Monitor Live+ Recap: Leading Through COVID-19 With Transparency, Empathy & Compassion

by Deborah Reuben, CLFP May/Jun 2020

The equipment finance community gathered for Monitor Live+ to talk about what matters most in times of crisis. Deborah Reuben, who designed and moderated the livestream event, provides a recap of the key takeaways, including how the pandemic has made effective leadership more important than ever before. 

Deborah Reuben, CLFP,
CEO & Founder,
TomorrowZone

In times of crisis, it is so valuable to come together, see and hear each other and share perspectives on how we are adapting and, more importantly, share our vision for the future. On April 16, it was my honor to work in partnership with Monitor and moderate Monitor Live+, two live-streamed discussions on the impact of COVID-19 on the equipment finance industry. Like our in-person events, these sessions were designed to invite interactive, candid discussion with industry leaders as we explored pandemic implications for the industry.

Delivered in two parts, the first session included Paul Fogle, managing director of Quality Leasing; Michelle Speranza, SVP and chief marketing officer for LEAF Commercial Capital and Tawnya Stone, vice president, Strategic Technology at GreatAmerica Financial. Our second session featured Andrew Cotter, EVP, CIO at Somerset Capital Group; Katie Emmel, chief operating officer at IDS and Chris Enbom, CEO at AP Equipment Financing and Work Truck Direct.

This is a summary of key takeaways. If you missed the event and would like to take it all in, you can find the recording for both sessions on Monitor’s website, LinkedIn page or YouTube channel.

Keeping Staff Safe

Nuances of each company’s pandemic-driven rapid shift to digital varied, but the primary focus of all was employee safety and customer care. Speakers and audience polls confirmed that generally, professionals across our industry are adjusting well to working remotely.

This crisis has magnified the need for and accelerated the adoption of digital solutions for business processing, customer care and virtual collaboration. It also has highlighted the physicality of certain aspects of equipment finance. For companies dealing with asset disposal and logistics in warehouses, or dealerships still serving customers in person, additional measures must be considered such as shift work, reconfiguration of workspaces and cleaning routines to keep employees safe while providing essential service to customers.

Regardless of the technology situation, each panelist stressed the importance of empathy and communication. Frequent and transparent communication is paramount in helping employees feel supported and connected in a disrupted work environment.

Creatively Serving Customers 

Serving disrupted customers is a challenge in a normal business environment. When Live+ aired, every aspect of the equipment finance lifecycle was impacted, from sales approaches, to tightening credit policies, to e-signatures and digital documentation. Everyone has been pulling together to serve customers, as Fogle shared, “When new business is down 40%, salespeople spending 10 to 12 hours a day fielding customer deferral requests, [it] speaks volumes to the quality of people we have.”

Payment relief is an intense process. Equipment finance companies are creatively responding with empathy and innovation to meet customer needs. Panelists have utilized cross-training, reallocation of resources and a wide variety of technology solutions for processing massive volumes of contract modifications.

Reaching Out to Build Relationships

As many Live+ speakers shared, this is a time for outreach designed to understand customer needs and build stronger relationships. Some companies are pivoting their customer retention and acquisition strategies, with approaches varying widely. Some are reaching out directly with added support to gain a better understanding of how customers’ worlds are changing and helping them through the crisis. Meanwhile, others are determining which industries to stay in or exit or tightening credit policies and practices similar to the last recession.

Some leaders have decided to reframe the crisis as an opportunity to reimagine customer experience. Even while dealing with the fires of today, they think about the longer-term implications for their company, team and customers. Customer needs and our method of interaction have changed. Finance companies must meet customers where they are: in their homes and on their devices. It’s time to think about innovation and how to leverage technology to do more with less. As Speranza said, “The single greatest characteristic for our customers, and really for any company, to be able to survive is adaptability.”

