Peter Su, Senior VP of Green Check Verified – Interview Series
“In today’s operating environment, everything is harder (read: more expensive) for a cannabis business. Add razor thin margins on top of that and you have a lot of businesses barely scraping by. Then, add on top of that a robust illicit market and you will just be scratching the surface of the numerous struggles of a cannabis operator.”
Peter Su, 2023
It is no longer acceptable to claim that “the cannabis industry has grown in leaps and bounds” because some of those leaps and bounds have been there, but on a downward spiral. In the post-covid era, we have witnessed several downsizings and layoffs that are likely to continue to be the norm in 2023. Truthfully, this hasn’t been the case for the cannabis industry alone, even Google and Twitter have faced similar predicaments. However, the dynamics of the cannabis industry are unique and as Peter Su puts it, in today’s operating environment, everything is harder (read: more expensive) for a cannabis business.
Peter Su, Senior VP of Green Check Verified, is a career banker with over 20 years experience in the field plus a dozen certifications to his name. Not joking, you need to check out his credentials: ACBP, CTP, CCBP, CCCE, GRCP, GRCA, and IDPP, and that’s not the entire list. My Cannabis had the rare opportunity to pick his brain on the SAFE banking Act and the state of the cannabis industry in general. Of course, we also had the opportunity to get to understand how Peter found himself in the legal cannabis industry and some of the many things that he has been able to achieve. This interview was deeply insightful.
Without further ado, let’s dive right in!
As a brief introduction, how did your career path lead you to the cannabis industry?
Sincerely, it has been such a pleasure for me to hear people talk about their journey to and in the cannabis industry, the passion that people have for the plant and their reasons for wanting to get into cannabis awes me. Unfortunately, I don’t have a cool, personally meaningful story about cannabis. As a banker, the bank I worked for decided to research banking the industry and I raised my hand for it…. that’s it. I would note that I sought it out. I had seen and known for a long time that the people in my industry that stood out; the people that did really well, tended to specialize in something. In some cases, they were known in a particular niche. I wanted that. So, when the opportunity to lead our cannabis banking efforts came up, I jumped on it and went all in.
What does your role as the Senior VP of Green Check Verified entail?
Green Check Verified is pretty unique in that we are one of the only solution providers that can walk a bank or credit union through their entire cannabis banking journey no matter how early in the journey they are, or how far they want that journey to go. We can full-spectrum/soup-to-nuts implement, manage and scale a program. So, what we do, and thus what I do, depends a bit on what that particular institution wants or needs. I have done engagements where the institution was just thinking about cannabis and asking the most basic questions about cannabis. But, I have also been asked to help an institution underwrite a multi-million dollar cannabis loan for an MSO. And, everything in between. I also do a lot of speaking/writing on various topics therein.
You moved from mainstream banking to banking in the cannabis industry. What has been the most significant hurdle that came with this transition? Do you have any reasons to look back?
There was definitely a lot of knowledge to take in, in terms of regulations, terminologies, and license structures, etc… But oddly enough, I think it’s the cannabis culture that has been the biggest… I don’t want to use the word “hurdle”, actually. I think it’s more like “adjustment”. The banking side of it was fairly normal relative to learning to bank a new industry. Every niche tends to come with its own set of lingos and nuances. But to really dive in, you have to be willing/able to absorb the culture.
What was the biggest turning point for me, I think, is when I stopped being just a “banker” and became part of the community. Obviously it’s impossible to see the future, but I hope I never have to “look back”, because I have never had more fun and been more focused and energized. You know the phrase “love what you do and never work a day in your life?” That’s what I feel like at Green Check.
The outlook of the cannabis industry in 2023; the number of consumers will obviously increase, but so will the number of businesses. With stiff competition comes price compression. In your opinion, are we likely to see even more cannabis businesses shutting down or laying off staff to cut back on expenses in 2023?
Unfortunately I do. In today’s operating environment, everything is harder (read: more expensive) for a cannabis business. Add thin margins on top of that and you have a lot of businesses barely scraping by. Then, add on top of that a robust illicit market and you will just be scratching the surface of the struggles of a cannabis operator.
The SAFE Banking Act failed to get approval by Congress last December. Are we likely to see a positive change this year or should the industry just learn to move on with things as they are?
Not to be flippant, but yes, and yes. I am pro-SAFE and bullish on it passing, perhaps even this year! However, how quickly do you think legislation translates to real change on the front line?
Consider this, 5 years after hemp/CBD became legal:
1 – You still don’t necessarily see banks embracing hemp/CBD
2 – The FDA just punted CBD regs back to congress.
You have already achieved a lot as a business leader in the cannabis space; helping to roll out dozens of cannabis banking programs. What more should we expect to see from Peter in the near future?
Honestly, the only constant in cannabis is change. As Robert Frost once said “Come grow old with me, for the best is yet to come.”
That was one amazing interview!
It was a great pleasure to have this conversation with Peter Su, Senior VP of Green Check Verified. Readers who wish to keep up with how Green Check Verified is transforming the cannabis cannabis banking sector are welcome to visit their website.