As I drove through a torrential summer rainstorm, I wondered why I was rushing to the Florida state line while every banker I know had already begun their July 4th weekend vacation. As I dodged obstacle after obstacle during a three-hour ordeal to ensure that my client's loan closed on time, I realized the answer: I'm an entrepreneur too and sometimes you have to go the extra mile, literally, to get things done for your clients.
The Ivory Tower Has a Bad View
The worlds of traditional banking and small businesses were once, at times on the same page - only a floor or two apart if you think of it in terms of an office building. But that building has become a high rise tower with the bank housed in its penthouse suite and the small business occupying a windowless space in the basement.
The ivory tower view of banking is now so divergent from small businesses that the gulf between the two is nearly impossible to breach. Doing business with an entrepreneur's mindset, as the founder and CEO of an "alternative" (I like "innovative") lender keeps me connected to the right side - the client's side. My feet are firmly planted in the real, entrepreneurial world.
We fund our loans with warehousing lines from other, larger commercial lenders, so we too are at the mercy of bankers just like any owner of a small or mid-sized business. Knowing how it feels to stand in the shoes of the borrower makes us fanatical about our culture of service. We want it, so we give it.
A Lesson in Reality
We usually don't get to choose the timing of our life lessons. They're never convenient and often come with a high degree of frustration. Such was the case last month.
We had a loan set to fund on Monday, July 6. All the paperwork was submitted in early to mid-June with no anticipated issues, but then we were notified on Thursday, June 25, that our warehousing line bank was not funding - the gymnastics began.
Despite the bank backing down and agreeing to fund this loan (as they should), their internal work progressed at a crawl. Because July 4th was on the weekend, Friday was a federal holiday. The closing had to be Monday because the client's 1031 Exchange expired that Tuesday. Here it was Thursday, July 2, and we still had no confirmation on whether we could close our client's loan.
I called at least three times a day and had begun to stalk the bank with emails and texts by that Thursday afternoon. I was literally picking up the phone to call the bank president's mobile when I received a call with approvals. Thankfully, the funding bank was not closed on Friday, but I still had to get everything notarized and out by FedEx that same day for the bank to have the documents to review on Friday and wire funds on Monday.
The Comedy of Errors - Road Trip Style
The business partners we use to notarize and finalize our loan docs are in North Florida (technically just over the state line), so I hit the door at a full run at 2:30 p.m. It's a solid two-hour drive to the north side of Jacksonville, and everything had to go perfectly to have the documents processed and in FedEx by 5:30 p.m.
Of course, I had no gas and there went 10 minutes. If you've been to Florida in the summer, you know that it rains every day for some period of time. This particular day, some described the three bands of rain between Orlando and Jacksonville in biblical terms. Deluges, with horizontal rain, sent everyone but me onto the shoulder to wait it out. But I had a mission and neither rain nor tsunami nor plagues of frogs and locusts were going to stop me from getting this done.
The rain slowed me down so much that I hit Jacksonville right at rush hour. My staff was back in Orlando calling with weather and traffic updates and alternative routes to the notary and FedEx. The notary was miraculously open until 6 p.m. that night, but my normal FedEx location closed at 5:30 p.m. "Find me another FedEx that closes later," I screamed like a madman through the pounding rain. Finally, I wound my way around a jack-knifed 18-wheeler and exited the highway for the notary.
Don't Think It Can't Get Worse
"I'm home free now," I thought. I'd left so quickly I had no umbrella, so I put all the documents under my shirt and ran into the notary only to find that the power was out. They couldn't take my credit card and the nearby ATM's were down too. That office values customer service like I do, though, so they notarized my docs at no charge (I mailed them a check that Monday though). While the notary was working, I went to the men's room to dry off. With no lights, I tapped the flashlight on my iPhone and propped it on the back of the toilet. Never again will I laugh at people who drop their phones in the toilet. I fished mine out with lightning speed, gave it a quick dry and went back to claim my docs.
I called FedEx on the way and discovered their power was down also. I had until 7:00 p.m. to get to their airport location - the only one still open. Google maps then sent me to the back of the airport to an area best suited to serial killer drop-offs. I finally re-routed and walked in the door at 6:55 p.m., only to find out they were actually open until 8:00 p.m. As I took a deep breath, the FedEx lady's first words to me were "Watch this plane turn around, Sugar. It's really cool." Really?!? Please just give me an envelope and put my documents on that plane!
Of course, they didn't have a working copier, so before sealing the envelope, I took pictures with my toilet phone - which I did think to clean with rubbing alcohol later that night! I got back in the car, hit the highway again and pulled into my driveway exhausted around 10:00 p.m.
Take Away of the Day
I should have a reality show and my insane road trip of July 2 will be the first episode. It might have to air on cable, however, as my vocabulary got rather "colorful" as the escapade escalated.
Maybe not, but seriously, my crazy day was totally unnecessary! My dinosaur banker's incompetence pushed me to the edge of going postal just to be able to make this closing happen for my client. Nonetheless, our client's goals are our goals, so we do whatever it takes. As an innovative, nonbank lender technology, customer service, and common sense are our daily best practices.
That day kept me in touch with what my owners of small and midsized businesses often go through when dealing with traditional commercial bankers. We will always be the antithesis to them. If you're a service provider, be the antithesis to the establishment. You'll be glad you are.