My advertising career began at J. Walter Thompson, at that time the largest agency in the world. In those days, I loved the Ogilvy book, considered to be the Bible for the advertising profession.
As a newly-minted Auburn graduate from the not-so-big town of LaFayette, (famous as the birthplace of boxing champ Joe Louis), my early days in big-time advertising and in Chicago’s biting winter chill taught some hard lessons.
Working at JWT was heady stuff, learning from the man who taught us that bologna had a first name, “O-S-C-A-R.”
And the first lesson of a Chicago winter was, as ee cummings, the eccentric, punctuation-optional American poet wrote, was that “snow doesn’t give a soft white damn who it touches.”
In those days too, I had to take the trains, and negotiate elevators and escalators to get to work, modes of mobility as foreign in LaFayette as icicles in June. It was so cold, that in the walk from the train platform to the John Hancock Center on Michigan Avenue, pedestrians stopped every 100 feet to let their eyelashes thaw.
At the Hancock Center, ropes were tied to the front doors to offer something to grip in the gusts of wind off Lake Michigan, to keep you from being blown off the slippery iced sidewalk.
And police officers constantly kept eyes on the skies, on the lookout for dangerous frozen icicle daggers that gusts slapped off the higher reaches of the 100-story building.
I wasn’t in Chambers County anymore.
But I digress.
The heart of this post is not about the advertising world of J. Walter Thompson or David Ogilvy, or of blue clad, badge-wearing, binocular-bearing icicle cops.
It’s about surviving in a small-agency world.
And if you’re lucky, making a profit.
I’d learned many lessons from David Ogilvy’s book, like “The consumer isn’t a moron, she’s your wife.” And “Don’t bunt. Aim out of the park. Aim for the company of the immortals.”
And most important, “In the modern world of business, it is useless to be a creative, original thinker unless you can also sell what you create.”
That brings me to the first thing I had to learn about owning a small ad shop – cash flow. After all, banks get cranky when asked to cash paychecks if there’s no money in the account to cover them.
In the early days of my new venture, I could take advantage of the “float,” paying bills on the first of the month and still having two or three days to get money in the account to back them up. Some months, I would drive around Atlanta collecting from clients. Like a money-seeking Magellan, I had a map with my bank’s branches near my clients, so I could get deposits into my account before 2 p.m.
It was a great day to be a small business owner when my bank announced that any deposit made before closing would count.
It was another great day when the bank’s ATM’s allowed me to deposit my checks up until 8 p.m. and still count in the day’s deposits.
And then 9/11/2001 happened. Nineteen terrorists changed banking forever.
For a couple of days after the attacks in New York, Washington and Shanksville, Pa., all planes were grounded, shutting down our banking system. Checks weren’t able to get back to the banks they were written on. Fortunately, Congress stepped in and wrote a law called The Check Clearing for the 21st Century Act (also known as Check 21). This law allows the recipient of the original paper check to create a digital version of the original, a process known as check truncation, into an electronic format called “a substitute check”, eliminating the need for physical handling of the original instrument. In essence, the recipient bank no longer returns the paper check, but effectively e-mails an image of both sides of the check.
Then Steve Jobs and his brilliant crew at Apple created the iPhone and mobile banking became the biggest thing to hit money since the porcelain pig. Instead of racing to bank branches to make deposits, I was able to take pictures of the check and deposit funds within seconds.
This, I thought, was the ultimate.
Then, my community bank “gave” our firm remote deposit equipment.
Now that we’re working with more than 200 financial institutions, with this tool we’re able to deposit multiple checks in seconds, instead of depositing one check at a time, saving valuable time and money.
Remote deposit equipment also protects small businesses from the liability of sending an employee out to make a deposit. If you think that’s not a big deal, watch TV for a few hours and count the number of “Alabama Hammers” and other ambulance-chasing lawyers who look to turn a fender bender into a legal lottery. Not to mention that your employee may be carrying cash in such instances, increasing risk.
Remote capture paid for itself instantly. And it’s a device that community bankers should be feverishly marketing to their present and future business clientele. Small shops like mine may balk at first, since the “free” device links customers to the bank for two years or more. But this gives your bank a chance to win over a client that may grow, as mine did, in the years to come. And within that period, remote capture may become so ingrained in a company’s business practices that the combination of great service and this incredible device will make customers reluctant to seek greener banking pastures.
It’s a win-win.
Back to another lesson from the ad business – wisdom that applies to your community bank. It came from Guy Bost, one of my Auburn professors.
Bost spent years crafting creative for Coca-Cola, an iconic international brand.
He said, “Be aware or beware.”
Bost also urged me not to invest all my reading time in books, because they were written years ago. Read magazines and newspapers about things that happened yesterday or last week. Guy would have loved the internet.
The point? Stay current.
Banking is the same way. Stay up to speed with the world around you, in your hometown, in your country and in the world. And try to think ahead, to see around corners, to anticipate the future.
After all, the next “Fintech” revolution could be percolating right now in Brazil, in China, in India, or Silicon Valley. In fact, Warren Buffet’s Berkshire Hathaway, Inc. just jumped on the Fintech bandwagon with a $600 million investment in a couple of payment processors with hundreds of millions of users. As you probably know, Mr. Buffet rarely makes bad investments.
And, to borrow from the legendary movie character Ferris Bueller, technology, like life, moves pretty fast. “If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”
And “missing it” could knock your bank out of business.