Information is even more critical

June 14, 2013 

The most interesting information comes from children, for they tell all they know and then stop. ~ Mark Twain

The world is changing so fast around us that businesses must watch the horizon for coming trends and changes. Technology brings many of these changes, but even without technology's influence, the onslaught of government regulations has made running a business so much more complex and dynamic than it has been in the past.

To deal with a constantly evolving environment, communication -- both incoming and outgoing -- is more important than ever. You need to be sure you are communicating to your customers and are taking in new information about the economy and your industry, all at

breakneck speeds.

For example, in recent years, financial institutions -- both credit unions and banks -- have seen the number of regulations multiply at an almost incomprehensible rate. There are new loan regulations, new rules on loan write-downs and so much more.

To give an example, I serve as chair of the First Commerce Credit Union Board. At First Commerce, we now have a lawyer whose full-time job is to make sure we are in compliance with all these rules and regulations. Three years ago, we did not have this position.

In the middle of all these regulatory changes, the typical consumer at a financial institution is also changing in significant ways. The new banking customer is much younger and is very comfortable with technology. As such, building more physical branches is not as feasible or desirable as it once was. In recent years, we have seen many banks selling off their branches and investing in new technology like online bill pay and mobile banking to satisfy the new generation of customers.

Borders Bookstores presents another good example. They, along with many other retail book stores, were pulled under by their failure to watch and adjust to the changing terrain.

These days, customers are able to get any book at any time via the internet, which makes these retail stores obsolete.

The handwriting was on the wall for at least five years. Amazon acted on these trends, while traditional bookstores ignored them thinking that people would always want a printed copy. In the end, this incorrect assumption proved to be a costly mistake for the shareholders, employees and vendors of these retailers.

The point here is that consumer preferences are always going to change and you need to keep a close watch on the terrain so you can respond accordingly. There are many areas you need to look at, and this information is not hard to come by. When I typed, "Where to find business trends" into Google, it came up with over a half a million hits.

Like most things in business, you need a plan to make sure you are accumulating and assimilating relevant information. It is critical that you keep track of trends wherever they arise, and as they frequently occur outside of your operating area, you should be watching for these changes at the international, national, regional, state and local levels.

This is vital to the longevity of your business.

Jerry Osteryoung, the Jim Moran Professor of Entrepreneurship (Emeritus) and Professor of Finance (Emeritus) at Florida State University, can be reached at jerry.osteryoung@gmail.com.

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