Sunrise Banks’ Eric Schurr on Merging Art and Strategy in Banking

“We can talk about black swans, but every organization should, at some point, in one of their scenarios somewhere, talk about the fact that there could be another major outbreak of disease. Why not? It’s happened before.”



with guest:

Eric Schurr

Sunrise Banks

Episode Summary

In this engaging episode of the Digital Banking Podcast, host Josh DeTar spoke with Eric Schurr, Chief Strategy Officer at Sunrise Banks. The conversation began with Schurr drawing an intriguing parallel between his hobby of creating stained glass and strategic planning in banking. He explained how both activities require vision, patience, and adaptability, reflecting the dynamic nature of managing strategy within the financial sector.

Schurr delved into his role as a futurist, emphasizing the importance of foresight in shaping business development and innovation at Sunrise Banks. He discussed how anticipating future trends and preparing for various scenarios can significantly impact the bank’s strategic direction, highlighting the need for a flexible and forward-thinking approach in today’s financial landscape.

The discussion also covered the societal impact of banking practices, with Schurr explaining how Sunrise Banks integrates its commitment to community service and financial inclusion into its business model. He shared insights on how aligning bank operations with social goals not only benefits underserved communities but also drives the bank’s success by fostering a loyal customer base and resilient business practices.

Key Insights

The Art of Strategy Through Stained Glass

Eric Schurr discussed the similarities between his hobby of making stained glass and his professional role in strategic planning. He highlighted how both require a detailed vision and the flexibility to adapt to available materials and unforeseen challenges. Schurr used this analogy to illustrate the importance of adaptability and creativity in strategic planning. He noted that just like stained glass, strategic outcomes may not always align with the initial vision, yet they can still result in beautiful and effective results. This approach underlines the necessity of flexibility and innovation in developing banking strategies that are resilient and responsive to change.

Foresight as a Business Philosophy

During the podcast, Schurr elaborated on his philosophy of foresight, which is central to his role as Chief Strategy Officer at Sunrise Banks. He emphasized that foresight involves anticipating future trends and scenarios to better shape the bank’s strategic direction. Schurr discussed how adopting a futuristic outlook allows the bank to prepare and adapt to changes, ensuring it remains relevant and competitive. This practice not only aids in navigating the complexities of the financial world but also ensures that the bank can continue to fulfill its mission of supporting underserved communities effectively.

Integrating Social Goals with Business Objectives

Eric Schurr shared how Sunrise Banks integrates its social mission with its business strategies. He explained that the bank’s commitment to serving underbanked and underserved communities is not just a social good but also a strategic advantage. By aligning its business operations with community needs, Sunrise Banks fosters stronger relationships with its customers, leading to greater customer loyalty and business resilience. Schurr emphasized that this integration of social impact and business objectives is crucial for creating a sustainable business model that supports the bank’s growth and community empowerment goals.

Guest At A Glance

Eric Schurr

Sunrise Banks

Find Schurr On:

Stained glass artist, futurist, and community banking innovator.

Eric Schurr: [00:00:00] We can talk about black swans, but every organization should at some point, in one of their scenarios somewhere, talk about the fact that there could be another major outbreak of disease. Why not? It’s happened before. Why not at least put it in there? And then the question is, do you need to plan for it or you just need to know it so you have resiliency in your other actions in the event this happens? ​

Josh: [00:01:00] Your podcast hasn’t officially made it until there’s ads in it. But this is one you’re not going to want to skip past. And if you do, feel free to hit that fast forward 15 seconds button twice. Ever wonder what gives me my energy and enthusiasm during these podcasts? Outside of my relentless desire to learn about, connect, share, and build up community FIs and their mission to support the communities they serve?

It’s coffee. And lots of it. Now, you want to know what’s better than your regular old coffee? How about donating $5 to the Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals through Credit Unions for Kids every time you purchase high-quality, ethically sourced coffee that also provides living wages to coffee farmers.

So if you want to listen to this episode with [00:02:00] epic levels of caffeine induced focus and help kids in need, head to to learn more and buy a bag or ten. Thanks.

Josh DeTar: Welcome to another episode of the Digital Banking Podcast. My guest today is Eric Schurr, the Chief Strategy Officer for Sunrise Banks. Our personal lives and the professional lives of organizations can be a lot like a stained glass window. What does that mean? When Eric started to tell me a little bit about himself, one thing stood out, one of his personal passions is to create stained glass artwork. He described the process of designing, selecting the materials, creating it, and even having to make edits based on what is and is not possible with the canvas. He talked about how even if you’re not great at it and your human shortcomings get in the way, the end resulting product is still quite beautiful.

Josh: One of the ways Eric describes himself is as a futurist or someone who follows the ideology of [00:03:00] Foresight. And yes, we’re going to talk about what that means. So what a futurist and a Chief Strategy Officer at a community bank have to do with stained glass? Stay tuned to this fascinating episode to learn more because this success story and commodity trader turned community banker and quote frustrated college professor has some really amazing insights to share with us today. He’s authentically passionate about making the world a better place and helping the people and companies that live in it find their superpower and live lives with purpose and direction.

He says you have agency on every day you live. So find ways to give back and provide value. Maybe that’s also why he said he’s the strong back to his wife’s green thumb in the garden. So Eric, without further ado, welcome to the podcast. I’m really excited about our conversation today.

Eric: Josh, thank you for having me. It’s a pleasure to be here.

Josh: Okay. So obviously I think, we teed this up a little bit that I think we should start by talking a little bit about this whole stained [00:04:00] glass analogy and as I read back the intro to Eric, I told him he’s got to bear with me because I came up with this as we went, but I wanted to see what his thoughts were about it.

Really, as you were telling me about the process of creating stained glass. And this came after you were telling me a little bit about the thought process of having Foresight and of this, futuristic modeling of our lives and companies and how they provide value in this world that we live in.

Like it really got me thinking as long as you go into it with some semblance of a plan, you have a process, you think through it and you’re prepared to be iterative to work with what you’ve got and what’s possible. While you may not be able to perfectly predict the future, you may not be perfect at creating stained glass.

When you look back on it, when it’s all said and done, it’s probably something that’s pretty beautiful. And I think that can be said for our lives and the impacts that we have on them. Specifically as we’re talking about here on this podcast, right? Like the impacts we have on the companies that we work for in the industries that [00:05:00] we work in.

