Tami Wankoff knows how to find your company’s buried treasure chest.
Wankoff, 51, built her own company, Contingency Telecom Auditing LLC, to help firms find money they’re owed through deposit recovery and telecommunications invoice auditing. Her business started in her living room with the auditing service, and grew to include deposit recovery.
Wankoff is a former AT&T/Lucent Systems designer who moved to Florida in 2001. When 9/11 hit, she decided she didn’t want to travel for work or leave her daughter for long periods of time anymore. (Her daughter is now 20 and a student at the State University of New York at Geneseo.) So she started her home-based company.
Businesses typically don’t fulfill specialized services such as deposit recovery and auditing services in-house, because keeping employees on staff solely to perform these functions isn’t cost-effective. The niche service provided by Wankoff’s company is what made Joel Bobrow, CFO of Lely Real Estate, interested in acquiring CTA this year.
“Every company loses track of these small things,” Bobrow said. “She goes and finds it. As companies rank, it’s a niche business. It’s not something companies want to keep staff for, because once it gets all cleaned out there’s not a reason to constantly keep track of deposits. Every two to three years, you can call CTA in to clean it up and take care of it.”
The life cycle of a project for us, depending on how large a client and how many states and how many acquisitions funds sitting with the state of Florida, you can get paid within 3 to 4 months.
Tami Wankoff, Contingency Telecom Auditing founder
In February, Contingency Telecom Auditing was purchased by Commercial Southwest Ventures Inc., a member of the Lely Real Estate Group, comprising approximately 40 companies based in Florida and Texas. Neither CTA nor Commercial Southwest Ventures would disclose the sales price.
“This is what I couldn’t do on my own,” Wankoff said. “I couldn’t hire a controller. I wouldn’t know what to interview for.” She knew she wanted the business to continue to grow, but she also realized it was growing to a size and scale that she alone was unable to manage. She now owns 51 percent of the company and reports to Commercial Southwest Ventures CFO Joel Bobrow. The other 49 percent is split between three individual investors, Wankoff said.
Deposit recovery is an unfamiliar term to most.
“If you are a hospital and you lease an MRI machine, say it’s two years later and you’re changing out the machine,” Wankoff said. “They do a new lease. You’re supposed to give back the deposit on the original lease, but because finance never had a reason to track it, by the time they (the leasing company) clear out their books they can’t return it to you.” Sometimes addresses change or businesses close, and if the leasing company can’t find a place to send the money to, they’re legally required to turn it over to the state.
The state, whether it’s Florida or any other U.S. state, is required by law to hold the money in an account until the owner comes to claim it. Many people don’t know about the Florida database of unclaimed property.
“If you went in and looked up yourself in the state of Florida, you may find something for yourself or your family,” Wankoff said. And while it’s easy for an individual to search, the process for businesses is completely different. Wankoff and her paid staff of about a dozen people had to file applications with each state agency, follow the requirements and then be approved based on the requirements to obtain “treasure hunter” status.
Wankoff’s team has also included interns from Southeast High School, Manatee Technical College, Stetson University, Southeastern University, Hillsborough Community College and the State University of New York at Geneseo.
Before Wankoff and staff dive into checking unclaimed property databases from all 50 states, they perform a background check on potential clients to “pre-qualify” them for services. The history will explore a company’s assets as well as the assets of all subsidiary companies. Depending on how much data is returned from the initial search, CTA staff will then reach out to companies to have a conversation about using her services to recover funds.
$6 millionamount recovered to date for CTA clients
CTA has recovered approximately $6 million for clients, who are not billed for deposit recovery “until they have a check in their hand,” Wankoff said. They won’t be billed for telecommunications auditing until a refund is posted from telecommunications carriers.
Wankoff’s company also helps businesses recuperate money through telecommunications invoice auditing, which was originally the core service of Contingency Telecom Auditing before she added deposit recovery to the mix in 2011. Wankoff and her team assist companies with reviewing telephone, cable or Internet bills, for example, to “make sure you’re being charged the correct rates.”
“We have no ties to any telecom carrier whatsoever, but we are going to make sure you get the best pricing you can,” Wankoff said. “We have years of benchmark data, and if I look at two hospitals side by side and one is paying 4 cents per minute for video conferencing and the other is paying 8 cents, I know (the company who is paying) 8 (cents) shouldn’t be paying 8; they should be paying 4. I also know due to the volume, they should be getting a volume discount.”
To see if you or your family have “buried treasure” in the state of Florida, enter your name at https://www.fltreasurehunt.org/.