Scott Jordan is joined by Alisa Joseph to discuss the digital transformation journey of the U.S. Black Chambers, the role of the intelligent digital credit in today’s business environment, serving communities throughout crises with easily accessible and affordable finance, and how TurnKey Lender automation helps the U.S. Black Chambers serve their community better. Below find the full transcript of the interview.
Scott Jordan: Welcome to Learning from Leaders, I’m an Account Executive with TurnKey Lender, and I’m honored today to have Alisa Joseph, who is Director of Programs at the US Black Chambers. Alisa, thank you so much for joining us today. It’s truly an honor to have you here.
Alisa Joseph: It is my pleasure.
Scott Jordan: Thank you. The US Black Chamber is an amazing organization. And again, we’re truly honored to have your organization as our client. You and I have been speaking for a number of months now. But if you don’t mind walking us through a little bit of your background as well as the Chamber’s mission. I greatly appreciate it.
Alisa Joseph: Absolutely. So thank you again for having me here today. My name is Alisa Joseph. I am Director of Programs at the U.S. Black Chambers, and our organization has been around for 12 years now with the goal and the mission of being able to help black businesses succeed and for them to really bring economic vitality into our communities. We basically work across five pillars.
- Those pillars include advocacy, of which the work that’s on Capitol Hill takes place. And so if you think about PPP lending, we were instrumental in helping the next round of PPP lending, which is ending shortly to be able to get sole proprietors and 1099 contractors in that space. That was a lot of the advocacy that we did because they were left out in the first round.
- Secondly, access to capital, which we’re going to talk a little bit about today, but the ability to have not just adequate, but the amount of capital that you really need to grow and to move your business forward is really important to us. And that’s a lot of the work that we do.
- Contracting is our next pillar, which centers around being able to work with our corporate partners, work with city, local and state procurement agencies to be able to have access to contracts for black businesses.
- Next, entrepreneurial training. We do a lot of that work, so we’re always working to help prepare our businesses across whatever realm of work that they need. And so, as you know, digital became quite important in 2020 due to the pandemic. And so we spent a lot of time in that space talking about digital resources and tools that we’re going to help them move their businesses forward.
- And then finally, we have that one hundred and forty or so Chambers across the country and we do and provide leadership development training to through both our monthly meetings as well as to our annual conference. And so we want to make sure that our chambers are prepared and equipped to be able to serve their membership, which are other black businesses. And so that’s ultimately the work that we do. And we’ve been excited to do that work for a number of years now.
Scott Jordan: Incredible. And it’s so important to you or to your membership. So in terms of your thinking about digital transformation and automation, I know this is something that’s been on your roadmap for quite a while, for a couple of years now, I believe. And if you don’t mind walking us through your thoughts behind that, what made you decide to move forward?
Alisa Joseph: So the digital transformation of our organization has taken its place and steps and I would say at least around 2016-2017. We were working in a space of trying to figure out ways to provide access to capital specifically to black–owned businesses across the country. We partnered with companies like Liberty Bank and others to be able to provide a bigger stream of access for our customers. And then the pandemic hit I mean, literally a month before the pandemic, I was working on a program that was going to be in-person.
We were doing it one of the local historically black colleges and universities. It was going to feature sort of a six–week immersion course that was really going to focus on marketing, financial statement, management and then operations business operations, because I feel that those are the key areas for any business to succeed. And in particular, if you’re looking for capital or contracts. And just as we were about to launch the pandemic hit, we had two weeks to really transform that work to do it online, and so that was that was a huge hurdle for us. We hadn’t done anything like that in the past. Zoom became our friend, as did Google Meet. And so that was one of the ways that we were able to really begin to bring the plethora of thought–leadership, subject matter expertise and digital tools and resources to those who were interested in watching and getting more information.
As a result of that, we have to walk if we’re going to talk to our businesses about that, we also have to walk the talk, right. And so, it was important for us to really be thinking about what are ways that we can enhance what we’re doing in a digital fashion. And so that was really the move to how we started to transform some of the work that we were doing across email marketing, across our customer relationship management, and ultimately across products and services that we could deliver digitally.
Scott Jordan: It’s amazing and I appreciate that background stuff. Definitely a lot to take in, a lot to think about. You had mentioned PPP before and the access to people and helping your membership. Obviously, I’m sure just like everywhere in the world, COVID had a major impact on a lot of small businesses. If you don’t mind walking us through how that affected your membership and how your lending products are going to be able to help them and, you know, really the process behind that.
Alisa Joseph: So, you know, as a nonprofit, it’s really important for us to stretch the amount of funding that we get across a number of different areas. I mentioned the five pillars that we talked about, access to capital being one of those. But we have a small team and the need really became great, even with our chambers. Our chamber suffered as we also lost four hundred thousand black businesses across the country because of the pandemic. And some of those businesses came back, but a lot of them never will. So it was sort of incumbent upon us to really figure out how we serve our communities best, how we best serve our chambers to help them get back up to speed.
