So often I am on the go and rarely do I have time to sit and think about what just happened and why. However, after a recent 24-hour trip to the offices of three lenders, I got that chance. Each of the three lenders was strikingly unique, in very different stages of the business lifecycle, with differing approaches to business. And after the meetings, for a couple hours in the airport with my e-mail muted, I pondered what had taken place.
I found myself thinking about the classic fairy tale of the girl and the three bears, the one who found bowls of porridge, chairs and beds that were “too cold,” “too hot,” “too large,” “too small,” and “just right.” And I thought how, in business, particularly in the lending business when it comes to technology, we tend to peg ourselves as “too small,” “too large” or any number of other “too’s” that we can let get in the way of making effective change. In reality, we all have the ability to make things “just right.”
My business is ‘too small’
During the trip, I first met with a client who had just opened a brand new office. His business is not funded by private equity money; he’s just a guy building a business. When he signed up with defi SOLUTIONS nearly a year ago, he almost didn’t, because he believed his business was “too small.” But he was an entrepreneur with a passion for getting the right tools and the right people.
He stood in front of his team members, his dealers, and his business partners, and told the company’s story. The humbleness in his voice was inspiring and I smile even now thinking about it.
It’s tough when your business is small. You need to convince partners that you are different, you will grow, and that you are worth spending time and money with. And you need the right technology to help you.
After working with many lenders that felt their business was too small, I say this: don’t sell yourself short. Set your sights on the technology and the partnerships that position you for growth while letting you operate the way you want to operate. Whether you stay small or expand, you add value to our industry, to your customers, and to your dealers. You and they deserve good technology and the resulting good processes and efficiencies.
My business is ‘too fast’
On my second visit, I met with a client that is growing rapidly. It is 100-fold bigger than the “too small” client. This business is backed by PE money; it has easily doubled in size since I last visited. The company has big dreams and has to balance dreams with reality.
The company had made a pivotal decision, early on, to switch its lending technology systems. They put money and resources into their technology in the belief that their business would grow into the technologies they were investing in. And now they are running as fast as they can and making certain their technologies continue to keep up with their business.
As the client walked me around their offices that day, my long-time colleague mentioned how nice it was that that the business was all finally starting to come together. It didn’t happen overnight. And it didn’t happen without a lot of work and a lot of guts. Team members popped out of cubicles to say hello. They were excited. Happy to be part of something that is growing and successful. And I was grateful to have played a little part in it.
Scaling a business as quickly as they did requires balance — keeping investors happy, staffing a great team, and making hard choices about what to work on and what not to work on.
For the lender whose business is growing quickly, I say this: continue to put money and focus into your technology and automated processes, and don’t be afraid to step off a wrong path. You can’t get to the right place on the wrong path. Don’t pull back on projects and efficiencies. It may be hard to believe, but I often see lenders going hard at it and then stopping dead in their tracks. While it’s tempting to try to work your team harder in the manual processes or thinking you can live without improvements for a while, keep a clear picture of where you are and where you want to go and conquer the delta one step at a time.
My business is ‘too old’
The third lender in this series of visits was a business with a well-established history, with processes that were working and, more importantly, with which all had become comfortable. They had recently undergone a notable change in leadership and the new leader questioned: Why do we do this? He made it clear that “because we always have” or “because it’s what we have” was not an acceptable answer.
When things have been going well for a long period of time, there can be a lot of fear about shaking things up. That’s especially true when you are making changes that impact the core of the business, what people know and feel comfortable with. There is a risk that the team, the investors, and the board will only have so much patience with your efforts, and demand you go back to what they know. But fear can’t get in the way of progress.
This lender’s technology was old. But it was held together with enough duct tape that it was working for the time being. And they were concerned that ripping it out could have an impact of a magnitude that they could not possibly imagine.
For lenders whose technology and processes are too old, I say this: life is too short to sit in a too small chair, sleep in a too hard bed, eat too cold porridge, or operate with duct tape.
While there are no fairy tale steps to perfect technology, in today’s technology world you have choices. Technology is designed to be a table at which everyone has a good chair, regardless of budget and expertise, and a partner enables access to the broadest array of technologies to all lenders, regardless of size. A partnership is an investment in your success, and can help you create the things about your business that make you “just right.”
Stephanie Alsbrooks is the CEO of “just right” at defi SOLUTIONS, the most configurable loan origination platform on the market. E-mail Stephanie at email@example.com or visit defisolutions.com for more.