‘I would like to keep working as long as I can’

Rhoda James talks to workingwise.co.uk about her working life story – from modelling to financial services – and how, at 77, she has no plans to retire.

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From modelling to financial services, Rhoda James has had a wide-ranging career in her 77 years and is still going strong as a financial support adviser at Santander Consumer Finance. That varied work – and life – experience have been a boon when it comes to dealing with chasing people who are in arrears with their payments – something that requires a supportive, but firm touch at a time of economic crisis. 

Rhoda started her working life as a showroom model in a fashion house on London’s Bond Street, mainly modelling sports wear and suits. She was 18 at the time and applied through an advert. She was there for a year before, due to the perils of modelling life and fashion’s obsession with weight, she fainted, falling forward, smashing her eye teeth and damaging her chin.  Her confidence was badly dented as a result and she never went back to modelling. Instead she started work doing admin and switchboard work at a tiling company in Wandsworth where she met her first husband.  She was there a year before leaving to look after her two children, now aged 54 and 52.  

A 10-year career break followed and, after her marriage broke down, Rhoda had to return to work, initially as a temp in insurance and law until she secured a permanent secretarial job at a sollicitors. It was her first introduction to dealing with debt as the firm worked on American Express debts.  Rhoda was headhunted for a job at another firm that never materialised and then moved to another law firm from which she was made redundant during the recession in the 1980s. From there she worked in local government, processing a thousand invoices a week, and was eventually promoted to line manager. She stayed for 11 years until the team was deleted when a new system came in.

From insurance to Santander

Rhoda picked herself up once again, resumed temping and then moved to AXA insurance where her work involved processing claims, including for the Iceland volcano eruption in 2010. She herself had been caught up in the chaos that followed the eruption of Eyjafjallajökull, finding herself stranded on holiday in Italy until a man in her party who was high up in the Norwich Union managed to arrange a coach for people to get back to Calais.

But redundancy loomed again. The AXA work – by then for Lloyds claims –  moved up north and Rhoda left in 2012. Ten days later she started working for Santander Consumer Finance in arrears management and stayed there until 2017 when she and her partner moved to Somerset. She temped again for local government before a restructure meant they did not need temps. By the time Covid hit she was looking for work and in May 2020 she was accepted back into the Santander fold on the same team, working from home on a full-time contract. She has since dropped to a three-day week. 

The benefits of and for older workers

Over the years Rhoda has had to learn lots of new systems and is clearly very adaptable to change. Her many years of working in finance have been put to good use in her current job chasing people who are in arrears with payments. She is keen to help people pay off their debt in any way they can and says there is a lot of support available if people are willing to take it, although she says some people run from their problems rather than face up to them, which only makes things worse. Over the years she has developed a gut instinct for those people who won’t pay, but says she is good at ‘plodding on’, “like a terrier”. Rhoda believes having a multigenerational team works really well for employers, with many younger workers being able to help out with technical issues while older ones often know a bit more about life.

For her, working brings many benefits. They include a sense of purpose and mental stimulation. While she sometimes misses the camaraderie of the office, she says the advantages of working from home outweigh this and she also gets out and about with her dog and volunteers at an old people’s club every other week, making cakes and jams. Even though she is the same age as the people at the club, she says that mentally she feels much younger, with work and contact with her colleagues contributing to this.   

Rhoda adds that she loves working for Santander Consumer Finance. “They are very good to work for and very good to their staff. And they bend over backwards for their customers,” she says.

She has no plans to retire any time soon and says she got very bored the last time she was not working. “I would like to carry on working for as long as I can,” she states.

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