I’d love to just get your thoughts on that to start.

Eric: Yeah, no, thanks for that. The way I got into stained glass was my wife and I had four kitchen cabinets with glass windows and the conversation turned one day and I said wouldn’t it be nice if we could get some stained glass in those windows and just brighten up the kitchen a little bit. And while those panels never got complete, what I realized is in starting with stained glass, the first thing I had to do was look at the canvas. What is the area I’m trying to cover? What is it that I’m trying to achieve long term? And it wasn’t necessarily a design.

It was looking at the place it was going to be. Was it going to occupy the back of a china cabinet? Was it going to be the front face of a kitchen cabinet? Was it going to be a stepping stone? It was going to be stained glass panels hanging up in a window. That’s where I started. And while I can take and draw patterns or take and mimic patterns that are out there, even when [00:06:00] I’m done with the pattern, I still don’t know what it’s going to look like. even if I’ve selected the colors, because it’s not just the colors that matter, it’s the form and the movement and the texture and how those, how all of those elements refract the light and interplay with each other. So I am astounded every time I wrap up a project and know that given my wildest imagination, it is not something What I’ve created is something outside of my imagination, even though while I’m in the, while I’m in the process, I’m working toward an end that is close approximation. And I think that has applicability to people and businesses today.

Josh: Yeah. I totally agree. Hopefully people see why I started thinking this would be a great way to kick off this episode. Just hearing you talk about the process of that and thinking about the application of that in the corporate sense, and again, [00:07:00] tying this back to your role at Sunrise Banks and just how you look at the world through this, quote, futuristic type of lens.

Yeah, it is, we’re trying to figure out, Hey, where are we going to be? But getting there is half the journey and half the fun. And you’re never going to have the answer to what it’s going to look like, maybe right at the onset of it, but it’s having some sort of plan and process in place that you follow and some sort of, guardrails along the way to help ensure that, you started out by saying you wanted to build a really nice, beautiful stained glass window for your kitchen.

Do you end up with a beautiful stained glass window for your kitchen?

Eric: And sometimes it’s if that’s your goal and that’s what you set out to do, then you need to, then you need to accomplish that. But I’d suggest that most business issues today. really are blank canvases in the sense that we have a purpose. We know the area that we want to cover. We may know the rough size of it, but what it will look like When we’re [00:08:00] finished is beyond our comprehension and so we have to approach that through a process that we know about and equating that to the work that we do at Sunrise.

We really do hold two facets. We’re a community bank located in the Twin Cities and we have four branches two in Minneapolis two in st. Paul. They’re all in the urban core. We recently opened a fifth branch in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. But The legacy of the bank there, when you think about it from a customer experience perspective, is one that the bank controls from soup to nuts, from the location of its branches to the decor to the cup of coffee we serve you to Betty, who serves it. And then, of course, all our products and services are entirely ours.

We got into debit bin sponsorship about 17 years ago as we expanded our mission beyond the county metropolitan area, and we really entered what turns out today to be banking as a service. And when we think about that Experience from a user experience perspective. Now [00:09:00] it’s not one where we control all of it. We control. We’re actually part of a value chain. We are partnering with processors and program managers and card associations and the K. Y. C. vendors and all the other vendors that make this thing possible.

And we are all bringing to bear the very best of what we do to provide a world class customer experience. That’s only going to get better over time. So there, the question we had to ask ourselves is what do we do better in that value chain than anyone else? Because if we don’t do anything better than anyone else, then we shouldn’t be there. And what we do better than anyone else is we store money and we move money and we lend money. It’s not sexy, but it’s what we do better than anyone else. We do it compliantly. We do it securely and without a bank that does that well. The world class customer experience tends to fall apart.

So within the organization, we think about the canvas we’re painting very differently because we’re dealing with two very different [00:10:00] markets under one mission that unifies it all.

Josh: Yeah, man, so much to talk about with you. I think that is such a cool kind of callback analogy to traditional banking, right? That is, you’re saying, Hey, look, we know exactly the product that we have to create. I need a stained glass window with three colors that fits in this size frame.

But the other side is what is the future of banking look like? And that is a very different canvas. And so how do you take your skill set of creating this one? Media and apply it to what do we do? And then what do we do that differentiates us and how can we apply it in this new realm and new space?

And so what I think is also really fascinating, and I’d like to go back to this, cause I think this helps to tee up some of the conversation too, is just your title, right? A chief strategist. And not even just [00:11:00] necessarily your corporate bank title but your own title and just ethos for how you think about things.

And how that is being seen as such a value add for the bank, right? Because that also tells us a lot about the culture of this institution. If they want somebody like you that thinks the way that you do to apply that skillset across the organization into kind of the strategy going forward.

So do you want to talk just a little bit about your role, your title, and maybe just touch on your thought processes around Foresight and that kind of thing. We’ll dive a little bit deeper into that as we go, but I think maybe just giving a high level set would be great.

Eric: Sure. So it’s funny when I meet other chief strategy officers. The first question out of my mouth is, so what does it mean for you? And most times it’s well, depending on the week of the month or the day of the week for me, what it means today. And it has shifted over time and I would expect it to continue to shift [00:12:00] is a threefold. First, it’s being the tip of the spear on business development. So whether it’s an opportunity that the bank is considering as a partnership opportunity for revenue, or it’s a vendor opportunity Where the counterparty, the partner wants to use wants to see the bank used as a customer and we can provide, we, we can take advantage of the services that their partner has to offer.

That’s the first. part of my role. And I would say in that space, I’ve been really blessed to have met quite a few FinTechs over the last four years, probably four out of every five business days, I have met at least one FinTech over that period of time. So what that’s given me is that’s given me a very broad approach to the market.

And what I find really empowering about sitting in that seat is what? So back to the mission of the bank, the mission of the bank was to be the most innovative bank, empowering the underbanked and underserved. And we changed that in 2018 to be the most innovative bank, empowering financial wellness with a nod towards technology. And we can talk a little bit more about what [00:13:00] that means but I bring that up because for years we talked about underbanked and underserved as being one segment. And. What I saw in the fintech world generally is we have these passionate founders that come to us and they’re coming to us with an idea because either they themselves or a close family member are part of a segment of customers, generally a micro segment that that have a need and the way the product and services are being delivered today by traditional means just isn’t working for them.

