Blog

Managing Business Partnerships, Pandemic-Style

My experience staying connected, providing support, and maintaining and growing my business relationships during the pandemic

By: Joe McMullen

Without exception, I always look forward to my annual journey to D.C. for the Governmental Affairs Conference (GAC), which offers the opportunity to network with friends, business partners, and coworkers. The atmosphere is traditionally upbeat and it’s a great way to see many of my favorite people, making the event a positive way to kick off each year. Little did I know that 2020’s GAC would be one of the last times I would have this kind of face-to-face interaction with people in my industry for quite a while.

Navigating Unexpected Change

In early January, my daughter told me about a terrible virus that was rapidly spreading. I discounted it somewhat, thinking the threat was probably exaggerated. In February, I began to pay more attention. As you know, soon after that the world changed dramatically, and now we find ourselves living in a very different time.

I have spent over twenty years building relationships with people in the financial services industry, and I most often meet with them in person. Safety regulations no longer make that possible. Given our current limitation on business travel, I wanted to research how business partnerships are navigating the current situation, and what plans they intend to initiate post-pandemic.

In search of reliable feedback, I reached out to two CEOs I know and trust, one from the Southeast and the other in the Northwest. My questions to both centered on how they are managing their business partnerships currently and what that process could look like once the pandemic threat has passed.

How Are Financial Institutions Transitioning?

Financial institutions have transitioned many employees to an at-home work environment over the past few months. This transition has been of paramount importance, not only to follow local guidelines but also to protect employees from unnecessary exposure to the virus. Both of the CEOs I spoke with shared that their company’s employees were very productive in a remote work environment, and they expected this work-from-home trend to continue even after the pandemic is over in some cases when feasible.

As someone who has routinely traveled at least 100 nights each year to meet face-to-face with my contacts in person, this definitely caught my attention. Both leaders’ opinions appeared consistent when it came to predicting this significant shift in where many employees will work. The question I wanted to understand is how doing business and maintaining business partner relationships will look for now, and in the future.

How Is State National Transitioning?

The same considerations apply to State National as well. By May, we had moved 98% of employees to a remote work environment, and this will continue for the time being. What does this mean from a business partnership perspective?

One leader advised me that he was limiting contact with vendors for the immediate future and that most of the key meetings he participates in have been made virtual. One of his projects was placed on hold to focus on what is most important, being able to reach and provide members with the technology needed for their financial service requirements. It appears the focus today is on “inward” investments, including more robust internet banking platforms, improved call centers, and anything designed to increase staff efficiencies and better serve members remotely.

Growing in Virtual Efficiency

In January, I had little understanding of just how rapidly the COVID-19 virus would change our world into what it has become today. Webex, Zoom, FaceTime, Teams, and other video communication platforms will play a key role in connecting financial institutions with their business partners. Fortunately, State National had already invested in this technology, because the need for efficient virtual communication will only increase as we make our way through this pandemic and beyond.

I miss seeing my business partners — waving to someone on a screen is just not the same as a handshake or happy hour in person. So I am encouraged when meetings are scheduled at restaurants and coffee shops, or when I am privileged with a quick round of golf. News of companies working on vaccines and therapeutics are generating hope that life might start looking more recognizable before too long, and I look forward to the day where we can all sit around a boardroom table again and have a good business discussion. In the meantime, I’m doing everything I can to stay connected and to maintain and grow the business relationships that are so important, and provide whatever help I can to business partners who need it.


Joe McMullen is a Division Vice President of Sales at State National Companies with more than 20 years of industry experience. He leads a team of sales professionals encompassing half the country. Joe’s main responsibility is to ensure division growth through strong business partnerships within the financial services industry. Joe has a B.A. degree in Political Science/Business Administration from Columbia College and currently resides in the Overland Park, Kansas area.