Understanding board challenges: Q&A with CEO David Diestel
We asked our CEO David Diestel about the importance of understanding the distinct needs of each board and the industry trends that may impact your role. Read on to learn more about how other board members are addressing obstacles in their communities.
Q: What is the most impactful thing you’ve done at FirstService Residential since becoming CEO?A: “There are so many things that I’m proud of. But to narrow it down, it’s our people. One of the first things we talked about as an organization right from the start was that we wanted to elevate our level of service to the residents and boards we serve. At the time, although we were emerging from the pandemic facing inflation, catastrophic storms and weather-related events, as well as navigating the recent banking crisis, we still had to find ways to deliver on our promise.
So, our approach was to first focus, internally, on our people. Having the right people in the right places makes our service delivery that much easier to accomplish. We focused heavily on our company culture, by engaging with and listening to our associates, from the heart of the house to community managers to our frontline teams on property, and changing how we do business day-to-day.
Ultimately, it has paid off. We welcomed back over 1,100 associates in 2022 across the organization, which makes me believe we are living our values in the workplace and creating an environment where people want to join and grow. I couldn’t have been more honored when we received the Great Place to Work certification in both the U.S. and Canada. This certification is a testament to our commitment to delivering service with a smile. When our associates are engaged, we are better positioned as a company to support our board members and help carry out their community’s goals and vision.”
Q: Are there any changes on the horizon that will affect how boards conduct association business?A: “When we talk about changes that affect board business, there is much to consider. First and foremost, we need to look at technology. I think our industry is on the cusp of something exciting in terms of technology, especially if you consider where we are now compared to even 5 or 10 years ago. Up to this point, when you think of virtual board meetings or even electronic document signatures, the landscape of how a board conducts its business has already changed. But even more, consider artificial intelligence as an example, chatbots that can help answer resident questions or the evolving world of access control. It is clear that the industry itself will continue to progress.
Next, would be the impact of new legislation. Right now, we are still seeing considerations for increased building safety and inspections, primarily associated with the building collapse in Surfside, Florida, over two years ago. Legislation in that area can have a domino effect regarding reserves, capital projects, and a building's general financial health. On top of that is a hardened insurance market with rising premiums or, in some cases, difficulty accessing coverage, especially with the same levels of coverage as in the past.
Even more current is the situation in the banking industry, which could have a trickle-down effect and impact our industry. Legislation and regulation that is sure to arise due to the latest bank collapse might increase the complexity around how operating and reserve accounts are managed, or it may simply cause boards to more closely examine the placement of its funds. In all scenarios, capital preservation and liquidity need to be top of mind for treasurers and finance committees.
The reality is that, although we can’t always pinpoint exactly what will happen or when, we can certainly be prepared while keeping our boards informed.”
Q: What is the most common challenge you hear about from board members, and how do you see communities address that problem?A: “All associations are unique. Co-ops, condos, HOAs, strata corporations… wherever you’re located, however, you define it, they will all have unique challenges. But, there tends to be one common challenge they all face, which is in their ability to meet the level of service their residents expect. Boards strive to be clearly in tune with their residents ,well enough to understand the needs and wants of those living there. Yet, it is a challenge, nonetheless.
Balancing service levels and resident expectations with the fiduciary duties of the board can be difficult. Owners and residents want certain things, but the board must figure out how that is accomplished while also being financially responsible. Often, we see changing demographics at the heart of this challenge. With the influx of new homeowners, there may be certain expectations about amenities and services that differ from the expectations of the long-term residents. The key is to engage and talk to all residents in order to improve and invest in the building for the future. The goal is to find out what they want and act on it.
Another challenge board members are facing is the insurance market. Unprecedented premium increases are placing a strain on communities and board members are looking for help. One solution FirstService Residential offers is access to our internal insurance experts, who can advocate on their behalf and alleviate pressure by helping to understand premiums and recommend proper coverage. Although we can’t change the market, we can help our boards navigate it."