THE FUTURE IS NOW
In our industry, the question that is constantly being asked is “What is the future for this business?” It’s a question that rarely gets a definitive answer. I have come to appreciate the unlimited potential that it has. I have also realized that there are some stumbling blocks that must be overcome if this potential is to be realized.
When I began as a chief executive for the alternative financial services market, the industry had a very different outlook than most service-based companies. There was a prevailing attitude that you did not have to advertise and that good customer service was not as important as in other retail settings. I immediately took issue with those assumptions as our business is no different than any other service-based retail business. The same rules apply, even though many still disagree with that premise.
Some, on the other hand, are seeing the need for professional looking locations, professional looking employees and a wider range of products and services. They also understand the need to market through a variety of advertising vehicles, including TV and radio, along with print. What once seemed out of the norm is now being more readily accepted as vitally necessary for growth. Many operators are going beyond advertising and are understanding and embracing the concept and value of branding.
Yet many do not, and this is where the slippery slope begins. As long as the vast majority of check cashers cling to the old ways of doing business, the industry will be unable to reinvent itself and transition to true alternative financial service centers. As long as operators continue to provide services that diminish their location to a sundry shop, they will continue on a downward slide. It is clear that universal change is needed. FISCA, the industry’s trade association, is beginning to see the need for these changes. But what they can’t do is mandate, implement and execute the needed changes that individual operators must make. And that’s a big problem. As long as the majority of check cashers refuse to transition their outlets into true financial service centers, the industry will never progress or even feel good about itself.
At the FISCA convention a few years ago, a member of the association’s executive board told the general session that he did not feel comfortable telling his neighbors and associates what he did for a living! Here is someone at the cutting edge of the industry and he’s embarrassed to talk about it in his neighborhood.
Just why is that? It is because for every operator who has a professional looking facility, well-trained and professionally attired employees, and who is marketing his services, there are 50 who do not! Even worse, they are not even making an attempt to make the necessary changes.
Change is very hard. So many in this industry have done the same things for so long and have been so financially successful that they do not see the need. But how can we expect others to respect and understand what we do if we don’t respect ourselves?
There is a clear and present danger if the majority clings to the status quo. The next generation of customers is going to demand better service, better facilities and more products and options. It is a fact that innovations in products are being developed daily, and people will want those new technologies. At the same time, market forces are developing that will transition the industry the same way Blockbuster transformed the video rental industry. The sea of change is upon us. The professional branded player will be the dominate force in the market place, forcing the small independents to align themselves with the professional operators or sell their centers to them.
Financial service centers must raise the bar and provide service, convenience and affordability in a better package. There is no middle ground. There is no place for the old way of thinking and operating.
So it is clear that our future is now. We cannot wait and let circumstances dictate which direction to go. The industry must do more than just pay lip service to the changes needed. The old adage that talk is cheap is never truer than in this situation – status quo is not status quo. If some in the industry do not take the universal leap to be a full provider of financial services, or join or sell to organizations that do, embracing all that it entails, they will go the way of the dinosaur.
Paul Eckert is President and Founder of Family Financial Centers LLC. From April 2000 to May 2003 Mr. Eckert served as President of United Financial Services Group in Philadelphia. Prior to that he served as President of Task Development Corporation, a consulting firm located in Doylestown, PA, and as Regional Manager for the Eastern Division of Midas International Corporation where he was responsible for the performance of over 300 Midas outlets and the growth of franchises in the Northeastern U.S. Other positions included Vice President of Operations for Sparks Computerized Car Care and Regional Manager of Speedy Muffler King. Mr. Eckert is a member of the International Franchise Association Franchise Relations Committee. He has been a driving force in the alternative financial services industry, and has been a featured writer for various financial and trade magazines and has had his accomplishments documented in various business publications.