They were hurt just as much as any other business would be hurt. Those resources that they used to use for their membership, they had to let go people and go through a lot of the same pains that our businesses went through. And so we really spent time trying to figure out how do we best do this cost–effectively, efficiently and in a way that was going to have a broad reaching impact across the nation. And so, as I mentioned, we have other partners that we work with. We work with the Alliance for African-American CDFIs and other diversity partners. We work with our traditional banks as well as black banks. And so our goal was to really figure out how we provide our members and those who may not be members, but are interested in the things that we that we promote and that we drive to really give them the tools to be able to be successful during an extremely hard time.
Scott Jordan: Well, yeah, no, I agree, but great access to these tools and products are certainly going to help here, your membership tremendously. We actually we did have a question come in from one of our one of our folks listening in. But the question was, has entrepreneurial training at the chamber that the chamber provides changed after the epidemic a pandemic at all?
Alisa Joseph: Yes and yes, because we had to really expand the amount, not only the number of classes that we were providing, but the variety of topics that were needed because so many things were happening in the moment to small businesses, regardless of size, to black businesses, regardless of size, that we had to really spend time sort of looking at what’s happening on the ground, figuring out what’s trending in the news and how do we provide that level of support and guidance to our businesses to help them be able to move forward.
And so just a couple of really quick stories. We had a series around building your business up to be able to have your product on shelves, these would be obviously for companies that were more product based and we ran a small little pitch competition with a larger black firm out of L.A., which was Gerlich L.A., which is a beauty supply company who had gone through that retooling, began to expand even during the midst of pandemic, bought another building and now had shelf space. And so we conducted this pitch competition for businesses that had beauty products that they wanted to get on the shelves.
So think of this as kind of your precursor to your pitch to a Target or a Wal-Mart. This is basically what we did. And we had a business owner of kind of the size and scale who was willing to bring on companies to be able to put them in their stores. Those are the kinds of things that we did that we hadn’t necessarily done in the past. We always talked about supply chain, but this was sort of supply chain and action. A lot of the digital tools that we brought on board through partnerships with Google and Facebook and partners like Gusto and UPS and the list goes on.
We spent time with them curating content that we could deliver that was going to be especially important for our businesses in terms of saving them costs, in terms of helping to streamline their operations, really getting them into the e-commerce space. A lot of time and energy was spent there because a lot of these businesses were all store fronts. And so now you still got to reach your customers. You got to find a way to be able to provide to them.
So bringing in shipping resources that we’re going to get discounts and make life a little bit easier. Bringing in folks like Square and others who could talk about website development, e–commerce, distribution was really critical. So those are the kinds of things that we did over the course of the year. And it just continues to grow now that we’ve gotten the level of expertise. In some of those spaces we get requests and we just kind of continue to grow based on the content that people need as they find themselves more and more in a digital space.
Scott Jordan: It’s incredible that truly I mean, what you guys do for your membership is so valuable. It’s that it just blows me away how much you offer. So kudos. It’s really, really impressive. So switching gears a little bit and going back to lending and your relationship with TurnKey Lender, I know in terms of our solution, you’re looking to use the end-to-end solution from the time of applications for the time the loan gets paid off. Just walk us through the process and how that’s going to help you both from a membership standpoint as well as your back office.
Alisa Joseph: Absolutely. After looking through about five different providers, I settled on TurnKey Lender for those reasons. What we found was I would be able to get origination or underwriting with certain companies, but I wouldn’t get servicing or I would get, you know, just strictly underwriting. And so I really needed a full solution because as I mentioned earlier, we are a small team. I can’t afford to hire a number of underwriters to do this work. So having that option of TurnKey, being able to provide originations, being able to take applications online, we had played around with that a few years ago as more of a way of being able to funnel applications to our lending partner. We weren’t necessarily doing any underwriting around it, but we were able to help in that funneling and really being able to coach our businesses to be prepared.
This now gave us the opportunity of being able to take applications online. So my whole manual process up here is a job form or here is this for you to complete and fill out. That goes away. That burden of paper goes away, then moving into underwriting where we can leverage the scoring model and the system that they have in place, but also add our own tweaks to it, whether it be against a particular product that we have within the queue or whether it be just testing around things like credit score or various sort of identification and document review areas that we needed to go through that helps simplify that process.
And so being able to upload those and have people be able to do that work online was really critical. Being able to have that go to decision where I can lean on one of our members CDFIs for County Black Chamber of Commerce without necessarily having to do it all myself or go to external partners was really a help. And then finally the servicing piece. At the end of the day, we want to be able to collectively, if we get out a loan, we want to collect the money. So being able to mitigate risk as part of the process, Know Our Customer in terms of really being able to identify who they are, making sure that we get all the documentation that we need, just like any other lending institution. That peace of mind and that ability to have that happen within this processing piece was really, really critical. And so that’s why we’re excited about what TurKey will do for us in the future.
Scott Jordan: And we’re certainly excited to have you guys on board. Again, from a chamber perspective, you’re going to be lending nationwide and certainly we’re looking to have a long lasting relationship. So, you know, I really appreciate your time today and certainly look forward to getting you back on in the future. Alisa, thank you so much.