Welcome to The Benchmark, powered by Blend. In this video series, Blend’s executives meet with leaders across industries to share insights about growth and success during a time of extraordinary change.
For this episode, Blend President Tim Mayopoulos met remotely with Hans Morris, managing partner of Nyca Partners, a venture capital firm that specializes in fintech companies. Hans previously served as managing director of General Atlantic, a global growth equity firm. He also served as president of Visa and held various leadership roles at Citigroup. The two had a wide-ranging discussion, spanning crisis management, consumer technology adoption, distributed workforce challenges, and the value of partnerships.
Explore four takeaways from the video
1. From crisis comes opportunity
“We’ve had three black swan events in 20 years,” said Tim, referring to 9/11, the Great Recession and the coronavirus pandemic. “So you can’t assume the future’s going to be like the past, and you need to start thinking about ways to compensate for very fast-changing, profound occurrences.”
With decades of experience in financial services, Tim and Hans share the long view. The two understand how challenging periods often accelerate the need for organizational change, fresh ideas, and better ways of working.
They pointed to the lessons learned from the Great Recession as one example. While many banks were forced to retrench as a result of the financial crisis, other companies, including many in the technology space, were able to gain a foothold and thrive.
“The financial crisis is a pretty good marker, it changed several things,” said Hans. “The banks and all financial institutions had to shut down their innovation factories. They had to cut out anything that wasn’t essential to surviving. Now, it’s 10 years later and we’ve seen some remarkable companies get created.”
2. Market forces and societal drivers are accelerating the pace of digital adoption
“Banks are going to move faster on modernizing experiences, including optimizing what actually requires a branch, or some other type of banker-assisted involvement, and what doesn’t,” said Hans. “That plays very much to Blend’s core capabilities.”
Tim and Hans turned their attention to the coronavirus pandemic, noting how the effects of social distancing are spurring much-needed digital change in financial services as companies learn to reinvent themselves.
In-person experiences like meeting with a banker, getting a home appraised, or closing on a mortgage have dramatically shifted online in recent months. Consumers want to be able to complete their financial business safely, securely, and remotely, just as they shop for many other goods and services.
“People have gotten used to ideas they would have been slower to adopt,” observed Hans. “That includes digital mortgage originations and digital closings. Who wants to go sign all those papers now?”
3. Flexing new muscles with a distributed workforce
“If companies had to plan for it (working remotely) they probably would have spent two or three years,” said Tim. “But they didn’t have two or three years, they had to do it in two or three weeks. They all did it, and it all worked pretty well.”
Work-from-home is a fact of life today for many U.S. employees and Tim and Hans believe it presents many opportunities for agile organizations. Companies that are located in expensive metro areas like the San Francisco Bay Area and greater New York may no longer need to compete for a small pool of talent concentrated in those regions. Instead, they’ll be able to build a highly diverse remote workforce by drawing on top talent from places like Asheville, Austin, and Ames. Some firms may relocate their headquarters from high-rent cities to more affordable areas.
Working from home presents its own challenges, but smart, nimble companies can overcome those hurdles by building great cultures, giving their employees state-of-the-art workplace collaboration tools, and fostering continual and open communication.
“If we really dedicated ourselves to be the best remote working companies we could be, could we create great cultures?” asked Tim. “Could we be more efficient if we put our minds to it?”
4. Successful companies understand the value of long-term partnerships
“There are great benefits to banks or other financial services companies by having certain preferred vendors, vendors who are real partners,” said Hans. “They know the talent, the reliability, the deep expertise around certain ideas.
During their conversation, Tim and Hans both noted that nCino, a financial services software provider, had just gone public and that there are lessons to be learned from nCino’s business model.
“It’s a really interesting model and one that is focused much more on partnership,” said Tim. “It’s not a buy-versus-build discussion anymore. It’s who are the people that we can partner with internally or externally to make things.”
Hans agreed there are terrific advantages for companies who can become problem solvers for financial institutions. As one example, he pointed to Blend’s recent work in helping M&T Bank process a surge in small business loan applications.
“And the word you use is the one we use, which is partner,” Tim told Hans. “We want to be viewed as a partner. The person that someone calls at 11 o’clock on Friday night saying, ‘I’ve got a problem and I need an answer by Monday morning.’”
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