How much has the world changed in just a few weeks? When I first thought about topics for this month’s blog, I decided to stick with the “secret sauce” theme and focus on the importance of in-person meetings and face to face interactions. Now, we are living in a Twilight Zone where such interactions seem to be at best irresponsible, and at worst impossible.
Humans are by nature social beings, and we have a primal need for interpersonal interaction. Nowhere is this tendency more acute than in matters of money, one of the most mysterious and stressful arenas of daily life. The ability to speak with someone directly, in person, and provide solid guidance on matters of finance is critical to us as bankers, lenders, and consultants.
Banking has always been a relationship business, where a handshake can close major deals. In a commoditized industry where competing interest rates and closing fees are separated by mere basis points or pennies, clients often choose their lender based on who they know and trust.
Similarly, large group meetings like conferences, workshops, and seminars represent an important way for professionals to network, meet, and share ideas. Service providers prospect for new clients, share solutions, and learn best practices. Combined with the myriad informal business lunches, dinners, golf outings and after-hour pub sessions that inevitably accompany such events, conferences are the lubricant that drives industry commerce.
So, what to do now, when the opportunity to engage in person-to-person interactions has been temporarily wiped from our calendars?
Fortunately, we live in a time many of us couldn’t have dreamed of just a few years ago. Thanks to rapid advances in Internet-based technology, methods of communication like webinars, videoconferencing, free conference calling, social media and email can bring us closer together than ever before. These applications can closely simulate live face-to-face interaction without all the complications that go along with it. (Buy stock in Zoom, everybody!)
As more lender conferences get canceled or postponed by the day, some organizers are going fully virtual. This approach offers some tangible benefits to participants, like reduced travel and hotel expense, and allows attendees to listen to compelling speakers, learn new techniques, and participate in interactive Q&A without leaving their desk or home office.
In terms of getting deals done, there are workarounds to the standard lunch meetings, site visits, and in-person loan requests. Today, you can take an application over the phone or via a videoconferencing app. Documents can be easily and safely exchanged via encrypted email or secure file exchange site. Site inspections still need to get done for lender due diligence, appraisals, and environmental reviews. Our best advice is to limit such necessary property visits to those who need to be there and practice prudent social distancing.
Even attorney closings don’t need to be done in person – with secure document exchange and videoconferencing, loan closings may take a little longer, but can be just as effective. In fact, many lawyers already use videoconferencing technology for remote depositions and are already set up for virtual meetings (either in-office or through contracts with local coworking and shared office facilities equipped with the technology).
Of course, all of the above methods are only temporary workarounds, as nothing can truly replace the in-person meeting. In a world faced with unprecedented uncertainty, no one knows what will happen next. We all hope that in the coming months, the COVID-19 crisis will subside and life and business will return to a semblance of normalcy.
Perhaps the best we can all do right now is to keep the lines of communication open. Pick up your phone and call your clients. Send a few emails. Maybe even dedicate an hour to writing those hand-written thank you notes I discussed in our last blog post.
In the meantime, all of us at ORMS wish you and yours continued good health and relief from these stressful times. Call or email us if you need anything and know that we’re sending you a hearty virtual handshake from this side of the screen. We’ll see you soon.