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

Friends & Colleagues,

SCOJ88. 88 Saturday mornings. 88 weeks in Detroit. 88, ya know? Somehow it seems impressive. Not because of the actual number of weeks that I sent out this newsletter but because 88 looks better. Better than 89 or 91, in fact. Because of the look? Symmetry, perhaps? I don’t know where I was going with that but some numbers just look better than others.

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Monday the office is closed for Martin Luther King Jr.’s Birthday. It’s an important day to remember. The lessons of Dr. King’s leadership and the achievement of revolutionary, nonviolent protest against the institutions of power is more relevant each passing day. I wanted to write more about it but hesitate. Instead, I want to do more reading and listening than writing in this area. Part of my day Monday will be devoted to doing just that.

In the meantime, I was searching the web for some quotes and stories about Dr. King when I found this article: http://www.adweek.com/digital/hope-bertram-digital-megaphone-guest-post-mlk-day/ . I still don’t know how to think about an article recommending “staying on brand” during corporate social media posts on Monday.

Part of me understands that these types of industry blogs exist for all industries and aren’t necessarily meant for the average reader (i.e. benefit of the doubt). Part of me sees this type of thinking as exactly the problem in how we conduct ourselves. So overthought, so controlled, so watered down. Genuine expression and honest, candid sentiment is distrusted or attacked. No mention or remaining silent is misinterpreted or assumed to be chickenshit. Imprecision or unrefined approaches are excoriated. So many assumptions and (over)reactions flying around, it can be difficult to find any value through the noise. Perhaps that’s on me for having such high expectations in the first place.

My over dramatic observations aside. There is still a curious, interested conversation happening among people who want to understand the world better, who want to hear your story and who want to be part of the solution rather than the problem. I just hope to be a thoughtful person in the mix.

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Answer well: Gregg Popovich. I noticed an article shared on LinkedIn by my colleague Bill Banfield about the valuable lessons of Gregg Popovich. It was great. I recommend the whole article but here were my takeaways.

1. Do the work. There’s no substitute for the real, actual work.

2. Anger is important; use it wisely. Pop’s flashes of anger are genuine but also under his control.

3. Before the 2016–2017 season, Popovich gave his players copies of Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates. Raise the bar.

4. Popovich has flipped the idea of “be an animal” on its head. “He wants his players to be fully human. And he’s genuinely curious about them.”

Perhaps the biggest takeaway wasn’t even a quote or an explicit lesson, but the underlying message of everything Pop does — live it, don’t talk about it. I’m envious because I do a lot of talking (and writing). But all that means is that I have to do both — the talking about it and the doing it. The hard work. The living it. What I often try to temper or even outright hide is how badly I want to do the work. The hard work. The valuable work. My ambition and desire to work hard (and succeed) are so intertwined that it can be hard to promote one without the other. Live more, talk less, manage ambition. That seems reasonable.

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As everyone who knows me or reads this knows, I’m a huge fan of podcasts both as entertainment and as a mechanism to hear about the world without going through the traditional institutions. Interesting development this week. My list of podcast episodes has grown pretty long and I heard a suggestion that listening on 1.5x speed or even 2x speed helps get through more content but without losing the comprehension. I started with 1.5x speed and I love it. I’m burning through more episodes and it’s not as awkward as you might think. If you are someone who loves audio books or podcasts, give it try. You might be pleasantly surprised.

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Wall Street Journal published a best-of list for this year’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES). Web-enabled dog beds, self-driving suitcase, voice-activated shower and electric roller skates are just some of the concepts floating around this year’s show.

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Included this week:

· Of Interest — How important is that new kitchen, really?

· Power of storytelling — Banks have a challenge, though not a strong one, yet

· For your consideration — Employee classification might be the most critical change to our economy and labor policymaking in the last 10 years…or ever

· NextBelt — A succinct view of what it’s like to live in Detroit

· Quirky Story — BlackRock or Blackstone?

· Today’s Thought, the Quote & a bonus

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Mural, Eastern Market, Detroit, MI, USA

Of Interest: Examples of conventional wisdom getting it wrong are frequent. Slow and steady wins the race. A penny saved is a penny earned. Nice guys always finish last. One is the loneliest number. Home buyers want new fixtures.

In fact, a new study shows that “[f]or the most part…focusing on less-expensive projects typically can yield a higher return on investment, while bigger, more exciting projects — a major kitchen renovation or a bathroom remodel — tend to cost more and receive far less return.”

The reality is that some buyers know what they want and other buyers want what they are told to want. Perhaps it doesn’t matter why they buy the house as long as they buy it, right? Except for many sellers, the renovations eat into the potential profit on the home. Selling a home is such a big deal, however, that once it finally ends, many people — in fact most people — are so happy to be done with the process that they don’t do a deep dive on the expected value versus the finally realized value.

Anyone looking to sell might want to review / consider this Philly.com article before trusting their agent’s conventional wisdom.

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Power of storytelling: One subject I’m fascinated by is whether traditional banks are truly being challenged by online or mobile-based fintech startups. Ainsley Harris of FastCompany writes, “Most of the fintech startups I meet share a similar goal: they want to become the central hub for every transaction in your life…But for most of us, the bank remains our primary financial relationship. The problem for fintech startups, of course, is that banking relationships are enormously sticky. In a mature market, it’s hard to get anyone to switch.