Swift Digital Adoption

It seems like so long ago, but on March 10, I facilitated an executive roundtable discussion on technology and innovation. We explored the possibilities of moving from talk to action in tech adoption across our industry. Less than a week later we witnessed pandemic driven adoption of digital signatures, digital payments, video conferencing, remote video inspection and more. Suddenly years of talk turned into action. With the spike in back-office processing for extension and payment relief documentation, more people in equipment finance companies are coming up to speed on e-signature technology.

This is not new technology. Rather, existing solutions have been adopted out of necessity. Our hope is that we keep digital adoption high coming out of the crisis. Cotter said, “A crisis creates enormous problems, fear and uncertainty, but it also removes boundaries and allows for innovation out of necessity.” He and Stone both said they are seeing an acceleration of technology adoption and a compression of the time to deliver solutions, in some cases, from months to weeks.

Monitoring and maintaining productivity in this situation is different. You can’t walk over to someone’s desk. Now we are connected virtually. Companies with digital workflow tools in place are faring well and not experiencing disruptions in productivity.

With the pandemic-driven rise in digital adoption comes natural concerns about fraud. As Enbom said, technology alone doesn’t solve fraud or other problems; process mapping is vital to preventing breakdowns that result in fraud and inefficiencies. Emmel mentioned smart companies are leveraging data analytics to look at things differently and combat fraud.

Rapid adoption of video conferencing platforms like Microsoft Teams and Zoom foster collaboration, and connection across many teams has been stronger than before the crisis. Stone said the crisis has led to stronger communication and a new way of interacting within her team: “Everyone is scared and uncertain. Teams that would normally not connect as often due to travel are finding themselves connecting even more during this time.” Now that they are settling into a new way of working, Stone believed attention could return to the things that were important before the crisis and remain relevant now. “Time to move past the pause and make progress,” she said. On a practical note, Stone recommended leaders take time to document the lessons they have learned dealing with this crisis so they will be prepared for the future.

Transparency, Empathy & Compassion

Speranza said, “Transparent and frequent communication is essential now more than ever,” and stressed the importance of eliminating silos to rapidly solve for customer needs. Fogle said, “In challenging times, quality of people tends to shine through.”

Enbom said he is continually focused on future scenarios. He is regularly monitoring data points from a variety of expert sources to project the possibilities for the industries he serves now and into the future. He discussed the importance of making the right macro decisions about your business’ direction, being realistic about how you think events will unfold and making bold moves. He recommended acknowledging the brutal reality of the situation, planning for the expected and hoping for the best.

These are trying times for each of us as well as our customers, partners and employees. But if we can communicate with transparency, empathy and compassion and find ways to innovate and adapt with our customers, we will come out of this together. It will be a whole new world, and many aspects of business may need to be reimagined.

Although we got into this situation abruptly, many believe it will take time to emerge from it. In fact, 61% of poll respondents during the event thought it would take six months to a year to return to pre-COVID-19 business levels. Flexibility and agility will be essential as we prepare for the transition back to the office. Rather than a return to normal, it will be a return to different.

Looking back on this time in history, our speakers shared a common vision of the story they would tell. They spoke of looking back with pride at the way their teams pulled together and rose up as leaders to stay safe and still serve, of taking time to grow relationships and of looking back on transitioning out of this and being proud of how they did.

People, process, technology and future — in each facet of business, leadership matters now more than ever. This means continually refocusing your team on what matters, working together and increasing communication levels more than before. We all are impacted in one way or another, and you never know what somebody else is going through. A little empathy goes a long way. Everybody is dealing with something different in this crisis, but the main message I took away from this event was “we’re in this together and we can come out of this stronger.”

Many thanks to our panelists for sharing so candidly, to the audience who energetically joined in the conversation and to our sponsors who enabled us to deliver this event: IDS, Mantrapoynt, Mmedia, Syndifi, Rinaldi Advisory Services and TomorrowZone. •

Deborah Reuben, CLFP, is CEO & Founder of TomorrowZone, a technology strategy consulting firm specializing in advising leaders who want to make smarter decisions today and create a resilient and more profitable tomorrow.

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