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

Friends & Colleagues,

SCOJ86. Happy New Year! Thanks to social media and our smartphones, old acquaintances are never forgotten. Perhaps we’ll need to update Auld Lang Syne for a new generation. Either way, I’ll take a cup of kindness yet. Hopefully 2018 will be more kind than 2017. In the meantime…


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Detroit at sunset

Why is this so hard? In thinking about consumer finance writing or consumer financial literacy, this seems to be what passes as tips and tricks for consumers. 4 ways to use your mortgage to your advantage include — SHOCKER — pay it off quickly, improve your FICO score, and deduct the interest from your taxes (at least for this year). Incredible this stuff still gets published.

One piece of consumer finance programming that I’m excited about is the forthcoming podcast, Fortune Favors the Bold. Granted, it’s the official Mastercard podcast so you have to be skeptical of the source. But working for a giant financial services company doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t write interesting content, right?


A look ahead to 2018: Predictions sure to go wrong. Why not? Here’s one article on the top tech companies outlook for next year.

Other predictions with no validation or data to support them whatsoever:

We haven’t even scratched the surface in terms of speeding up the mortgage approval and closing process. Rocket Mortgage and others are doing ground-breaking work. Rocket set the bar for the industry so high that it’s taken 5 years for others to get to where Rocket Mortgage was at its launch. Yet, underwriting, title search and closing remain difficult for consumers to understand and navigate. Even as Quicken Loans stretches Rocket Mortgage all the way through the closing table, the industry, the regulators and the integrations between systems lag behind.

People are slow to change and therefore real estate agents will remain an overpaid piece of the transactions. Don’t get me wrong, in some markets it is helpful to be notified of a property before it’s listed on the market. Outside of those handful of communities, real estate agents will continue to lose out to tech companies who can do it better, cheaper and faster.

Blockchain and other validation tools coming to title insurance and closing will continue to drive down cost and time spent per loan.

Even though people are generally risk averse and slow to change, technology is a game changer. Technology will continue to change the way we interact and perhaps disrupt our industry even more. Virtual reality home tours, instant mortgage approvals and seamless transition to an interactive, personal closing session conducted where and when the client chooses are just some of the upgrades likely coming soon.


Answer Well: This video. “It’s all relative.” I’ve often wondered (though never searched) for a simple explanation of Einstein’s theory of relativity. This high school student knocked it out of the park in 3 minutes.


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Corktown, Detroit, MI, USA

Walk the Talk: Part of what I’ve challenged myself to do over the last year is “bite-sized pieces of the dream.” Many people have a side hustle, dream job or even hobby that they wish was more. Other leaders and executives have a desire to wake up earlier, fit in a workout during the week or read more. In all cases, something I’ve found that works for me is small experiments. Boiling down the goal into steps that test the theory or otherwise reality-test the idea. In the case of someone who wants to write a novel, it might be writing a short story or a chapter. In the case of someone wants to read more, it might be scheduling 1 hour, 1 night a week to read.

The key is to start. A 12 minute workout is better than no workout. Writing a journal is better than not writing at all. Sharing your writing with 1 person is better than the journal. If the dream is too big at first, do 1% today. Be 1% better than yesterday.

There’s a quote attributed to Aristotle that is relevant here: “You are what you repeatedly do.” The best way to change who you are is to repeatedly do what you wanna be. The best way to change what you repeatedly do is small, manageable changes. Eventually those changes, if inspiring and productive, will become the habits and practices of success.


Next Belt: Here’s a view of #NextBelt opportunity from one of Detroit’s biggest fans, Dan Gilbert. The lines of tech, finance, banking and consumer services are blurring. We’re hopeful that Detroit could find a nexus at the middle of tech, financial services and entrepreneurship. Detroit is poised to be the fintech capital of the economy. Certainly some things have to break a certain way and several successful startups will have to not only spring up but survive.


Everything is about innovation, creativity, newness, trying to keep the culture non-bureaucratic. To me, that’s how you compete in the world today.” — Dan Gilbert


Power of storytelling. One of my best friends sent me this article from Idaho (thanks, Dave!). The New York Times writes eloquently about “green collar jobs.” More than anything, however, it reinforced the importance of storytelling. Narrative. We love labels and we love categories. I often question the value of storytelling — can you really change someone’s mind with a well-crafted story? — and yet I am confronted, again and again, with examples where we lock onto a definition that becomes the whole way a thing is judged. Whether you are looking to capitalize on this new label for your business or understand it’s becoming part of the lexicon, it is interesting how green collar jobs are both questioned and frequently used when discussing the changing economic landscape.


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Vermont at sunrise

Today’s Thought is an essay:

Looking ahead to 2018, I’m both encouraged and wary of what next year holds. In many ways, 2017 was shocking because it reinforced how little people (as a group) embrace change. I’ve heard it from supervisors, motivational speakers and successful entrepreneurs for years, but it was one of those traits that I had to experience for myself (over and over again) to understand. Unless given an easy path to a new platform (think AOL followed by Facebook), people tend to just keep doing what they’ve always done. In our organizations and on our teams, this makes leadership difficult. In some ways, it’s no more difficult today than it ever way. People are people. In other ways, expectations evolve within cultures and generations. An increased sense of individual value and success, even at the expense of the whole, continues to challenge managers, companies and policymakers.

