A millennial working in finance recently told me ‘the first thing people in my generation ask when thinking about career choices is “what does the world need?”’. Another said ‘finding purpose in my job is essential to me (yes, I am a millennial, I can’t help it)’.
A while ago I wrote that to align investment better with the needs of clients, society and the environment we need authentic investors – investors who bring a conscious awareness of their personal purpose and values to full expression in their work. It seems to me that these two comments by people in the next generation of finance and investment professionals encapsulate the perfect starting point for cultivating an ‘authentic investor mindset’ – for people in any generation.
The urgency of pursuing this path is clear. As the CFA Institute says, ‘making a consistent … contribution to societal wealth and well-being is not just a nice goal for the investment management profession – it is quite possibly a matter of existential importance’. Yet as the CFA Institute also finds, at present just 11% of investment leaders describe the impact of the investment industry as ‘very positive for society’. Clearly something has got to change.
What then might ‘cultivating an authentic investor mindset’ mean in practice? How can everyone working in investment and finance really know what their ‘purpose’ is, or what their most important values are? And if we do know what they are, how do we know how to act at work in a way that is true to them? What should we actually do?
It is tempting to say that nothing can change until someone else does something. Benchmarks, performance measurement practices, contract terms, bonus structures: we just can’t change the way we work unless these change.
Yet one of the greatest challenges to authenticity lies within ourselves. We believe that we are not allowed to think or talk explicitly about our values while we are at work. That’s not what my training says I should do. If I think and talk like that, my colleagues will think I’ve gone crazy. In fact, I know I’m a proper investor and I belong in this organisation precisely because I don’t think and talk like that.
But more is possible than we believe is allowed – or than we allow ourselves to believe.
What does the deepest part of us know is right and important? The part that looks into the eyes of a loved one and feels care, connection and compassion.
The part that delights when the seeds we have planted germinate and the first leaves appear through the earth. The part that just says ‘wow’ when we are hit by the beauty of a landscape, a flower or a work of art.Who is in fact preventing us from acknowledging that part of ourselves and allowing it to stimulate more innovation and creativity in our work? We are.
So how can we allow ourselves to think and act differently? Here are some questions we can ask:
• Who are the real people whose money I am managing – the end beneficiaries? Can I imagine them looking out at me from my Bloomberg screen? What are they thinking? Is there more I can do to serve their interests? Deep down, what shared interests do we have as human beings? What happens if I see the investment chain as a human chain of interconnected and interdependent people, not just as a chain of transactions and contracts?
• Am I bringing the whole of myself into the picture – including all the things I care most deeply about when I’m not in the office? What can I contribute? How can I best use all the talents I have?
• Who might be negatively affected by my decisions? Whose interests will be harmed? What can I do to counter that?
• Have I listened enough – to people who can help me answer these questions; and to the part of myself that knows what is really right?
Investment and finance professionals are highly educated, talented, innovative and creative. These questions can help to harness their talents and abilities in new ways. Organisations can encourage and support people to ask such questions.
There is huge potential waiting to be tapped. As another colleague told me after hearing Muhammad Yunus, the founder of Grameen Bank, speak at the CFA Institute 2016 European Investment Conference, ‘he called upon those present to stop working from selfishness and greed and instead to work from selflessness and utilize the financial system to tackle the important social problems the world is facing. It was heart-warming to see that he was really able to inspire this crowd of hard-nosed investors, who for the first time in the entire program of the conference weren’t checking their emails and thanked him with a standing ovation’.
More is possible: we just need to allow ourselves to believe it’s possible.
Rob Lake is the founder of Authentic Investor, an initiative to re-connect values and value in investment and finance. The first Authentic Investor retreat for investment professionals was held/is being held in Scotland in May/this week. Others are planned for later this year.