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

Friends & Colleagues,

SCOJ89. A short week it was not. Wednesday came quickly and Friday took a week to get here. In some ways it was for good reason. We were busy with new projects, new innovations and new deployments. Testing formats, products and platforms before the East Coast and Northern most part of the United States begins the Spring buying season. What I think of as the exciting stuff. It was also a long week thanks to the interference of some overly obstructionist regulators. Enough said there. Perhaps some other time we can discuss those war stories.

The North American International Auto Show is in full swing for the next week. The concept cars are wowing crowds. The corporate events and special events are taking over downtown. Fleets of black SUVs. It’s exciting to have the buzz around town even if I don’t expect to participate this year. We’ve got a 5 year old birthday party this weekend, Red Wings game on Saturday and an as-of-yet undefined evening on Monday night. Monday is the one year anniversary of Brad’s death.

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Detroit from above. 12/31/17.

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Long time readers of the Saturday Cup of Joe know that Brad’s diagnosis in October of last year and death a year ago was sudden and shocking. If you are newer to Saturday Cup of Joe, Brad, his wife Dana and I chronicled our experience on a podcast and blog, Defending Your Life. Please feel free to join our journey. I cannot decide what a one-year anniversary is supposed to be. I still am not sure how I’ll feel though the last few days have been increasingly heavy. One thing I do know is that I won’t miss an opportunity to say some of what Brad & I would recommend — live the life you wanna live, live it courageously and in all things, live out your commitments.

I once asked Brad what advice he’d give that most people do not agree with, here was his response:

Keeping your options open is a total waste of time — No, decide — then either commit or abandon; decide again, and on and on; Tenacity beats brains; Vulnerability is strength.”

I miss you, everyday, brother.

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Brad and I in 2015, J. Brian’s Taproom, Fredericksburg, VA.

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If one of your favorite actors or Instagram accounts to follow turned out to be a computer-generated image, CGI celebrity if-you-will, would that bother you? Since computers started creating the images and personalities (or at least the posts) of these so-called “cyborgs,” some have gained hundreds of thousands of followers on social media. In fact it’s difficult to know sometimes which are the angsty teen celebrity and which are bots. I’m less interested in the social media implications and more interested in the consumer experience.

If a computer generated image, personality and author (authoring, it seems, at least as far as the social media posts go) is able to captivate an audience, it won’t be long till the same computer (or better computers) will be able to create a loan officer or a financial advisor or an attorney to provide the value of sharp, methodical analysis as well as the “human” experience. I hear many people speak about the general public with an overall negative tone in terms of common sense or judgment yet later in the conversation doubt a computer could ever understand a human decision. It’s understandable why most people don’t trust “the crowd.” But it’s not clear why consumers don’t think of their neighborhood loan officer, banker or whatever as individual members of that same crowd.

Please don’t misunderstand. I’m not blindly advocating artificial intelligence should step into all areas of business displacing human employees. It is interesting, though, the inconsistency. Our preference for human advice in one area is what we admit in other areas is flawed reasoning. As I heard this week, “man isn’t rational, he’s a rationalizer.” I wonder how far that rationalizing will extend? Would we go so far as to deny data, evidence if it conflicted with human perception or judgment? How much “gut feeling” is required in our profession, in our transactions? How much accuracy or “savings” would you need to accept or even welcome these faux human interactions?

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Most Americans do not have adequate savings.

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Managing a team is easiest where it intersects with common sense. According to a recent study, 69% of managers said “communicating in general” with their teams was the hardest part of communicating. That’s both depressing and encouraging. Depressing to know most organizations are operating with over 2/3 of managers afraid to communicate within their organizations. Encouraging because this is opportunity for any young or aspiring executives who do not fear and, indeed, embrace investing in other people.

Included this week:

· Of Interest — Value of mentorship

· Power of storytelling — Value in economy

· For your consideration — Value of student debt

· NextBelt — Value of economic incentives

· Quirky Story — Value of a name

· Today’s Thought & the Quote

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View down Michigan Avenue, Detroit, MI, USA
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View from Michigan Avenue up Griswold St., Detroit, MI, USA

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Of Interest: Many Saturday Cup of Joe readers are leaders or aspiring leaders who run companies, organizations and teams. Have you ever considered a mentor program? Mentor programs are an easy and usually cost effective way to build future leaders, get better insight into all levels of your company and hopefully identify special colleagues who have the potential to do big things for you. Here are 4 quick tips on a structure if you are having trouble imagining how you’d roll it out:

1. Required # of meetings over a short term (3–4 months) with the option to continue beyond if the relationship is working. Every other week is 6 meetings total (approximately 6–8 hour initial commitment for the mentors).