For instance, I have been thinking a lot about incentives. What incentives remain for neighbors to feel part of something larger than themselves? What incentives exist to drive Representatives and Senators to do what’s best for everyone rather than what’s likely to get them financial or political gain? What incentives does your organization use to achieve its desired outcome?


2017 definitely had the feeling of a year in transition. I’m sure the conflict and controversy was uncomfortable for many people. At many Thanksgiving dinners, including the one we attended, someone ended up saying, “we’re not going to talk about politics but I’ll say this one thing…” or “I know we’re not talking about politics today, but don’t you think…” Politics ruled 2017.

Social politics. Can’t watch a football game in 2017 without considering everything from respect for “the flag” to the science behind concussions.

Sexual politics. The victims of Hollywood’s power brokers and New York’s television anchors and even the President sparked a conversation about what it feels like to walk in someone else’s shoes.

Politics politics. More than ever I got the impression that politics had devolved into zero sum winners and losers. In other words, the participants were no longer defending or attempting to defend the policies, even superficially; instead, it was purely about who won and who lost.

Indeed, in a diverse, complex economy (and society), nuance becomes extremely difficult and it is impossible to make everyone happy.

Nor should we try.

Instead, we should be articulating priorities. For instance, tax reform is not about who passes the bill or even which segments of the population may receive a slightly better financial situation; tax reform is about prioritizing a corporate economy (broadly) over an individual opportunity (specifically). That’s not a moral right or a moral wrong. It’s simply an intellectual and value judgment about what we’ll risk and what we’ll stand to gain.

What’s odd, though, is even as our entertainment and our interests remain personal and specific — some people watch Stranger Things and some people watch The Great British Baking Show and some people watch both — we still tend to treat national policy & social policy as one size fits all. This is not how we fund policy, mind you. We fund it specifically providing earmarks and funding streams for a variety of different projects and initiatives big and small. Yet, how we think about it and talk about it remains broad.

It’s a 13 colonies mentality in a world with 90,056 local governments. 2018 is a year about power & resources. We’re already talking about who has perceived or actual power over others and how they use it. In 2018, we seem to be heading for a larger debate on our values. The missing link is that how we spend our money, our resources, identify our values. I have often thought this implied connection was just that. Implied. We need to increase our focus on being explicit. As explicit as possible. What we spend money on or what we demand resources for is what we value. Plain and simple. What we have to do is talk about it openly.

It feels naïve even as I write it. Though, I’m not sure what the alternative is? We continue to deny reality while substituting political wins and losses for actual meaning to people’s lives.

But that is not the valuable point. The valuable point is about our ability, as individuals, to be explicit. When we’re explicit with ourselves, we can be clear about or own motivations and desires.

Being explicit is a simple but not an easy idea.

I think about it a lot on a personal level. Clarity is key. First, it requires a candid look at ourselves. If we can be honest about what we really want and what really motivates us then we can be honest about what we’re willing to do to make it happen. Second, it requires the trust and courage to speak it. Honesty & articulation.

Sometimes, this includes testing existing assumptions — do I still want this job? What’s really bothering me about my day? Why do I really want to buy/sell this house? Why was I rude just then?

Sometimes, this includes weighing a goal against the sacrifice required to achieve it — would I eat ramen 4 days a week to be an entrepreneur? Would I give up 3 hours of sleep a night to be a writer? Am I too old to pursue this dream? Would I risk my spouse or partner to follow a career goal?


“The world is changed by your example, not by your opinion.”Paulo Coelho


After candor, value is the whole ballgame.

One aspect to any conversation about “chasing hopes and dreams” is value. Who is willing to pay for whatever it is you hope to contribute?

Often, when I have a conversation with someone about their dream, their side hustle, their goal, my first question is “who will be your first 10 customers?” I ask myself this every time I think I have the next million dollar idea. Too often, I’m guilty of coming up with a “good idea” that has no legs. No customers. No people willing to pay for whatever goods, services or entertainment I’m imagining. By and large, no one gets paid for good ideas. Adding value is the key.

Here’s my catch. People make decisions with their emotions (storytelling) but tell themselves the decision was rational (dollars & cents).

“We do not become satisfied by leading a peaceful and prosperous existence. Rather, we become satisfied when reality matches our expectations. The bad news is that as conditions improve, expectations balloon.”Yuval Noah Harari

How does your organization or business respond to your people’s needs? What expectations are set internally? What external expectations do you have to deal with? How do you talk about values, incentives and motivation? What can you do this weekend to prepare or better prepare your people for next year?

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Morgan Horse Farm, Weybridge, VT, USA

“Don’t cling to a mistake just because you spent a lot of time making it.”Unknown

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