Saturday Cup of Joe: a lending and tech(ish) newsletter

Friends & Colleagues,

SCOJ85. Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays from Detroit. I cannot help but reflect on the previous year every year around Christmas and New Year’s. I’ll be sending more of those thoughts next week, but suffice to say, it’s been a dramatic year of love, loss, progress, and big dreams. In just the last few weeks, I’ve been connecting in new and deeper ways with the Legal team and learning valuable lessons from my teammates about team chemistry, goals and expectations. We have a tight knit group on the legal team right now and are able to share ideas and experiences with honesty and vulnerability. I’m hoping to continue to share and build trust so that this group can do really amazing things in 2018.

Are you someone who sets annual goals? Daily goals? What are you looking forward to in the next year? What’s a goal that will scare you and move you that I can help you pursue? I’d love to stay in touch over the course of the year and even profile some of the goals, if you are willing to share with the larger audience. Either way, I hope you’ll set ambitious goals that both inspire and scare you. For me, it’s all on the table and I’m open to sharing with any and all to help both of us improve.

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One topic I like to revisit from time to time is what makes up a community and how people perceive their community. My contention has always been that homeownership is not a wise financial investment (as it has been in the past) but rather a wise emotional commitment to a place and a group of people. Homeownership is a commitment to community, stability, and common progress. In the larger sense of community, however, there are many other elements that bind residents together beyond just their home. Schools. Community groups and associations. Events and activities. Kids, sports or recreation. Food.

In Kansas, one couple is using a grocery store to reimagine the community center. The concept of “a third place” comes to mind. 1). Home 2). Work 3). Community space. In the linked article, the Mildred Store becomes the third place in town where neighbors go for more than just errands and groceries. The store is a connection to the bigger “thing” that everyone is committed to. It is articles like this that give me hope (and ideas) about how all of us can reimagine a sense of community and commitment in our own lives each day.

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Answer Well of the Week: When I started the Saturday Cup of Joe, I promised a weekly email. This was a personal dare to make sure that this wouldn’t be an experiment that died out after a couple of weeks. My work each week remains a helpful and hopefully fun contribution to friends and colleagues usually about interesting things I’ve come across. My hope with this “Answer Well of the Week” is to find & share or otherwise profile something in the week that rose above everything else, an example of someone who answered well in big or little ways.

This week it’s Scott Harrison, the founder of charity:water. Marsie (my first résumé consultant, my comfort during difficult decisions, and a constant source of encouragement) sent me a video about charity:water that brought me to tears. It’s approximately 20 minutes, but I watched it in two segments and felt it was important to share. Here’s the story of charity:water and the renewed goal that one day “no one on Earth will die from dirty water.” Please check it out.

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Capital Park at Christmas, Detroit, MI, USA

Included this week:

· Of Interest — Flood insurance and flood risk is a growing threat to the economy

· Walk the Talk — It’s all about thinking of things as adding value

· Millennial minute — Let’s talk about Baby Boomers, shall we?

· NextBelt — A(nother) vision of Detroit

· Quirky Story — Valuable lessons from Greek olive oil

· Today’s Thought, the Quote and bonus

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As seen on Twitter, the FDR Memorial, Washington D.C., USA

Of Interest: Twice this week I came across an issue that showed up on Inman.com and The Wall Street Journal about property flooding and the risk to the buyers of flood-prone houses. Much of the analysis focused on rising sea levels and seaside communities but WSJ noted that areas like St. Louis, Des Moines and others which you might not immediately think of as needing flood insurance often do. Unfortunately, flood insurance availability and the disclosures about previously flooded properties is hit or miss at best. For instance, given the number of homes that would require flood insurance if the sea levels increase six feet by year 2100, as some studies suggest, the economy would experience losses worse than the 2008 financial crisis. Even before 2100, there’s fear that flood insurers may stop offering policies in many areas, triggering similar issues. Lenders and insurers’ fear, according to this article, is that these homes will begin losing value over the length of a 30-year mortgage as these risks and the awareness of the risks continue to increase. Resale value is certainly a main component of the lenders’ risk calculation.

Therein lies the catch-22 of improving flood-related disclosures. Sellers are often motivated to hide past flooding and because disclosure laws vary from state-to-state there is no uniform standard of notification to potential buyers. National Association of Realtors (NAR) has advocated “actual knowledge” of previous property flooding is a viable standard though I think that still leaves quite a bit of room for agents to maneuver. Certainly disclosing a flood insurance requirement prior to the closing table is an obvious improvement for the industry, yet no federal law requires home sellers to disclose if the properties have flooded. As a result, you end up with quotes like this. “Buyers also rely on the knowledge of local real-estate agents, who have worked for years in flood-prone areas,” said Christopher Zoller, chairman of the board of directors of the Miami Association of Realtors. “We know when there’s been a flood on a street and when there hasn’t been.” Really? Let’s take a step back and review that quote. It’s an incredible thing to say. Buyers are supposed to simply trust that realtors have some way of monitoring all floods in all areas of their market at all times. Well, that settles it.

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Walk the Talk: A quick thought that has served me well and is highlighted in this Entrepreneur article — success is about the value you add to other people’s lives. Specifically, “money reflects the value you give to others.” Want to make money? Pursue solving other people’s problems and you’ll make money.

From there, it’s all about finding what works for you. It’s not unlike diet & exercise. The proper balance of diet & exercise depends on your body chemistry, your goals, your habits, and your lifestyle. Once you find the right balance, the type of exercise (from walking to obstacle course racing to yard work) matches what keeps you interested, what’s sustainable. Similarly here, the ideal is continued growth while focusing on adding value. How you determine the personal balance of commitment, courage, curiosity, and persistence is up to you. But, make no mistake, the same level of thought and measurement is required for professional success as personal fitness.

