There is something we strive to achieve in our work at Northern Initiatives and that is customer intimacy. What does that mean? It means that we value having a relationship with our customers and the means by which to help our customers to be sustainable and growing. To do this we must know their goals and their problems. It also means that we value relationships as much or more than simply doing transactions (making new loans).
Awareness and Alignment
Reaching customer intimacy is a matter of knowing. In a previous blog, I wrote about the 7 C’s of Credit, adding compassion and courage to our underwriting equation. Those 7 C’s are important if we are to support communities to reach their entrepreneurial potential. That means that it is critical to work through disparities that are embedded in our history and their contemporary meaning.
Practice and Perceptions Matter
Northern Initiatives has created goals to examine our diversity, the diversity of our Board and diversity in our lending practices. We have also created a Limited English Proficiency Policy. That policy is helping our staff to be more accessible and our tools and resources available to Spanish-speaking entrepreneurs and customers. Policies and goals are important and to a degree antiseptic if there isn’t another piece in the relationship pie, and that is understanding.
There are four books that have been important to me in understanding disparities and appreciating our racial history in America.
The first two I consider to be books of awakening:
- Assets and the Poor by Michael Sherraden was written over 25 years ago and helps frame the history of asset disparity
- Biased by Jennifer Eberhardt explains the nature of bias and the many ways that it plays out in everyone’s life and day to day existence.
The next two books explain a great deal about America’s history and race:
- There is a River by the late Vincent Harding talks about the earliest days of American slavery through and past the Civil War.
- The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson a complimentary book to the above is about the Great Migration from the South to the Northern and Western cities from the end of the last Century into the 1960’s and 70’s.
In You, I Can See Me
I grew up in a place filled with racist jokes and disdain for any and all others and were it not for my Dad’s tutelage I might have been forever stuck in that flow. That is part of my life’s journey and so too is a journey that has never been afraid to meet, engage, learn and hopefully grow in understanding on many levels through the people I meet and working toward a fundamental lesson in faith, “in you, I can see me.”
American novelist James Baldwin said, “A journey is called that because you cannot know what you will..…do with what you find or what you find will do to you.” Customer intimacy is more than reviewing tax returns and financials. It is a willingness to reach deeply to know and understand our customers and their journeys and use that to build our collective learning experience.
–Dennis West, President