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

Friends & Colleagues,

SCOJ78. Thank you to everyone who signed up in the last few weeks. I hope that I’ve been able to add some value (or entertainment) to your week. I know I’ve written a lot about Detroit and Amazon HQ2 lately. After receiving well over 200 proposals for HQ2, I think Amazon will spend the next 6–8 weeks evaluating proposals. As a result, there won’t be a ton of new information. When we’re able to find new information or update the project, I’ll write again. In the meantime, it’s back to business as usual. I’ll continue to write about the mortgage industry, consumer finance, millennials, the American Dream and leadership lessons from another week in Detroit, Michigan. As always, let me know your thoughts and thank you for reading.

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Autumn in Detroit, MI

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Earlier this week I was taking part in a strategic planning session for leaders within my organization. A colleague was presenting a vision of his role on the team and mentioned his personal vision. He identified 2 qualities that he’ll be working on over the next year — curiosity and empathy. After hearing his presentation, I came up with my own version of the mission. “Intentional curiosity and authentic empathy.” What is your vision for your work?

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Last week, I wrote about the potential for blockchain to change consumer financial services. Within days American Banker published an article that implied blockchain could upend the traditional credit bureau. The idea, at least from what I can see, would be a new system that does a better job rating creditworthiness and secures information. Unfortunately it’s not that easy.

For instance, “I would not believe for one second that the big three players in the U.S. are going to let some startup blockchain company take their franchise away from them,” said Steve Ely, CEO of the alternative credit bureau eCredable. “There’s way too much money at stake for them to allow that to happen. As much as they compete with each other, they’re also smart enough to know that they do have the goose that lays the golden eggs every year.”

This is the catch, right? On one hand, we’re all suspicious of the traditional credit models. Lenders want to know the models account for student debt, medical debt and alternative sources of repayment. On the other hand, blockchain remains an unproven technology. The real estate finance industry, in particular, is looking for an application of blockchain but it’s an old school industry. So, there are still experts on both sides banking on the success or failure of blockchain (pun intended). What do you think? Will the Equifax breach threaten the entire credit bureau model? Is blockchain technology a threat or solution to the traditional credit bureau model?

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Valuable lessons: There are dumb questions. Ask them. In fact, ask them all. I read a post by one law professor who found a formula to encourage dumb questions. Fun-dumb-mentals. Sorry, he wrote it but I couldn’t resist. The idea is to acknowledge that some questions, while dumb, are the key to thinking about a topic in a new and innovative way. I love this. My belief remains that curiosity is the strongest trait in successful people. Curiosity in other people, in new ideas, in everyday life. Because humans are basically herd animals, “questions are underrated in our conformist society.” So true. Ask all the questions. What in your organization (or in your life!) hasn’t been examined or question lately? This week I’m overcoming the self-conscious instinct and asking the questions.

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Have you ever heard the rumor about Denver International Airport being a secret retreat built by the Masons to house either politicians, Freemasons, or some other select group in the event of a global emergency? The theory is all over the place. But it’s funny and if you travel a lot, it certainly makes spending hours in an airport more interesting. Trust me, the next time you are in DIA, you’ll think twice about some of the walls and doors.

Included this week:

· Of Interest — Airbnb is changing the market for home purchases in some cities.

· Answer well — Defying social norms is the way to go.

· Walk the Talk — What does talking to CEOs every week for years teach you?

· Quirky Story — Luxury home sales (and prices) include throw-ins and leave behinds

· Today’s Thought, the Quote and bonus

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Ambassador Bridge, Detroit, MI

Of Interest: One of the things I’ve found most interesting about Saturday Cup of Joe has been how some weeks have themes without an intention to find a common theme. This week, one theme that has come up a few times has been home purchase and home values. My sister-in-law Heidi sent me a Yahoo! case study on Airbnb in New Orleans (thanks Heidi). The essential question is what happens when more residents prefer Airbnb rentals than primary homes? In New Orleans, it has actually created a problem with diverse communities and property values. The examples in this article are pretty specific. What would “Airbnb gentrification” or an “Airbnb culture” mean to your community? Better yet, how would Airbnb sales (mostly investment property loans) change your organization’s business or model? If the rental market increases thanks to trends like those depicted in the Yahoo! article, how would your business/organization respond? The article focused on tourism but what if Airbnb rolled out a longer term rental option. Then what would your organization do?

