The 2021 ELFA Annual Convention was my first. I have known ELFA for many years and previously spoke at the annual Operations & Technology Conference, but this was my first in-person annual convention.
I had a great experience. Part of the great experience was getting to meet so many people in person who I have only known via Zoom and Teams for the past 18 months. Another part of my excitement was that the pivot and acceleration that we have undertaken at Tamarack since July of 2020 was so often recognized by fellow members. I very much enjoyed seeing so many people wearing Tamarack lanyards and commenting on how much they appreciated the design. I kind of thought lanyards were lanyards, but I was very happy that people noticed our slightly different approach with branding and color.
Given that this was my first ELFA convention as a member of the industry, I thought I would make note of some of my first impressions and comparisons to the technical conferences with which I have been more familiar.
So here are five first impressions.
- Equipment Finance is a very collaborative and welcoming industry. I am used to tech and manufacturing events where colleagues are wary of competitors – known and unknown – and the word partnership seems more rigidly defined. At the ELFA event I observed obvious competitors sitting together at the bar sharing insights on business. I am sure there is plenty of caution and a little “espionage,” but I felt like everyone knows that what is good for the industry is good for them and it is not a zero-sum game.
- The keynote speakers covered a huge swath of forecasting – everything from supply chain to the price of corn to social media trends. The industry takes a broad view of both business and society because of the diversity of market engagement and inter-connectedness with regulations and government. I find the complexity of the ecosystem very engaging, and I have always enjoyed prognosticating with other members on what the future holds.
- People are curious and motivated to change by an anxiety about fintech and unknown competitors. Discussions about digital transformation, machine learning/AI, or any other technology find audiences attentive and inquisitive. However, I found many of these discussions somewhat academic – lacking meaningful examples or case studies that demonstrate true innovation. Disruption is a frequent topic, but one that focuses on fear more than accomplishment. I felt a caution that I do not feel when I interact with tech companies in Silicon Valley. There are exceptions to the academic discussions, of course, and I will make note of those in another post.
- Combining digital technology AND human workflows is still novel to many. Automation as a cost-saver vs automation as a cognitive multiplier is an audible conversation. Some still fear that digital could replace relationships vs. deepening them. Empathy is highly valued, but not understood at a level that allows many to consider extending it via their digital ecosystem. This is where the fintech’s will attack – with a digital experience that facilitates customer empathy and then delivers customer value.
- I didn’t hear any buzz of surprise. Often at tech and product-centric events there is a buzz of “Did you see so-and-so’s new whatchamacallit?” Or “Did you hear A and B are working together to do whatever?” I saw a few examples of new and possibly disruptive initiatives (see “Three Things that Excited Me at ELFA 2021”), but others didn’t seem to find these as interesting as I did. I felt a comfort with incremental technology and business change which struck me as odd given the anxiety and fear I heard in other forums. I am sure there are anxious members, but the anxiety of being left behind was not as noticeable as I experience it in technology and product forums.
I had a great time at the ELFA Annual Convention in San Antonio this year. I learned so much more about the industry and have an updated view of what the future may hold. I have a collection of follow up discussions and am looking forward to sharing new developments and experiences next year in Marco Island.
Whether you were a first-timer like me or attending your 15th consecutive convention like Tamarack CEO, Daniel Nelson, let me know what your impressions were of this year’s convention. Send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.