And by gosh, they’re going to fix it. So this passion they come in with. And it gives rise to the needs. The customer needs to have the product hypothesis there. They’re providing. It’s fascinating to me how I’ve probably entertained 40 different underbanked, underserved segment solution hypotheses sitting in the seat.

So there is no one underbanked, underserved there. And I would suggest that’s true in most segments. That [00:14:00] technology has allowed us to really slice these into very distinct micro segments. And yet the technology allows that customization to get those particular needs for segments done. And the passion, the founder’s brain just really energizes me.

So that’s the first side. That’s the first side of it. What that also does for me is it allows me to take those in the aggregate and understand what is the direction of technological advances in the way people are thinking about products and services to some of those larger segments, such as underbanked or underserved or women led businesses or minority owned businesses or low and moderate income communities and start to take that background around how financial products and services are being delivered and think about the impact that it would have on the communities that they’re delivering those products and services to generally in the form of wellness. The second facet of my role is to be a little bit of an instigator. So taking some of that feedback and then [00:15:00] looking at internally at the capabilities of the bank and seeing if there are ways that we can help architect work with our work with our partners internally and architect solutions that we can take to implementation and then have the subject matter experts in those areas implement those or conversely take customer facing products and services and look to see how we can architect those and have those rolled out to the general market. So that’s the second area. And then the third area of the bank really allows me to do so. And I’m so grateful as they allow me to think a little bit about the future. Major questions for me in this space are, as I’m looking at the fintech market, And we talked a little bit earlier about the two sides of Sunrise Banks where you have this direct to consumer or direct to business relationship locally. When we take a back seat, now we’re in partnership and we’re allowing the FinTech to do that. What is the nature of trust? in that space? And what is the future of trust? And if the bank is a BAS bank, now steps behind the [00:16:00] fintech, does that change the nature of trust? And will that change it in the future?

And is that a place we want to seed as a financial institution?

Josh: One of the other things I just, before you go any deeper. is also relevant to this conversation is, as I was looking around and doing a little bit of research before we started recording we were talking about one of the things I noticed is, sunrise banks right on the homepage of the website is very proud of the fact that it’s a certified B Corp.

And we were saying, I wish there was some good data out there to tell me how many actual community financial institutions have gone through that process. But that stood out to me as something fairly unique and not something that I see every day for sure. How does that type of thought process impact the organization and the leadership kind of strategic objectives of the bank?

Eric: The bank is a B corporation. We’re also a community development financial institution, a CDFI. We are also a member of the Global [00:17:00] Alliance of Banking on Values, and that’s a consortium of about 70 financial institutions worldwide that have also adopted that same triple bottom line of social impact, sustainability, and economic wellness. David Reiling, our president, CEO, and owner of the bank, has been a social entrepreneur since his days out of college and when he and his father bought these banks in the Twin Cities in the 80s and 90s. Their mission was to take these banks and not move them but expand on what they did and what they did at the time as they were in low and moderate income communities that were primarily areas where immigrant populations would come to settle in the Twin Cities. So the legacy of these banks was to provide user journeys to get people established in the U. S. financial services system.

Josh: That’s

Eric: And that is the legacy of the bank today. And so when we decided to expand that mission beyond the eight county metropolitan area. Again, 17 years ago, the way you, [00:18:00] one of the, one of the ways you could establish a relationship with someone who was, who didn’t have a relationship was through pre funded accounts or prepaid debit cards in today’s parlance. And so that has been the bread and butter of the bank for all these years. I bring this up because it is that thinking along with David’s insistence that we are a social enterprise. We just happen to be a bank. That is a permutation. That’s the language we use internally. So people come for the mission and they stay for the results.

We measure social impact is a very key metric internally to our efforts because it’s our reality that if our social impact metric rises the financial goodness follows. It’s just, I can’t tell you why it happens. It just does. So for bankers out there that keep talking about mission versus, mission and margin as if it were in either or conversation, I’m here to tell you, you can have both, but you just have to be really focused on your mission. And that blinding flash of the obvious actually gives us a [00:19:00] gives us good direction on what to invest in and more importantly, what not to invest in, particularly on the bad side, where there is so much happening so quickly and so many bright, shiny objects that it, it’s very hard to stay focused on your mission.

It’s very hard to stay focused on those key investments that a bank should be making for the long term. And yet it’s through that mission that lens, that filter is so invaluable in so many ways.

Josh: That, that’s really interesting to hear you talk about that, Eric, because, especially coming from somebody like yourself, who’s, very much. So thinking about it. The future and how do we look ahead, but also talking about how do you call back to, your Genesis and your why, and why does this bank exist in the first place?

Because that’s really fundamentally core to where your future needs to be. If you want to continue to align, why did you exist in the first place? [00:20:00] And so it’s this balance of looking back at the same time as looking forward.

Eric: Absolutely. And most organizations, most banks have a mission and they will say their mission. They’re mission driven and they probably are. It’s interesting for community-based financials, though, if they, and I’m not picking on, but I will say we hear the credit union ethos of people helping people. If that’s as far as the mission has gone and we haven’t put life to it, sometimes we struggle with really what is the why. Because, what is the context in that space? And so we can look out for our community, but if our community isn’t thriving, or there are challenges there, sometimes as an organization, a community based organization, we get stuck.

We get stuck, and we go, what do we do next? And that is a, that’s a problem I’ve heard from CEOs of community based financials is sometimes they just don’t know what to do. And they look around and they see things like that’s [00:21:00] banking seems to be a growth strategy.

Maybe we shouldn’t investigate that. And we’ve seen that happen. And now we’re seeing some, the regulators coming in and coming out with some of the findings. And I think it’s giving people pause who are considering that or starting to dabble in that saying maybe that’s not the strategy for us. So what next? Yep.

Josh: When you talk about just, what is going to be the strategy, right? I think that’s something I’ve always found interesting in my time in this industry is how do people pick what is going to be the next thing and what’s going to be the strategy. And in my role, I get the opportunity to sometimes either see the decision or the thought process and the decision.

And both always fascinate me. I’ll pick on a relevant example. I think, and I remember when, you started to see on [00:22:00] every late show and Superbowl ads, everything about crypto, and all these people getting rich off crypto and how many community financial institutions said we have to offer crypto.

