Yippee-Ki-Yay, Loan Portfolio! Die Hard’s Lessons on Commercial Lending

Commercial Lending

"Die Hard" is an action-packed movie that follows the story of John McClane, a New York City cop who has flown across the country to visit his wife and kids in Los Angeles, but finds himself trapped in Nakatomi Plaza, a skyscraper that has been taken over by a group of European terrorists led by Hans Grueber during a company Christmas party.

The movie has also become the hot topic of an annual debate. Is Die Hard a holiday movie? Or is it an action movie set during the holidays? While I'm not going to try to end the debate on what genre the movie might fall into, I do think there are some valuable lessons we can learn about commercial lending from Die Hard. Throughout the movie, we can see how working together effectively, trusting our instincts, building relationships, identifying (and acting on) warning signs early on, as well as identifying who we can rely on are all effective in both fighting terrorists as well as commercial lending.

Working Together and Collaborating

With the phone lines cut and the building locked down, McClane ends up making it onto the roof and radioing for help. On the other end of the radio, the supervisor lets him know "Attention, whoever you are, this channel is reserved for emergency calls only," to which McClane replies (with a healthy dose of sarcasm) "Does it sound like I'm ordering a pizza?" Sergeant Al Powell, a local cop who is a self-proclaimed paper jockey, is called to patrol the area and shows up to check things out but takes everything at face value and leaves. As he puts his car in reverse to pull out, McClane throws the body of one of the terrorists onto Powell’s car and some of Gruber's henchmen start shooting at him. He radios for help "I'm in Nakatomi Plaza. They're turning my car into Swiss cheese! I need backup assistance now!"

Sergeant Powell becomes the friendly supportive voice on the other end of the radio, and Powell and McClane quickly find themselves working together to take down the terrorists and save the hostages, exemplifying how collaboration is key. In commercial lending, collaboration between different departments at your bank or credit unions is crucial for success. Just as McClane and Powell had different backgrounds but were able to work together towards a common goal, lending,  underwriting, credit analysis, and risk management must collaborate in order to make well-informed decisions and achieve mutually beneficial outcomes for both the business borrower and the financial institution.

Trusting Your Gut

Some of the most memorable moments in the movie are when McClane, facing overwhelming odds and limited resources, relies on his quick thinking and resourcefulness to outsmart Gruber's henchmen. He repels from the skyscraper's roof using a fire hose, navigates through the air vents, strategically sets off explosives, and outmaneuvers his adversaries at every turn. McClane's ability to adapt and think on his feet plays a crucial role in his survival and eventual triumph.

In commercial lending, there are often situations where lenders have to trust their instincts and make decisions based on hunches or observations. This could be during the underwriting process when assessing a borrower's creditworthiness or during risk monitoring when identifying potential red flags in the portfolio. Just like McClane, lenders must often rely on their instincts, on top of data and facts, to make crucial decisions and predict borrower behavior.

Taking Interest in People

After his first run in with one of Hans’ henchmen, he sends his defeated enemy back down in an elevator with the message “Now I have a machine gun Ho-Ho-Ho” written on his shirt. What Hans doesn’t know is that McClane is listening in from on top of the elevator car, collecting names and information of his foes.

Just like McClane collecting info on the terrorists and writing it on his arm with a sharpie as he eavesdrops, successful bankers also need to possess the skill of gathering information about their clients so they can better understand their needs, and their challenges. This ability to gather information fosters trust, loyalty, and forms the foundation for long-lasting and beneficial relationships. By taking interest in people, bankers can better understand their clients and provide them with tailored solutions that meet their needs.

Seeing Warning Signs and Putting the Pieces Together

After many of his henchmen had been killed by McClane, Hans decides he needs to investigate the explosives and detonators on the roof of the skyscraper himself when McClane happens upon him. Hans pretends to be Bill Clay, one of the hostages, but McClane sees through Gruber’s story. This scene showcases McClane's ability to connect the dots under pressure, a trait that echoes the critical role of risk management in commercial lending.

Similar to John McClane piecing together the details about Hans Gruber and his nefarious plans, lenders must tap into their data to monitor red flags in their portfolio, evaluate risk, and promptly act to mitigate potential losses. This thorough and perceptive approach is crucial for success in the fast-paced world of commercial lending.

Finding Unexpected Heroes

At the beginning of the movie, we meet Argyle – a taxi driver recently turned limousine chauffeur. It’s his first day driving a limo, but it has everything: “CD, CB, TV, telephone, full bar, VHS.” On the way to Nakatomi Plaza, Argyle strikes up a conversation with John and learns about McClane’s rocky relationship with his wife. He offers to stay in the parking garage in case he needs to make a quick escape. When the terrorists take over the building, Argyle is trapped in the parking garage but is too busy taking advantage of the full bar and telephone to know what’s happening until he sees the breaking news story on the car’s television. Argyle actually becomes an unexpected hero of the movie. He notices some suspicious activity and uses his limo to ram Hans’ getaway vehicle and knocks out the driver. 

Within a bank or credit union, you could also have some unexpected heroes among your ranks. An entry-level employee can solve a big problem or lead a major project to success. It's all about fostering a culture where people are encouraged to bring up new ideas on how things could be done more efficiently or more accurately. Consistently recognizing potential and creating opportunities within your team creates an environment where every person has the ability to be a hero for your customers and your institution. 

In the end, the themes we find exciting in Die Hard (the iconic Christmas and/or action film) can provide us with valuable insights into the world of commercial lending. Just like Detective John McClane, bankers often find themselves in situations where quick thinking, adaptability, and a good sense of risk management are crucial for success. So, let's channel our inner McClane in our approach commercial lending.


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