No one really likes their bank. Some people tolerate their bank. Others are ambivalent. Shouldn’t your bank be a company you want to be associated with? I get that most banks are important for putting all of our money to work. It’s just unclear whether it’s in the most efficient way possible or to the benefit of the average customer.

Yet, as Ainsley points out, “the U.S. market remains as stubborn as ever. So what would convince consumers here to choose a mobile-first bank? Chime thinks it has the answer: eliminating fees and automating savings behavior.” The CEO of Chime is Chris Britt. Britt recognizes that direct deposit is the stickiest part of the relationship.

What I’ve argued is that mobile-first banks are not the only institutions with an opportunity here. Credit unions and other financial services companies can and should have a story to tell millennials. Credit unions are the combination of personalized, custom(er) service and local, relationship banking. Lenders, fintech companies and peer platforms with a mechanism to engage the consumer’s daily checking/savings and spending would also be more likable brands than banks. Theoretically, if you don’t want to optimize on your iPhone, you might want to support a community and be treated like a big deal. There’s a credit union for that. If you, fintech companies are finding out ways to reach out that don’t include banks. There’s opportunity at both ends of the technological spectrum, yet I don’t get the sense that credit unions have gotten the memo.

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For your consideration: Anyone looking for a long, in-depth, data-driven analysis of the labor market and how business organization restructuring has changed all of our economic outlook? If so, this Politico piece is for you. Here are some high points but click the link for the full picture: “Over the past two decades, the U.S. labor market has undergone a quiet transformation, as companies increasingly forgo full-time employees and fill positions with independent contractors, on-call workers or temps — what economists have called ‘alternative work arrangements’ or the ‘contingent workforce’.”

The biggest factors are the official classification of “independent contractor” AND workers who are not independent contractors but whose jobs have become less secure, on-call or subcontracted instead of direct. Congress does not offer the same protections to these workers because fewer protections are needed for greater independence, or so the theory goes. What has happened instead is companies are able to have their cake and eat it too by playing with classifications. One possible solution would be a new category of worker that allows a more nuanced policy approach (i.e. the exclusive contractor who is independent but works only for one company, i.e. Uber or medical transcriptionists).

This is a major issue for all of us. Our organizations and many of our jobs depend on a healthy, robust economy where people can work, buy a home and achieve the American Dream of economic stability. Even if you are not in the mortgage or lending space, your employees or the company you might start will have to grapple with the issues and boundaries outlined in this interesting article. I hope it continues the conversation about who we are and who we want to be as we assess policymaking and innovation in the next 5–10 years.

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As seen on Instagram this week. Be your mindset not what you see in the mirror.

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Next Belt: I often look for opportunities to showcase the multiple sides of Detroit and especially the personality and point of view of all Detroiters (not just those I work with downtown). I ran across a column on Entrepreneur.com that does a really good (and concise) job of articulating the complexity of moving to Detroit, starting a business in Detroit and being a part of the community. My experience has been unique because my best friend and his wife already lived here when we arrived so we were able to connect to a network of Detroiters right away. We also made the decision to live in the city and send our daughter to school in Detroit. Our goal is to continue to become a part of our neighborhood and our city. Our goal is not to “save Detroit.” This article identifies just how complex that nuance can be. As you can read from Jimmy Doom, a Detroiter quoted in the article, it is patronizing for someone to arrive here and tell lifelong Detroiters they’ll be “saved.”

I thought Mark Wahlberg articulated it well: “I think the main challenge is demonstrating to the people of Detroit that you have genuine care and love for the city. It has to be about more than bringing a well-run business; it is about becoming part of the community and giving back.”

Detroit is also unique in the sense that it’s small enough yet high-profile enough where a handful of entrepreneurs can make national news. No other major city has the same sensitivity to an influx of investors, developers or businesses. When I say sensitivity, I mean it has visibility and impact here which makes it more up for debate than a city where you can just fly under the radar for a while.

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Quirky story: Hard to think that a story in The Economist would be quirky but this comparison of BlackRock and Blackstone caught my attention. Over the past few years, I’d often confused BlackRock and Blackstone. This article began by identifying the two companies and their respective CEOs. And, basically, went on to confuse me again. Here, try it.

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A ski lodge popped up in downtown Detroit.

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Today’s Thought: Answer well. Answer well no matter the question. Answer well to every question. Answer well to what the project demands. If you’ve been reading the Saturday Cup of Joe since the beginning, all 88 weeks, you know this is my personal motto of sorts. It felt right to bring it back. Some people think of this as “give it your all.” Others might say “be all there.” These are all aspects for me too, but I like to focus on the value of the response as much or more than the effort involved. The effort is necessary to bring the rest, to bring the goods, but I like to think about providing quality to the best of my ability. #Answerwell.

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Quote: “What unifies every part of my journey is I always lead with my curiosity, obsession, or fascination.” — Brian Koppelman

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Bonus Content: The clarity paradox. When success (or opportunities) lead to complacency.

Continued success,

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