And my question back was always why? How does that align to your mission? What is that doing to serve your account holders? And what’s your place and what’s your role in that? And, I got lots of different varying answers throughout that process, and I got to see people take lots of different paths through that.

But, for me, that felt very obvious, here’s a shiny squirrel. We need to go chase it. actually recognizing how does this align back to our why? How do we differentiate here? What’s the actual value add and what’s the opportunity cost if we focus on this versus say something else. And now we get to look a little bit more back on that and we have some examples of how that did and did not go.

And I don’t mean to pick on that as the only example, but I think it’s a [00:23:00] good example of just what you’re talking about, of how we look at what’s actually going to provide meaningful benefit and value. And, to your point earlier where, it’s this corporate social responsibility or profits, it doesn’t have to be an, or conversation, and what I think is really cool is if you look at the community financial institution space. You actually make money and thrive off of doing good. That’s actually a cool space to be in, how many companies get to say that? So the products and services that you’re offering a lot of times and the way that you service your market versus your competition.

Is a value add to that community, to that person, to that account holder, and you’re generating revenue out of it, right? That’s your business model. So it puts you in a kind of a cool and unique space where, I think if you apply that lens of why are we doing this, but to your [00:24:00] point, you deeply understand what is your why, what is your mission, and it’s not just surface deep.

Then I think that’s going to guide a lot of the strategic directions that your institution is or should be taking.

Eric: It does. And yet the mission doesn’t have to be profound. it needs to be, it needs to be easily understandable by everyone in the organization and your customers and your prospects. So again, it doesn’t have to be deep, but it needs to be understandable. And when we talk about strategy, the way I think about this is if the past is everything that we know, And the present is everything that is, which we are in the process of knowing the future is that which is unknown. And when we think about strategy is the one area where we really are trying to look ahead and say, what is our next step? We know, what is it that we’re going to [00:25:00] do? And for many organizations, I liken it to if I’m an illustrator for a cartoon. Let’s say I’m Walt Disney back in the fifties and I’m drawing Mickey Mouse and I have Mickey Mouse drawn on a blank piece of paper. If that is the organization today, that’s great. But what does that organization do? What is Mickey supposed to do? We don’t have the background for that yet. So is Mickey on a steamboat? Is Mickey in space? Is Mickey on a basketball court? Where is Mickey? Once we understand what that context is, what that background is, it begins to give us more clarity around what we might want to do in terms of optionality.

And more importantly, to look at that landscape and say, man, if something changed, how do my plans today? Knowing that I’m talking about the unknown. What markers can I put out there and what resilience can I build into my plan if this particular future that we’re looking at, that we’re contemplating doesn’t necessarily roll out the way that [00:26:00] we need it to, or the way that we would like it to.

So that’s where it gets interesting for me. And today, unfortunately, two things that I’ve noticed in talking to more and more CEOs in the banking and community based financial space. The strategic planning horizon has shrunk. I see even over the last five years, it used to be three to five, at some point there was a 10 year, at least a 10 year stab, but it was generally three to five years.

And that horizon for strategic plans has shrunk to one to three years. And sometimes three years is really a stretch. And the reason when I asked leaders why they say it is because we just don’t understand. We don’t know what the world will look like beyond that point. And yet, The problems we’re trying to solve, if we were to expand on what those actually mean to your customers, they really are intimately tied to long term issues that we are facing, such as sustainability and social impact and wellness.

That triple bottom line, that’s really [00:27:00] the your solutions are empowering your customers to achieve one or more of those broad areas. And those are issues that. That are that require long term thinking and today when we think about strategic planning, most organizations, when they think about the future, don’t go any farther than the opportunity and threat boxes in their SWOT analysis, and I’m a firm believer that if we are spending the rest of our life in the future from this moment forward, it probably deserves more emphasis and more time and more thought than the opportunity and threats box in a in a in a strategic plan.

Josh: It’s really interesting that you bring up Disney as an example and bear, bear with me as I go through this and keep me honest, but.

The reason I say it’s interesting timing is literally I just got back a couple of days ago from 11 days at Disney and I was there for two back to back [00:28:00] conferences, which is also interesting in and of itself. The first conference was the Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals. Annual event where they were recognizing the credit unions for kids movement for raising over 200 million over its lifetime for the Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals and awarding them their coveted founders award.

And then the second conference was the NACUSO conference, which is the National Association of Credit Union Service Organizations, which is the opportunity for credit unions to start and invest in companies to be able to try and look to the future. So it’s really interesting that those two were just the events that were very recent for me. I am talking a lot about both the social impact side and the why and how do we further the why side of it.

But they were both also at Disney World. And why were they both at Disney world? And in between those two work events, I got to spend four absolutely crazy action packed days with my toddler infant and wife [00:29:00] hitting four parks in four days, maximizing that Disney experience and giving the mouse all of my money.

Eric: Oh, that is awesome.

Josh: In all reality you were talking about Walt Disney drawing Mickey on a piece of paper and it’s like, what is Mickey? And I don’t know the answer to this, but I would say from just everything I’ve seen from interviews with Walt Disney and different books written about him and where the company has gone today.

I would like to think that a lot of his initial thought process was just to make people happy to give people this kind of sense of joy. And yeah, don’t get me wrong. Like Disney world can be pretty crazy and it can be pretty stressful. At one point we saw a family of six four kids, probably all within six years old running around on the table.

Dad was literally just standing there watching as if he was watching from afar and mom was collapsed on the table. Disney could be a little bit stressful, but I’m also walking away from it and. And like my son, my three year old can’t stop talking about it, right? He’s just elated.

He had an absolutely [00:30:00] incredible time. Me as a parent, that was so cool to be able to watch him, interact with all of these things that were clearly designed to give him enjoyment and bring some memories to this stage in his life. And just using that as an example of.

How do you take that kind of starting point and how do you use that to shape your future? I’d like to think that when Walt Disney drew Mickey Mouse, he probably didn’t fully have baked out in his head what Walt Disney World is today. But because of where he started, I can see how it became what it is today.

And so how do we take that own, that same concept and apply it into our lives or our corporate lives and say, okay, look, Hey, we’re a community bank and this is our origin story. And to your point, maybe our why doesn’t have to be some deeply thought provoking ethos but it’s something that we can digest and say, okay, you know what, like we started to help provide [00:31:00] quality financial services to an underserved market.

