The Card in My Briefcase

I keep a card in my briefcase that is a folded piece of red construction paper from my son Josh.  I think of it as one of those items that help keep me grounded.  Josh was about 7 at the time and I was working for a large regional bank.  We had a management change.   The old group that left was very seasoned in commercial lending and also excellent in developing staff.  It was under their tutelage that I began to grow my commercial skills with both experience of working on over $100MM in credits and the classroom knowledge of obtaining my graduate degree from the Graduate School of Banking at University of Wisconsin.  They were also very good at developing relationships with people. 

At this time, several of these key leaders left and began working at other banks.  We had new leaders come in.  This group was not interested in establishing relationships and did not accept the lengthy sales cycle in commercial lending.  They only focused on the bottom line results from what they saw each month in the bank.  They were only interested in immediate good results to impress their next level of management.  This was often done while sacrificing the best for the bank on the altar of quarterly results.

Our entire team groaned under the new leadership.  It was at this time, when struggling to keep my job and hating every minute under the oppressive thumb of the new team, that Josh handed me the handmade card one day after work.  The outside reads:

I love you

From:  Josh

To: Dad

It continues on the inside:

Daddy I hope that those people at the bank gets nice to you

The back cover has a hand drawn heart.  It choked me up and gave me hope realizing that no matter what happened my family and I were going to be OK.  Nine years have passed and I still have the card in my briefcase.  I believe the card has valuable lessons for today.

1.  People are more important than quarterly profits.  At the end of your life, if the only thing you are proud of is how many consecutive quarters of profitable ROE you produced at your job, you have lived an incredibly empty life.  Yet this is the focus of many in the banking world, especially managers who could not keep a customer relationship if it was handed to them.

In the credit union world, we speak of our clients as “members”.  A member is not just another account measured on a spreadsheet for its profit or loss to the institution.  These are real people that have real hopes, dreams, fears, and goals.  They each have a past, present, and a future.  They each also choose to work with you because they trust you.

2.  Good long-term relationships will grow your shop better than flashy short-term achievements.  Those who love to “stack-rank” the spreadsheet results deny this principle.  Yet it is true.  The goal each of us should have is to be a trusted financial advisor to our members.  This means they will come to you because they believe your counsel is valuable and that you have their best interest in mind.  I have often said you know when you win at the relationship battle when a client comes to you for strategic financial advice that does not involve the immediate need for a loan. 

When you get to that point, if you are lucky enough, you have made a true business friend.  Your member will also begin to introduce you as his “banker”.  This is a term that is not politically correct on the credit union side of the fence.  But if someone calls you his banker, you have won the relationship war. 

I was once at a bank where the spreadsheet geniuses came up with this new “streamlined line of credit” for business customers.  This was an business unsecured line of credit that was only credit scored in its underwriting.  This product was pushed out to the front line customer service reps who had no knowledge of business lending.  The leadership in our local market did not use the product as most of the rest of the branches pushed the product on customers like a drug dealer does to a heroin addict. 

Our market never achieved the applause of senior management during that two year stretch for selling the product.  We did continue to develop relationships and put good loans on the books in that period.  We also did not experience any of the $4MM of losses the program had with fraud and unsecured lending; things that could have been stopped with proper underwriting.

3.  At the end of the day, remember what is important.  No matter how long and hard you work, you always need to remember what is most important.  Relationships and not results always trump, especially those relationships with our friends, family and Creator.  These will outlast any position you hold, any achievements you reach, or any failures you earn. 

Each time when I come across the handmade card, I thank God for the wisdom shown to me by a little 7 year old boy.