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Answer well: I’ve written before that “answer well” is a motto I’ve developed to remind myself to always be delivering at the highest level. In other words, answer well to any question asked. Every time. No excuses. I also use it as a proxy for finding valuable lessons. Answer well means finding value in everyday interactions and random articles. One incredibly valuable lesson was highlighted this week when I came across one such article about the pressure of social norms. The lesson was to rise above the pressure of conformity to maintain one’s beliefs, strengths and observations even against the strongest urge to go along with the crowd. Many people would rather be a member of the group than speak up (or speak out) for what they really believe or, in the case of one experiment in the article, for what they see right in front of them. Subjects in the experiment were shown obvious comparison such as “which line is longer” and “which color is white or black.” In one group everyone responded on their own and everyone was correct in their response. In the other group, the experimenters planted a few loud, confident respondents who maintained the wrong answer but did so quickly and firmly. In the second group they persuaded 75% of the people to change to the wrong answer simply by social pressure. Unfortunately that’s the state of some organizations. I’m sure some that we’ve all either been a part of or are familiar with. If there is one thing I am trying to teach my daughter, it is the comfort in being herself and not “feeling,” to whatever degree possible the pressure to make other people comfortable or not disrupt the social norms. If anything, I’d rather she constantly disrupt the social norm and overcome that fear early because there is no question that those of us who can do that (even some of the time) succeed. Are you subject to feeling the social pressures of group think? How strongly do you have to feel about a subject or topic before you’ll speak up in your organization? As leaders, how do we ensure that negative social pressures are not allowed to linger on our teams? This week I’m going to intentionally disrupt a social norm when I feel the group heading in a certain direction that I don’t agree with and see how it goes.

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Walk the Talk: When I started Saturday Cup of Joe one of my favorite things to include was insights and advice from Adam Bryant’s The New York Times column “Corner Office.” It remains one of my favorite highlights of the Sunday paper. However, I began to notice that the experiences and advice were so sporadic and so personal that it was hard to apply to general leadership lessons. At the same time, I really enjoy understanding these unique stories.

Well, this week, Adam Bryant wrote at length about the experience and tried (his best) to find trends or commonalities. Here’s what he found.

3 themes:

1. Applied curiosity

2. Embrace a challenge

3. Manage your own career

The two other items I pulled out that I zeroed in on: be willing to make decisions amidst ambiguity and corporate culture is like religion (my take — it’s the only way to get this many humans to work in unison).

As a tease to click on the article, Bryant includes “My Favorite Story” about one now-CEO recruiting at Babson College and it is a simple but effective story of success.

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Quirky Story: Ever since joining the mortgage industry, I’ve had questions about the valuation process. “Valuation process” is one of those classic corporate phrases, isn’t it? How much is the house worth? I once got into a discussion of whether seller concessions or seller points artificially inflate home values are actually an ethical problem for lenders or appraisers. Always seemed to me that seller points were actually the offset for the local appraiser’s (unintentionally) biased price. Local appraisers have their own perceptions of certain areas and therefore some amount of the assessment has built in & largely subconscious judgments. Outside of competitive markets where sellers have all the leverage, most markets see a good bit of maneuvering whether slight price drop or slight concession to get the deal done. Buyers and sellers adjust for the opinions of the agents, appraisers and homeowners about the value of the home and the area. It’s wildly inconsistent place to place but it remains a more “true market” as compared to many other transactions in our lives. That editorial aside, home values, especially of luxury homes, was given another variable this week when The Wall Street Journal published an interesting story about “throw-ins” during the home sale process. Apparently luxury home buyers will often ask for art, cars, chandeliers and even cats when purchased multi-million dollar properties. Brokers try to have separate agreements for these items but often that changes the purchase price, sometimes dramatically. In other cases, the deal can fall apart. The bottom line for me was to revisit the entire idea of home values in the context of these unique seller concessions (and for you compliance folks, where does the Bentley go on the Closing Disclosures?).

Today’s Thought: “Run it by you” versus “Run by you.” Who do you want to be? Someone who can rely on others or someone who passes by colleagues in the hallway. What type of organization do you want to lead? I heard a senior leader reference this distinction this week and it got me thinking. The goal is to encourage people to work together on tough issues even if they are not day-to-day colleagues. In other words, I’ve been passing you in the hall for days, weeks, or even years. How do I turn a familiar (but untapped) resource into a teammate?

Quote: “The only thing that can overcome a persuasive idea is a better idea.” — Theodore S. Repplier

Bonus Content: Random song of the week — “Dark Red” by Steve Lacy — a little off beat but good.

Written by

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

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