And so how do we evolve and become something tomorrow? that, continues to live on to that, but may look very different. It may look like Walt Disney world versus, a cartoon character drawn on a piece of paper.

Eric: Sure. And in your analogy with Mickey, if Mickey’s purpose is to bring joy, then he will bring joy. It’ll be expressed differently if he’s on the steamboat. And potentially if he’s in space versus whether he’s climbing a mountain, and that’s the piece that we just need to understand and don’t know that we spend enough time contemplating. And again, I think the reason for this is because, first off, not everybody is wired to think that way professionally. I love operations, compliance, detailed folks. They are they’re detailed. They love process and efficiency. They love repeatability. They keep the trains running on time.

I love them and I am not one of them. [00:32:00] And sometimes it is, to talk about the unknown and to start talking about options and things that are really out there. And, there’s no certainty to it. Sometimes that’s very difficult for someone to get their arms around. But it’s essential that as an organization, we have people in that organization that are willing to explore that not because we’re going to solve a puzzle, not because we’re going to come up with the answer, but because we are willing to understand the possibilities.

And that’s really what we’re trying to open up here is what are the possibilities for what we can achieve. And it’s in that space where things like Foresight with its process and tools have that ability to structure some of that work to help people coalesce in a group and give them a framework by which to start dissecting some of this.

And the beauty of this is because it’s [00:33:00] unknown, everyone has a perspective and that perspective is absolutely valid. And I would argue that the richer, the more diverse you can make that group when you’re talking about your direction, the environment you’re going to live in, the more, the richer it will be because you’re bringing in more diverse perspectives and backgrounds.


Josh: Cool of a way as you just did but I think that’s one of the things that this podcast has really given me such a cool opportunity to experience is I’ve had such a wide swath of people As guests with various backgrounds with unique ideas and perspectives and areas of speciality and different ways that their brain works right from the, compliance process oriented person to the, free spirited painter and kind of everything in between and to your point if all I had on this podcast was the exact [00:34:00] same thought process over and over again, then.

Nobody would listen to my podcast. I’m not saying anybody does either way, but that depends on how they feel about me, but the value add of the podcast is all these different perspectives. In different ways of thinking about it and, for all intents and purposes, right?

We always try to somehow tie it back to the technology and the future of the technology servicing community financial institutions and their mission. And that’s really the guiding light of the podcast, but man, I’ve had totally out of left field conversations on this podcast, but somehow they all make up a part of that personality that makes the guest and influences the types of ideas that they bring to the table for this industry.

And so just like in this podcast, that would be pretty boring if it was the exact same topic from the exact same style of guests over and over again. I bet your corporate strategy is going to be pretty boring [00:35:00] if it’s just the exact same people drawing on the exact same thing over and over again.

Eric: Yup. That’s so true.

Josh: Eric you’ve mentioned it a few times, so I feel like it’s worth spending a little bit of time on now. It is Foresight, right? So talk to me a little bit about what is it? What does it mean? What does it look like? How do you apply it? Yeah.

Eric: Invitation of a business coach that I had actually taken this title and didn’t really know what to do with it. And I was invited to a conference for a weekend. It started on Saturday morning and Sunday evening. So I too went down to Orlando not on property but but spent some time, spent the weekend there and it was put on by the World Future Society. I bring this all up to tell you how the lightning bolt struck me. and I I was asked to go dip into the various sessions. There were sessions that were widely [00:36:00] diverse.

And I was, it was suggested to me not to stay for the entirety of any one session, but make sure that I hit as many as I could. And so the first session I hit was a couple of Foresters out in Vermont that we’re talking about. The repurposing of abandoned log logging operations and the wood that was there and how those are being taken over by craftsmen, JuGad Innovation was happening there.

So they were taking the leftover wood and making new products out of that without cutting down old growth forest. And they talked about some of the trends there. And then I remember stepping into an educator’s workshop. talking about the future of education. And there was a trend that they mentioned that these guys over here in the forestry had mentioned.

And then I broke for lunch and then I went back and there was a military strategist, a three star general who was talking about military strategy and the Middle East conflict. And he was talking about how he had, how they had put scenarios together and some of the trends they considered, [00:37:00] man, I just heard that in the educators. And as it went on and on, I heard from spiritualists and I heard from housewives and I heard from oh gosh, all sorts of occupations, probably 20 different sessions. And what was interesting is these trends that they were talking about that affected their industry. They were spanning multiple applications. And I left there and wondered and the next week my business coach Marsha called me up and she said, so what’d you think of the conference, Eric? And I said, that was the most mentally stimulating conference I’d ever been to. And she said that’s great. She said, cause next year you’re going to present there. So I spent six months putting together a presentation on the future of personal financial management. And I’ve researched consumers and learned about the process of Foresight. I met with a company that taught me how to think about that, and introduced me to some tools presented at the 2014 World Future Society conference.

And then there was a futurist there from the Office of [00:38:00] Management Budget who invited me out to Washington to go give that presentation at the OMB. And that was, that’s what got me hooked. The fact that I could step above the day to day. I thought I was doing pretty well at 5, 000 feet and that’s where strategy-led.

And what I’m finding now is we need to elevate much higher. And Foresight allows us to do that for just a short period of time because we can’t execute at that level, but what we can do is we can find direction. I think it was Munger, Charlie Munger that said, the trick isn’t finding things that will change over time.

It’s finding that which will remain the same over time. And Foresight, conversely, has this ability to identify sustainable change that will be in effect in the future that might now be nothing more than a whisper. And so how do we take and be quiet enough to hear the still small voice of the [00:39:00] Zeitgeist?

Thank you. and understand what implications that may have for whatever it is we’re doing. In our case it’s financial services. So it was that piece. And I would say the other side of Foresight is that the discipline of Foresight allows us to take a holistic view when we talk about looking at the future.

So While we think about it, technology is in the headlines. It’s there every single day. I probably get a half a dozen related emails. Whether it’s axios or, one of our fintech partners on this talking about AI and they’ve got newsletters out there that produce daily and that’s great. But the future is not solely about technology and Foresight talks about the fact that we need to talk about people. The future is People centric and the nexus of transformational change, long term transformational change does not lie in technology. It lies in people’s values because it’s people’s values that will allow [00:40:00] the adoption of their technology for specific purposes. So we look at, so we look at the societal aspect of this. We look at things like trust. We look at things like consumer preferences. Then we look, of course, at technology. We look at the environment. So whether that is, Nature, the climate change we’re talking about, that’s that, that seems to, seems to hold such a place, a place in the news today, or it’s just the way we reimagine our spaces, the work from home movement.

