better service and advice to our customers at a time when they really need it.