2. Make the mentees responsible for the content of the meetings (including an agenda/objective).

3. Try to align mentor-mentees based on common interest or common area of the organization.

4. Require feedback in the form of a survey or submitted response to ensure the program achieves your objectives.

For anyone looking to be mentored, Whitnie Low Narcisse published the 10 Commandments of Mentorship (scroll down to find them).

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Power of storytelling: Value. Often overused, occasionally misused. My instinct is to think of value or perceived value in the big picture. Some decision, activity or work might not pay off right away. Might not be “valuable” immediately but later or over time, the experience or the discipline to suddenly lead to something valuable. My theory requires, however, that the work leads to something. Opportunity. Compensation. A new idea. What seems to be plaguing many companies, organizations and industries is the inability to understand or articulate value? For instance, a $10 billion social media startup that creates funny pictures permanently deleted from the app in 10 seconds. One author, Tim O’Reilly, suggested that it’s a disease of the entire economy. We no longer measure value a company provides consumers or society at-large, instead we measure the value a company returns to investors.

The example he uses — General Electric (GE). The Board of GE was recently influenced by an activist investor who removed his opponents in order to orchestrate a spin-off of certain operating units into separate companies and, in particular, a stock buyback that requires the company take on debt specifically to increase the stock prices. It’s debt to pay investors. Now, it may be part of some longer term plan that Tim O’Reilly knows nothing about or is a “payback” for other value those investors sacrificed leading up to this decision. Putting those slim possibilities aside for a minute, let’s indulge the idea. The bottom line is value no longer needs to mean actual contribution to customers’ lives or businesses as long as there is monetary value somewhere in the equation.

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For your consideration: A new Brookings Institute study suggests that nearly 40% of Americans with student debt from 2003–2004 may default on their loans by 2023. This conclusion is based on trends established by studying students from 1995–1996 and comparing the results to those in 2003–2004. Not surprisingly, the study also found that for-profit students default at a significantly higher rate than public school students.

The study also found that default rates depend more on student and institutional factors than on average levels of debt. Unfortunately this is also disproportionately true by race. Black students default at a rate 5x higher than white counterparts.

The results were not all doomsday proclamations. The researchers found that general concerns over the amount of debt are misplaced. It’s not about regulating general student debt but rather focusing efforts on for-profit schools, repayment options based on degree attainment or contingent on income, and addressing challenges faced by students of color.

In many ways, this is good news and not entirely unexpected. Individual students have been struggling with student loan debt but, as a generation, early 2000s graduates are figuring it out. Albeit more slowly than previous generations. So the data is not so dramatic to sound the alarm for today’s consumers. What the report does not review is whether students from 2003–2004 are illustrative of 2013–2014 or whether the subsequent 10 years will prove to have substantially more difficult outcomes than earlier cohorts.

As seen on Instagram this week.

Next Belt: On Thursday morning Amazon announced the top 20 finalists for their HQ2 project. Obviously I was disappointed that Detroit was not selected for the top 20. I really appreciate everyone reaching out. It was inspiring to think the Detroit narrative that we set out to promote had resonated across the country, even if it wasn’t ultimately persuasive with Amazon. One thought I had while looking for common elements among the top 20 cities is the size of the economic incentives available. Seems like the top 20 is reflective of the most lucrative economic and tax packages available. Detroit could not obviously offer as much in the way of incentives as we could in potential & growth opportunities. Buy low and sell high. That was not the priority reflected in these finalists. Detroit is selling a new version of reality. If we cannot win over Jeff Bezos, perhaps we can influence the next Jeff Bezos.

I did not give much thought to who would likely win now that Detroit is not eligible. Perhaps Atlanta is the frontrunner or even Denver as the New York Times suggested months ago or even Austin as the Whole Foods conspiracy theorists think. For my bet, or my rooting interest, I’ll take Pittsburgh. Bloomberg noted that Pittsburgh ranks first among home affordability. It’s not clear that will matter in the end but between Columbus and Pittsburgh, the #NextBelt has a few options left to make the case. We’ll see.

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Quirky story: ATTOM Data Solutions compiled the most common homebuyer first names of 2017. Turns out 41% more Dylans are buying homes in the past year than Dylans in the year before. Gerald, Stanley and Jaime were down.

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Today’s Thought: How did we solve that problem? Leaders cannot move too fast or skip key feedback moments. Sometimes when a really tough problem is “suddenly” solved, a leader should raise the question to learn more. Many leaders would move past the how onto what’s next. The question — how did we solve that problem? — will provide as much insight into your organization as the fact that a tough problem was conquered.

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Quote: “Reality is a fiction we all create for each other.” — Wallace Stevens

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Bonus Content: A sad yet dramatic story about the Marriott family and specifically an upcoming lawsuit over the treatment of JW Marriott Jr’s son, also named Bill.

Written by

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

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