That’s also the environment. Think about that and we try to pull evidence in from that as well. We also look at the economy and it’s not just, it goes beyond hard and fast data. Things that I think about are that consumers are looking to live out their passions consistent with their values. So what does that mean for the economy as we go forward? And I think it’s very generational at this point where you talk to younger consumers. And it is all about, they’re very conscious and very aware that the brands are spending their [00:41:00] money on to promote the values that they’re that are consistent with their worldview today. And then finally, there’s a governance or regulatory piece. And while in most industries that plays a certain role, of course, in financial services were highly and dynamically regulated. We can’t have a conversation without that. So you take those, societal, technological, the economic, the environmental. And the regulatory aspects and you put, you, you gather information from all of those. So Foresight allows us not to be myopic or not to be flat in one dimension or another. And we try to gather information from all five of those sectors to give us a well rounded view of what is possible out there. And then from there, we just start looking at those trends that we see that could impact the way that we as an industry are going to do business for the next 20, 30, 70 years.

Josh: I like the way you were talking about now, you’ve got to have your head in the clouds, but you’ve also got to come down to operationalize. Cause you can’t up in the clouds. And I think [00:42:00] especially in financial services that applies an interesting lens to this whole thing.

And as you were talking, it just, it really got me thinking about, and I think this is why I got really excited to have this conversation with in the future is really interesting and exciting. And when you start to apply all these different things that we talk about and all this technology and yada yada, at the end of the day, what are we trying to do?

I think a big part of it, and I don’t think I have all the answers here, but I think a big part of it is, we’re just trying to make human life more operationally efficient so that we can spend more time. And if you break down our bare necessities we need food, shelter, protection, not much else.

And then we start to get into the entertainment value of things. So we start to look at what the future holds. What happens if we get to the point where we have such a large robotic workforce, humans no longer need to grow the food, make the food, [00:43:00] sell the food, do anything with the food.

You can simply access the food. Then if you were a food producer, how do you make money? Because do we still live in a society where you have to have some form of currency to be able to purchase said food or is said food now because it’s being operationalized by nonhumans that don’t need a reward system of currency that maybe you no longer have to pay for food.

I don’t know. I’m not really going out there, right? But in that kind of future, what is financial wellness look like? It’s probably going to look extremely different than it looks today. And

Eric: You

Josh: Talking about that, conversations about that is important, but to your point, like what are you going to do to operationalize that tomorrow probably doesn’t mean you’re going to radically change your products and services at a community financial institution.

Eric: No, but you touch upon a really interesting point because Foresight can be used, Foresight in [00:44:00] most commercial. endeavors when it’s being used is being used to help the organization remain relevant in the industry it’s in. So there it is trying to look for those consumer trends that will Help them choose between I’ve got four different technology directions, investments I can make each to improve the trust of my customers.

At least I believe they do. So let me look at the attitudes. Let me see which is where I’m gonna get the biggest bang for that investment. That’s one way of using Foresight. And it’s admirable. What I will say is, you touched on this, when you start talking about Foresight, inevitably you start talking about the systems. And it is there that it gets really interesting and a little provocative. So in the sense that it’s the old adage. You have two young fish swimming in the water and an old fish swims by and says, morning boys, how’s the water and swims away. And the one, the young fish looks at the other and says, what the [00:45:00] heck did he mean by water? We’re sitting in an economic system today. Okay. that if the goal of the economic system is to provide food and shelter, let’s just call it security, food, shelter and clothing security for its citizens. One might argue there’s evidence out there to say the economic system in the US today is probably broken a little bit. And if you step back and you think about in terms of the regulatory framework, And what banks can do and can’t do and what fintechs can do and can’t do and how in the limitations of technology in the constraints of the economic system, how much of what we as an industry are trying to build is really trying to put just another bandaid on a broken economic system. that maybe needs deeper conversation. So that’s where Foresight can take you as well. And then [00:46:00] the Question for the organization is how far do you want to go? It’s folly to think about it, but the reason I say that is because I think it’s important that organizations at least have that conversation and go into it consciously because it’s folly to think that anyone listening to this podcast is going to be alive when we go through climate change.

Check off the list. Got it. Covered it. We’re done. It’s not going to happen. However, it’s important that we do something. It doesn’t mean we can’t do anything because. Excuse me, so the thing about Foresight is, the good book says that we are, we should be tolerant and kind and be useful to everyone we meet on, on a given day, like today. And we know sometimes how hard that is. And yet

some of these issues that we’re dealing with, when you get to the systemic level, There have to be decisions that are going to be made where you know the recipient, the beneficiary of those decisions will never be able to thank you. And yet you have to take those folks into consideration when you’re making [00:47:00] these decisions as an organization, if indeed you really are looking for the embattlement of the community. Now, it’s hard when you have discounted cash flow that if you, I don’t care what the discount rate is, how minuscule it is, but a hundred years out, the value of a hundred year cash flow is zero. And that’s the way we tend to think about the generation and the generation. And yet it’s important again.

Personally, I just think it’s important that organizations think in those ways because while they can’t, they don’t have to solve it, they can take steps. For example, we are really good as financial technologists to help consumers hit the buy now button more quickly. And I love personal financial management developers.

They are my heroes because they are, I believe that they are really delving into the individual and asking these questions. So what does it mean to provide financial security or clothing, secure housing, security, and how can I help an individual achieve long [00:48:00] term goals while meeting short term needs?

But at the same time, how many, I’m waiting for the financial technologist that allows a person to hit pause before they pause before they hit the buy now button to make that consideration not to prevent the purchase, but to just say, are you thinking this through? Given what I know about you and your long term goals, do you really need the iPhone 15 update from the 13? As an example. So that’s a practical application. One other thing I’ll say, too, is where this gets interesting is in business models. So we talked earlier about community finances, looking at Baz and saying, man, is this a growth strategy? And you’ve got others that are saying, no, I’m really committed to my community.

So how could Foresight help me in that respect? It’s a digital transformation and I’ve got my online banking experience and most of my customers are really liking it and we’re looking to improve it. And I’d suggest that Foresight has a [00:49:00] place for you there. Yeah. I did some work and looked at it from an environmental perspective.

