This is our first official blog post! As we planned for launch we thought long and hard about what we wanted our first article to focus on. We quickly concluded that an updated version of a commentary piece we wrote for American Banker Magazine in 2013 would be the perfect - and most ironic - way for us to throw our hat in the digital publishing ring. Enjoy!
In May 2013 I celebrated 25 years in financial services. I am, almost officially, one of the "older guys." And I love it! I recently taught a new associate workshop for a long time client of mine. As I reviewed the participant list I realized that every participant scheduled to attend had been born at least a year after I had worked my first day in the industry back in 1988.
To celebrate the milestones I poured myself a cup of coffee and sat down to reflect on my time in the industry. One coffee quickly turned into three and as the hours passed the pages in my notebook filled up.
As I reviewed my notes something unexpected happened. I began to question my generational identity. I started in financial services in the late 1980s, so I am still too young to truly be considered old-school, but I am also too old to be considered new-school. So, I asked myself, "What generation do I belong to?"
From day one I was mentored by a handful of veterans—a mix of men and women who taught me how to walk, talk and dress like an old-school financial professional. They stressed the importance of relationships and lectured on topics like community presence, handwritten notes, having coffee with clients and touring businesses. They showed me how to engage in effective face-to-face conversations, to write credits with pencil and paper and make presentations using nothing more than a flip chart. One of them even took the time to teach me the art of the handshake.
Not long after getting my legs under me, the technology revolution hit like a tidal wave. I had a Commodore 64 home computer, so I guess I was a little ahead of the curve. I can still remember hammering away on that thing while listening to a bootlegged Van Halen cassette. I used the opposite side of that same cassette to store my computer data. I also remember the first time I heard a fax machine wailing as a colleague forwarded documents to a lawyer.
After that came Palm Pilots, beepers, briefcase phones, Excel, Word, PowerPoint, the Internet and email. I still have vivid memories of the day we learned that the repeal of Glass Steagall would allow for the sale of mutual funds through bank branches. Later we adapted to the first websites, and then Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. And just recently, I watched as a business owner bypassed her bank by turning her iPhone into a merchant terminal with nothing more than a small piece of plastic she picked up for free at a Starbucks. Now we are adapting again and learning to live in the land of the robots.
So I asked myself the question again. What generation do I belong to? Am I old school or new school? I am both, it turns out.
You see, my generation is the hybrid generation! We are a once-in-the-history-of-the-industry mutation between old school and new school.
As hybrids, we are the only generation of financial professional to operate on both sides of the technology revolution. We are connected to the old-school financial professionals of yore, but we are still here, we are in our prime, and we know how to operate old school and new school. We can write a handwritten thank-you note and we can send a text or a tweet. We can carry a business conversation for 18 holes and we know how to create a following on Facebook or Twitter. We can get together for a Skype meeting or talk face-to-face over a simple cup of coffee. (And for the record, we will never count a Skype session as an actual, face-to-face meeting.)
We built our firms' first websites, but we also ran the brick-and-mortar branches and offices they supported. We are the people who actually experienced the business problems that all this new technology came along to solve.
As members of this generation, we carry a huge responsibility. It is up to us to bridge the giant gulf between the generation of financial professionals we learned from and the generation of financial professionals that will learn from us. We must help carry forward the traditions of relationship based service while stressing the importance of technology adaptation and modern leadership.
So go ahead and celebrate by downloading a few Billy Idol, Cyndi Lauper or Journey songs. Then pull the young guns aside, take them out for lunch and tell them what it was like back when everything wasn't a button push, text or tweet away. Afterward, walk around the office with your head held high. You are a pioneer! And you are the essential link between the financial industry's past and its future.
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** A version of this article was originally published in the May 2013 edition of American Banker Magazine.