For instance, we went through a restructuring recently of some of the smaller teams within the legal team where I work. A few people were not given the leadership positions or new responsibilities they thought were coming their way. And I found myself thinking, and then saying, on several occasions: “No one is going to tap you on the shoulder.” It’s as true inside our organizations and our companies as it is for generating wealth or making large sums of money. Success is based on the ability to constantly focus on adding value and when you get wrong, especially when you get it wrong, reevaluate and try again. The entrepreneurs profiled in the linked article exhibited the characteristics of success mentioned earlier but also required refocusing after a failure. That’s the persistence part.

Find your balance and then don’t let up.

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Millennial Minute: I’m just gonna leave this link — “How the Baby Boomers — not Millennials — screwed America” — right here. I think a lot about how generational trends and narratives develop. I’ve often believe that storytelling, the myths we tell each other about ourselves, are much more powerful than people realize. The author alludes to it in this piece.

“How did this happen? Boomers grew up in a time of uninterrupted prosperity…and so they simply took it for granted. This was a fantasy and the result of a spoiled generation assuming things would be easy and that no sacrifices would have to be made in order to preserve prosperity for future generations.”

This is a two-fold example. Identifying the myths Boomers told themselves AND the myths the author is calling out about Boomers. It can get messy quickly, which is one reason I think it’s not easier to understand how generational narrative translates into actual decisions about public policy & cultural values. For instance, the article states, “the boomers seem to have no appreciation for social solidarity.” As the largest political class, the problem of dealing with incoming or growing problems was irrelevant. And here we are. As myths go, the theory would be that Boomers are not problem solvers, not built for the tough decisions. I think that paints with too large a brush but gets to some of the nuances that I think deserve more attention. Going forward, how are we going to talk about values, about resources, and about critical decisions?

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Next Belt: I write often about how important it is for any city, but specifically Detroit, to define itself. I think sometimes I drive Saturday Cup of Joe loyalists crazy because it feels like the same message over and over again. After one SCoJ, my colleague and friend Brian emailed me, “We get it. You like Detroit!” It was a well-made joke but I’ve thought about that often over the last few weeks. I realized that I believe in order to really change people’s minds about something, it needs to feel like a constant or unassailable message. The riots of the late 60s, decline of the car companies or city’s bankruptcy in 2012, in and of themselves, did not give Detroit its reputation. It was actually the collective experience within the city from 1968–2012 that grew to what we saw in the media post-bankruptcy. It will take more than just a renovated business district to reverse that deep belief outside the Detroit metro area. I guess this my little way of contributing to that.

One vision of “New Detroit” that also contributed to the evolving message I support was Daniel Howes’ column on NPR. Howes articulates a vision for an entrepreneurial age, nationwide, that could be focused and fueled in Detroit to change the city’s future. I couldn’t agree more. The history of corporate benefactors, racial tension, and (eternal?) optimism, even in the face of the worst of times, is as much a reflection of the country’s experience as Detroit’s. When I think of Detroit’s future, I don’t see a town dominated by a few giant tech companies the way some people fear. I see the potential to remake a city in a new and different way. A new set of values. A new distribution of resources. A new generation defining a new American city. Detroit’s attitude is one of the things that makes living here special and it is critical to Detroit’s future. But diversity, thoughtfulness, and progress for all requires resources and entrepreneurs to help create an environment where a new set of rules is possible. I know that’s ambitious, but isn’t that what Detroit, and America, is all about?

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Quirky Story: Interesting read in the Wall Street Journal about the Greek olive oil industry and how the desire for quick cash is undermining millions in potential value. I was saddened but intrigued by the lost potential for Greek olive farmers because the country lacks the resources — cold press — and vision — no private label / brand for Greek olive oil — to capitalize on a wonderful and popular resource.

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A mural in The Belt, Detroit, MI, USA

Today’s Thought: Instant replay. I heard an interesting theory on instant replay in pro football this week. The theory takes issue with the fact that football happens in real time and replays are slowed in super slo mo, frame-by-frame for the referee to make fraction of the inch determinations about the play. The proposal would require referees to watch replays at full or, at slowest, half speed rather than getting the superhuman benefit of hindsight. I happen to agree that replay is ruining the product on the field. So I was sympathetic to the idea.

It also makes me think that often bank regulators and financial services regulators attempt to take the same liberties with supervisory exams, complaint investigations, and routine inquiries. Regulators often use the benefit of later information to color the treatment of past decisions. It also happens to each of us in our organizations when we evaluate performance reviews or the decisions of other leaders, our CEOs.

We need to be interested in reasonableness. Fairness. We’re not. We’re only interested in what’s true right now. The drama of what’s true now that we know what we know seems controlling.

What’s the solution? Evaluating the data or information in the context of what was known at the time, what’s known now, and what makes sense. Though, admittedly, that standard works better in regulatory exams than in football. In football, I prefer the backyard rule. If it would have been a catch in the backyard, it can be a catch in game.

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Quote: “Those times when you get up early and you work hard. Those times you stay up late and you work hard. Those times when you don’t feel like working. You’re too tired. You don’t want to push yourself, but you do it anyway. That is actually the dream.” — Kobe Bryant

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Bonus Content: Unchained, the podcast. In this episode, the hosts tackle how crypto and blockchain technology should be regulated. If that’s your jam, here’s two lawyers talking about it. (Shout out to Gary, the cyber expert on my team for the recommendation).

Continued success,

Written by

Thinker, curious leader, once an attorney…always trying to answer well.

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