An example I’ll use is Norfolk, Virginia put out a study in 2015. It’s called Norfolk 2100. You could look it up on the web. They have a nice four color poster of the Hampton Roads area. And there are four colors for the various neighborhoods in Norfolk. One is yellow, and yellow means that those neighborhoods are at risk of being overtaken by the ocean because today they’re experiencing sunny day flooding. You’ve got areas in red that show the naval base and the railroad yards and some of the critical infrastructure such as hospitals. They are critically at risk from flooding, but they have decided they’re going to reinforce and defend those areas and build seawalls to preserve those. There are areas in green that will not be affected, and then there are areas in purple that the city planners are looking to reimagine life in Norfolk. [00:50:00] They released that in 2015. In 2021, given the climate model updates, they went and they revisited that map. And what they said is the areas in yellow. They basically are planning on ceding the ocean, which is really interesting because now if I’m and I was talking to a bank in that area just two weeks ago, I said, man, if I am you guys, I’m looking at that report. Number one, I’m trying to figure out where my branches are. to make sure that I’m okay there.

But secondly, as a community-based financial, now I can start thinking about, all right, so where are my customers? Can I overlay my customers on this map? And if I have customers in those yellow areas, they own real estate right now that at some point in time, they’re gonna have to get out of, and they’re paying, 20, 25, 000 annual home insurance bills and their homes are being forced to be put on stilts like the Outer Banks because they can’t the basement floods virtually every day. So what does it mean for them? How can I as a community-based financial help them adjust and adjust to life in and [00:51:00] help them move out of that community and maybe that’s not my forte.

Maybe my forte is to help reimagine life and help reimagine new commercial and living spaces in those areas designated as vibrant areas for the future. Maybe my expertise is in helping defend and lend against infrastructure projects that will help those areas. There’s more than enough opportunity to go around in Norfolk. And I picked that out, but to know that’s going to be there, this is between now and 2100, this is a 70-year opportunity. And by the way, I said, I told them, I said, if I’m you, I’m talking your policy makers in Virginia, and I’m trying to find out whose person has the eight-hour a day job in Norfolk trying to figure out what does the infrastructure look like if I’ve got to cut off the gas and the water and electricity in these areas so the seawater doesn’t back up and hit the rest of that infrastructure throughout the area. And am I talking to my policy makers and understanding that the government assistance that they’re giving that [00:52:00] isn’t that today’s today, a FEMA check may not cut it in the future. And by the way, here’s how financial, here’s how financial organizations, financial technology firms, here’s how we can move payments.

Here’s how we have advances in industry. So we can help inform policy now for these programs that will be developed in another decade or two. as people start hitting this reality. Now I use that as an example, but then you go to the upper Midwest where we are and we’ve got Duluth, Minnesota and Buffalo, New York and cities like that, that are declaring themselves climate havens. So they’re saying, boy, come on up here. We’re going to be the temperate zone. Now those folks, it’s a very different set of opportunities. But they also have challenges. If Duluth plans on growing three to four X, how are they trying to maintain the quality of life that draws people there today? So again, if I’m a community based financial up in Duluth, I’m trying to work with the city planners and help reimagine and the community organizations and the nonprofits and the builders. to figure out what my [00:53:00] place is there in, in, with the citizenry. So this is just a brief, just one facet, the economic facet of one issue that if a community based financial is saying, yeah, community first, BAS is not for us. But we’re concerned about how we grow. Boy, put that lens on your opportunity section and start riffing off of that for a while

and see if there’s a road map that you can develop where you can develop products and services and make investments. And more importantly, who you need to talk to outside the four walls of the bank, because that’s where your community is. So what are the right conversations to be having with your community to help better prepare you and them to provide them with a preferred future that they all want to see?

Josh: I don’t know if this is where you intended to go with this, Eric, but as you were talking, it really got me thinking two things. One, I think you would be fascinated to go back in my archives and listen to an episode with a woman, Marilla Vandenacker. She’s a PhD student at [00:54:00] Warwick who is focused on philosophies like the emotional impacts that money has on people.

Thank you. And how different people think about personal financial management, which I want to come back to. But the other thing that it got me thinking about was another episode I had a while back with Don McDonald, who was formerly with MX, one of the big PFM companies in our industry.

But he also spent a considerable amount of time at Intel. And he said he’d done some interesting modeling at one point that basically said if he looked at a bunch of other geographies around the world put a ton of factors to this. The long and short of it was that the U. S. at some point was going to boil down to about 300 financial institutions.

We know that number is shrinking today. We’re about 8, 000 give or take but down to 300. And as you were talking I feel like that was almost a really nice shameless plug [00:55:00] for a 300 ain’t going to cut it or technology is going to have to be a really big part of it because a community bank in Portland, Oregon, with all due respect, has no idea of the challenges and opportunities of the folks in Norfolk.

And what you were just talking about there. And so having local community based institutions that actually understand their account holder base, their communities and the unique challenges and opportunities that they have in front of them. And especially if we apply some longer time horizons to this.

I think it’s very important that we have small institutions that are hyper connected and really aware of what’s happening. And to go back to what I was saying with the episode with Merla, I think the other element that you were touching on in that is that, we have to put the human side Element into this equation as well, right?

And I think if we look at the future and what we want from it, [00:56:00] there’s no one size fits all, right? And even if we boil it down to very simple things, right? Like the type of home that you want versus the type of home that I may want versus the type of home my kids may want when they grow up, right? And so even things like personal financial management, May look very different for different people.

I had a really awesome conversation just this last week with our SVP of product. And he and I were talking a lot about what you were just saying, personal financial management and what does that mean to people what you were saying with your title. Like when you meet somebody else that’s talking about personal financial management, like I always like to ask him, what does that mean to you?

And the conversation that Sharag and I were having was, even if I look in my own friend circle I have a couple of friends that live here in our neighborhood that prescribed really heavily to the fire system. I’m not sure if you’re familiar with that, but it’s the financial independence retire early.

And so they had never in a [00:57:00] million years would have gone and did what we did last week and gone to Disney world. I bought my three year old son, one of those stupid build it, lightsaber experiences. It’s 250 bucks for this darn thing. And if I’m being responsible, that was a terrible way to do it, but he had an absolute blast and he’s coming home and he’s playing with it every single day.

