Six Principles for Life and Work

This month, I have the honor of taking over this recurring column from Stephanie Alsbrooks, the founder of defi SOLUTIONS. I hope to follow in her footsteps in the months to come and share my experiences and insights on sub-prime finance, as well as lessons from other industries.

The merger of defi SOLUTIONS and the former Sagent Auto is now only a few months old, making this an especially appropriate moment to share some thoughts on how we are operating as a new team and the principles for success we are living and working by.
While each of these six principles can make an impact individually, collectively they matter more and when put into practice can make a more profound difference. Here they are:

• Have direction, but pivot when needed
• Build something bigger than yourself
• Seek to understand first
• Know when to lead and when to follow
• Prioritize connecting with each other
• Continuously communicate

Have direction, but pivot when needed
During the initial planning phase of bringing together defi and the former Sagent Auto, there were certain restrictions on what we could or could not share. We could not talk about current customers, outstanding opportunities, or our product roadmaps. And, so, we had a great deal to learn about one another after the transaction was finalized.

We have already discovered a great deal about the two organizations that have become one. And as we learn more about the strengths of our newly combined products, teams, plans, and practices, we have the freedom to imagine even greater opportunities that will help drive the success of our clients and the industry. For example, we see how the value of the loan care and remarketing services of the former Sagent Auto can also benefit the existing defi SOLUTIONS client base as well. But, on occasion, we have had to pivot such as our decision to migrate toward a single servicing solution for all our clients and prospects.

Success is dependent on having the courage to shift your views. Courage comes from trusting in your teams’ abilities and listening to and acting on what they have to say.

Build something bigger than yourself
Prior to my current role, I was chief product officer of Sagent Lending Technologies, which was created as a joint venture between Fiserv and Warburg Pincus in 2018. At Fiserv I led Product Management and Strategy for the Lending Solutions Business Unit. Fiserv is BIG, $17 billion in revenue, more than 20,000 employees. It’s known worldwide for its technology solutions. I was already a part of something much bigger than myself. But now, all of us at the new defi SOLUTIONS are helping build something new so that the lending community can process more applications, service more loans, and use their resources the most effectively, and that feels even bigger.

Google “technology and impact on the word” and you’ll find articles on how technology is advancing or hurting the world, improving or reducing our quality of life, slowing or increasing productivity, but this is certain: Technology has revolutionized the world.

All of us who deliver fintech are a part of the revolution and can have an enormous impact not only on our clients who trust us for their technology or the industries we serve, but also on the world at large through the experiences of the millions of people who buy, lease, and pay for their purchases — the experiences fintech helps our clients provide.

Seek to understand first
The active process of listening (and setting bias aside) is imperative to understanding. We’ve all, at one time or another, been guilty of hearing a part of what is said, assuming you know the rest, and interrupting or at least forming a hasty opinion based on a misinterpretation of the speaker’s intent. You haven’t? You’re an anomaly. For those of us who have, I recommend we practice listening. Dianne Schilling in “10 Steps to Effective Listening” from Forbes offers these steps to improving listening skills:

1. Face the speaker and maintain eye contact
2. Be attentive, but relaxed
3. Keep an open mind
4. Listen to the words and try to picture what the speaker is saying
5. Don’t interrupt and don’t impose your “solutions”
6. Wait for the speaker to pause to ask clarifying questions
7. Ask questions only to ensure understanding
8. Try to feel what the speaker is feeling
9. Give the speaker regular feedback
10. Pay attention to what isn’t said – to nonverbal cues.

Know when to lead and when to follow
The best leaders I have worked for and with are those who’ve mastered following. As leaders we need to understand our weaknesses, hire experts whose abilities far exceed ours, and, bottom line, get out of the way. During the process of first planning and then executing on the merger there have been many times when I have had to step back and let others take the lead even in areas that I would have seen as being my prerogative to manage.

For example, while I had firm views about the marketing strategy of defi SOLUTIONS when I was on the outside, once I took responsibility for that team, I had to question my own views and turn to the team to lead and share what has been successful or not from their vantage point as well.

Prioritize connecting with each other
An article on emotional connection in Harvard Business Review says:
“Our research across hundreds of brands in dozens of categories shows that the most effective way to maximize customer value is to move beyond mere customer satisfaction and connect with customers at an emotional level – tapping into their fundamental motivations and fulfilling their deep, often unspoken emotional needs … That means appealing to any of dozens of “emotional motivators” such as a desire to feel a sense of belonging, to succeed in life, or to feel secure.”

Connections among team members are critical as are connections of team to client. While these connections can be created in many ways technology providers tend to put on events like defi’s annual SUMMIT. This is a perfect example of what is talked about in HBR. The SUMMIT brings together clients, partners, and team members in marathon-level knowledge sharing, and problem solving to motivate attendees and help create the sense of belonging.

Continuously communicate
It was quite interesting to find after the merger of defi and Sagent that both companies had been actively participating in continuous communication. One relied heavily on weekly blogs and intranet updates for internal communication while the other held video calls or “huddles” that brought together team members to kick off the week. One company held quarterly face-to-face client strategy meetings while the other preferred the use of NPS surveys to help collect insights on both product use and satisfaction. Today, we are working hard to bring these all type of communication together to create the optimum model for the new defi SOLUTIONS our clients.

Continuous communication involves planning, building relationships and trust, and keeping the lines open and the information flowing. Teams that share information, actively learn from one another, hold each other accountable, and can work more effectively on issue or conflict resolution, as they’re already starting from a common point and standing on some sort of level ground.


Charles Sutherland, chief strategy officer, defi SOLUTIONS, has more than 25 years in technology management and strategy with companies such as Sagent Lending Technologies, Fiserv, and Accenture. At defi, Charles leads strategy, product management, and marketing with a focus on improving the experience of lenders and consumers.