Top 5 things from Christmas Vacation on Commercial Lending Automation

Commercial Lending Automation and Christmas Vacation

As we run full speed toward the end of the year, many of us have favorite movies that get us into the spirit of the season. While holiday movies often help us escape from the hustle and bustle, there are several things we can also learn from them about commercial lending. While there are likely moments where we can identify with a member of the Griswold family, their holiday hardships can also help us better understand commercial lending automation.

In the opening scene of the movie, we’re introduced the Griswold family in their Ford station wagon with wood panel sides as they head out into the woods to pick out the Griswold family Christmas tree because “people forgot how to have a fun old-fashioned family Christmas and are satisfied with scrawny, dead, overpriced trees that have no special meaning.” As Clark and Ellen sing carols, it’s clear that Rusty and Audrey would rather be back at home which leads to the first thing you can learn from this movie which is to make sure you have your team on board for automating your commercial lending workflow.

Through the rest of the movie, the Griswold family (as well as their neighbors) teach us that it’s important to have a strategy, collaboration is critical, test and retest if it’s necessary, it’s dangerous to go from 0-100 too quickly, and there is some danger in nostalgia.

Have a Strategy

Spoiler alert, but most of Clark’s stress throughout the movie lies in the fact that he hasn’t received his company bonus and has already spent the money on a deposit to build a pool. The tension comes to a head when a delivery arrives in an envelope and Clark announces “I was gonna wait until tomorrow to tell you all, but what the heck. With this bonus, I’m putting in a swimming pool… I’m sorry if I’ve been a little short with everyone lately, I’ve been waiting on this bonus. To make sure the pool goes in as soon as the ground thaws, I had to lay out the money in advance. Until this little miracle arrived, I didn’t have enough in my account to cover the check I wrote.”

As bankers this scene is more like a horror movie than a comedy, but we’re not going to focus on how Clark just kited a check to build a swimming pool. He does teach us an important lesson here which is to have a solid strategy for automation before you get started. Without proper planning and strategy, it can be easy for something good to create distress. Finding a technology partner that can help you develop and execute on a strategy for deploying automation in your lending workflow will ensure you don’t overlook something critical for success. 

Collaboration is Critical

Todd and Margo Chester are the ill-fated neighbors of the Griswolds who don’t seem to ever be on the same page. After returning home to find their window smashed, stereo system destroyed, and a wet floor Margot asks, “and why is the carpet all wet, Todd?” to which Todd responds, “I don’t know, Margo!”
If I had the liberty to re-write this scene, it could look something like this:

As Todd and Margo get ready to send their credit memo off to committee for review and approval, they notice that there are some errors. Margo asks, “and why are the financial spreads unbalanced, Todd?” To which Todd responds, “I don’t know, Margo!”

While Todd and Margo have many other moments of discord, collectively they show us that collaboration is critical when automating commercial lending processes. The point of automating your workflow and statement spreading is to enable your front, middle, and back office teams to work together seamlessly, ultimately helping your institution become more efficient.

Test and Retest if it’s Necessary

As Clark calls the entire family onto the front lawn to see the lights he’s been putting up for the first time, he announces “250 strands of lights. 100 individual bulbs per strand. For a grand total of 25,000 imported Italian twinkle lights!” As he plugs them in, he asks the family for a drumroll to build the suspense only to find that the lights don’t work. He turns to his son who had helped him untangle and test the light strands and asks “Russ, we checked every bulb didn’t we?”

While it goes without saying that you should test any automation before you launch it, it’s important to think about any spot where automation could break down and test it thoroughly. In the movie, Ellen asks if he used more than one extension cord which Clark is reviewing his schematics and ultimately figures out that the problem is simply one switch that was off causing the lights to not work. When automating processes, test and retest as necessary to make sure you’re getting the results you expect.

Don’t Go From 0-100 Too Quickly

Early in the movie, we learn that Clark works in the food preservative industry and has recently created the “crunch enhancer” which is “a non-nutritive cereal varnish. It’s semi-permeable. It’s not osmotic. What it does is it coats and seals the flake, prevents the milk from penetrating it.” This really sets up the scene where the family goes sledding and Clark uses one of his company’s new “non-chloric, silicon-based kitchen lubricant” to grease his sled. He takes off so fast that the snow catches on fire and he is sent barreling through cabins and snow drifts, down a busy street, and finally stops in a Wal-Mart parking lot when he hits a toy collection bin out front.

This is an important lesson for automation because it can be tempting to go from no automation to full automation overnight, however moving too fast in implementing it could end up being more difficult in the long run. If you’re looking to make these changes in your commercial lending workflow but are still using manual processes, evaluate what a good first step would be. Maybe it’s automating spreading with a second phase for automating exception tracking. Or if you’ve already automated some of your process, look to where there are current bottlenecks in your workflow and focus your efforts there.

There is Some Danger in Nostalgia

One morning, Clark decides to sneak into the attic to hide some gifts he’s wrapped. His mother-in-law feels the draft and closes the attic ladder, trapping Clark as the family goes out to finish up some shopping and eat lunch. As Clark digs through boxes to find clothes to keep warm, he finds videos that remind him of the type of family Christmas he’s (unsuccessfully) trying to recreate. When the family returns home, it’s Ellen’s turn to hide her gifts in the attic but when she pulls on the chain, Clark finds out that he’s been sitting on top of the attic ladder the entire time and comes crashing down as Ellen opens the attic ladder.

While you digitize your current lending workflow, this scene shows us that there is some danger in nostalgia – especially when it comes to our Excel spreadsheets or previously manual processes. While these are often familiar, modern automation tools create efficiencies and improve the flow of data across your organization in ways that previous tools can’t. Additionally, it might be time to completely re-think how you have done things in the past and create a new vision or experience. 

As you look to automate your commercial lending workflow, remember the wise words of Aunt Bethany “Excel? That died 30 years ago.” At least it was something like that. Mele Kalikimaka from all of us here at Baker Hill!

National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. Written by John Hughes. Directed by Jeremiah S. Chechik. Performances by Chevy Chase, Beverly D’Angelo, et al. Warner Bros., 1989.

*Baker Hill does not own the rights to these quotes.*

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