And those memories, like they make me happy. And so was that necessarily a responsible financial decision? Probably not, but I like to balance personally that I want to make sure my kids are set up for success and they have stability and they have some financial wherewithal, but I also want them to have some experiences in life and you know what, I’m okay with it.

Stupid expensive toy now and again, or something like that. And so just saying, Hey we’re going to have 300 financial institutions in the U. S. and we’re going to understand all these geographies and all of their unique opportunities and challenges. And Oh, by the way, within that, we’re even going to understand the differences between all [00:58:00] of our different consumers and make sure that every single one of them.

We’re helping them meet what looks like to them financial success coupled with an understanding of, Hey, I know living, paycheck to paycheck and spending all of your money frivolously, feels like a good thing. Here’s how we can peel that back and put a little bit of safety net in there.

Like I know tomorrow’s not a guarantee, but let’s hope you’re going to get a few more of those tomorrows in. So let’s plan for that a little bit. Like how do we as community financial institutions meet all of those different needs? And sorry, that was probably a long winded talk track around, but just when you start to add even just a couple of these different variables into this equation that is, providing for long term success of finances within America, this gets really complicated really quickly.

Eric: It does. And the good news is we don’t have to solve the universe. So again we bite it off in bite sized chunks. The importance [00:59:00] is to not be caught under wears. If anything, 2020 taught us that the way most organizations plan their strategic plan late in 2019 really wasn’t worth the paper it was written on because most ended up in the trash by March, end of March of 20 yet. COVID was the fifth worldwide pandemic that occurred since 2000. It’s just, they didn’t reach the scale. They had hit just in their pockets.

We can talk about black swans, but every organization should at some point, in one of their scenarios somewhere, talk about the fact that there could be another major outbreak of disease. Why not? It’s happened before. Why not at least put it in there? And then the question is, do you need to plan for it or you just need to know it so you have resiliency in your other actions in the event this [01:00:00] happens?

Eric: A more practical example of that is if you’re an ag lender, if you’re not looking at bioengineering, you should be.

Again, I think I made a comment earlier. Most disruption in an industry doesn’t happen from within the industry. It happens from without. Now you can poopoo black plant based meats and genetic engineering on seeds. But you better be monitoring that. Someone should be monitoring that to see what market acceptance is like, to see how these companies are developing their products and services. Not because it’s a threat, but because it’s probably going to be a more important piece of the food chain. To your point about food security earlier, it’s not gonna displace, but it’s going to become a portion of that. And, so it’s, that’s the purpose of Foresight. Foresight is not to sit here and try to plan out and forecast the future.

Lord knows we tried that with strategic planning used to be, when it was simple in the 60s, 1960s, you basically looked at your growth rate [01:01:00] and the CFO came out and updated the chart for the next year. If the growth rate was 10 percent up into the right, then the number extended 10 percent up into the right. And today you look at most strategic plans and it’s financially based and the numbers are put in there. And as soon as the number hits, the ink isn’t even dry. Everyone looks at that number and they’re thinking, all right, so how am I going to explain the variance? Up or down based on that number. And that’s not what we’re talking about here.

What we’re talking about are looking at factors that allow us to think about opportunities, think about the world more broadly, to allow us to open up to more opportunities based on what our mission is and what our purpose is to the people we serve.

Josh: We didn’t even get a chance to really touch on this, Eric, you mentioned just disruption. And I think that’s something that comes up a lot on this podcast. And to your point, we should all be expecting disruption. At some point, some level of disruption is going to happen.

And so how are you being [01:02:00] as thoughtful as you can about putting together a plan in place to work within the canvas that you have and the materials that you have? for a beautiful outcome, right? To the best your ability with the human elements of it. I don’t know. This is, I think, yeah, this has just been such a phenomenal conversation to be able to have with you.

I can’t even begin to tell you how much I’ve appreciated the just that unique insight that you’ve brought as a guest. This is a topic that I really appreciate that we’re talking about is, how do we look at the future of community financial institutions? And what does the long term future look like and how do we operationalize that today to make sure that it’s a beautiful outcome?

I don’t know. It’s a really fascinating topic.

Eric: Thank you.

Josh: I probably talk to you for another 16 hours, but I will spare you and those of us that are listening. But before I let you go, I have two final questions for you, sir. Where do you go to get information? Because I bet it’s pretty fascinating and I’d

Eric: Oh, man.

Josh: A few [01:03:00] resources from you.

Eric: Yeah I’m all over the board. I try to read as little financial services process I can get away with. I really enjoy reading outside, outside the industry. Nautilus for biology MIT tech review. Thank you. And then, the more I deal with the future, the more I look back at history as well.

I’m currently reading Herman Daly, Beyond Growth and Herman was an economist for international monetary fund in the late nineties and early 2000s. And he came up with this theory that gave rise to donut economics. But basically his theory was we live on this rock. And this rock is not getting any bigger. And the way the economy with a capital E works is we suck energy off the rock or we pick it off as it passes the rock. And we take resources off the rock and we do something with it. We make something with it. And then whatever is left over or whatever waste is, we dump it back on the rock. And that’s not sustainable. That was his whole thesis. And so like I say, it’s given rise. So I’m [01:04:00] back to reading a little bit of what he’s written because it was written in a time where he was just starting to pursue that and promote that. I also like Shane Parrish as well. Shane, Shane talks about how to make better decisions and I’m a big follower of him.

He’s out of Canada. And so I’m reading his latest book called Clear Thinking. And then I haven’t read 1001 Arabian Nights. So I’m about three quarters of the way through that. So I’m catching up on my high school reading as well.

Josh: I think that’s a whole podcast in and of itself, but if people want to connect with you and if they’d love an opportunity to have conversations with you, or if they’d like to learn a little bit more about Sunrise Banks and what you’re doing there, how can they do that?

Eric: Yeah, they can certainly reach out to me via LinkedIn. Sunrise Banks, plural, is our website. You can reach out to me there as well. There’s a link to hook up with me through that as well.

Josh: Awesome. Eric, again, thank you so much for this conversation. The last over hour completely flew by and I feel like I would love to steal another 16 hours of your time sometime to talk more, [01:05:00] but thank you so much for coming and being a guest on the Digital Banking Podcast.

Eric: Josh, thank you for having me. It’s been a pleasure.

More From Financial Institutions

Go to Top