Five Questions With is a monthly Q&A segment on AutoFinanceExcellence.org that offers a glimpse of what senior industry executives are thinking about outside the boardroom. Read on to find out.
BMO Harris Bank‘s head of U.S. indirect lending Craig Harter takes the lessons learned from his 25-year auto finance tenure and his upbringing to keep him driven, grounded, and focused on the future.
“I grew up in a very small farming community in Northwest Iowa for the first 18 years of my life,” Harter told Auto Finance Excellence. “To this day, even though I’ve lived in Chicago for the past 30 years, I still get up every morning at 5 o’clock to start working — it’s just a work ethic and a work practice that was instilled in me at a very young age.”
Before joining Chicago-based BMO Harris in 2015, Harter held leadership positions at Fifth Third Bank, Bank One, and Citizens Bank. His past roles span sales, dealer services, and of course, indirect auto lending.
Auto Finance Excellence asked Harter five questions to find out what his company goals are, advice that helped him earn top management roles, and a surprising fact that his colleagues would never suspect.
Auto Finance Excellence: What are your company goals in 10 words or less?
Craig Harter: I’ll say it in the best way I can: To be the bank that defines great customer experience.
AFE: What is your favorite piece of leadership advice you’ve ever received?
CH: I don’t know if this is advice, but I’ve been very fortunate to work for individuals who have always had a collaborative leadership style. That’s extremely important for an individual like me. I’ve been in this business for over 25 years, and sometimes you fall into a trap when you’ve been in a specific line of business or level of expertise for that long. You tend to believe your views or opinions are always the right ones or the ones where it should end. So I always look to my team, whether it’s in underwriting, risk, or sales, to help us put together new strategies for expansion and so forth. I like a lot of insight, and we have a lot of one-on-ones. We want to make sure we’re bringing in as many views as possible.
AFE: What do you think is the most underrated trend in lending practices?
CH: This is still one of the most important things in our line of business — that is, putting together the most efficient process for your customers. I always look at something very specific, like funding.
Especially for large dealer groups, contracts and transit is a big issue for them. Obviously, they want to make sure their cash flow is as quick and efficient as possible, so for us, we know it’s extremely important to make sure that we’re funding our deals as quickly as we can to our customers.
That gets back to providing great customer service and making it as easy as possible and as efficient as possible for them to do business with us.
AFE: What person has had the most significant influence on your career?
CH: I don’t think it would be a person. Because of [my upbringing], there was just a really strong work ethic that was the culture of the community. You started the day very early, you worked very hard, and at the end of the day, you relax and look back at the day that was done.
AFE: What’s something all of your colleagues would be surprised to learn about you?
CH: I have a teenage son who’s a very good guitar player. He has this great room where he has all these guitars and amps, so I go down there when he’s not around — because he’d kick me out — and try to teach myself how to play guitar. There’s a great phone app called Tabs, and you can use that to try and practice certain chords or play certain songs.
I have absolutely no talent whatsoever, and I would tell you that right away. I don’t know if they’d be surprised or horrified if they listened to me try to crank out a song on an amp at a high volume. Frustrated rock star, I guess.