Sunday Sermon

do well do goodI’m going to preach today.  Don’t say you weren’t warned.

For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil…. (1 Timothy 6:10)

Most of us are aware of this text, at least conceptually.For those of us in the money business, its warning is particularly poignant.  Is money your motivator or merely a tool?  Why do so many corporate executives pay themselves obscene amounts of money, often to the great detriment of their firms?  Because money is how they keep score.  I suggest keeping score in other ways.  What do your spouse and kids think of you?  What do your employees think of you?  What does your community think of you? Doing good is the best way to do well.

My friend Josh Brown features former Lehman Brothers trader Nicholas Chirls this week-end. Chirls worked at the epicenter of the housing bubble, fought his personal corruption and finally left, soul intact. From Thoughts from Brooklyn, NY:

In the latter months of my time at Lehman, a dark time for me, I found much solace in reading literature and novels that had nothing to do with my job. I read on the morning subway before sunrise and it calmed me. One day when I got to work, I left my book on my desk, The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen. My boss saw it and asked “What the fuck is this?” I told him that it was a book I was reading. He replied, “Well get it the fuck out of here. We’re here to make markets and money. And nothing else.” And he was right. There was no place for that book there.

I don’t think the trading floor is quite as bleak as Chirls does, but it is exceedingly bleak.  Our business is particularly prone to worship at the church-of-what-pays-me-the-most. I can’t begin to tell you how many times I have heard Wall Streeters proclaim that they’ll get out and do better real soon.  But real soon never comes.  Far too often reps who claim to put their clients first ask “What’s that pay?” before “How does that help my client?”

I am haunted by a particular conversation with an advisor (who makes a lot of money) about making some changes in his business plan better to serve his clients.  After a long and tough talk, his conclusion was that I was right but that he couldn’t afford to do it yet.  “Yet” still hasn’t arrived.

One saving grace about Wall Street (even if it doesn’t ultimately save) is its lack of pretense.  It doesn’t pretend to be about anything other than money.  But if we go outside the money centers, commitment to God, country and clients is routinely expressed if not upheld (funny how those who profess the most are often the worst offenders). All would be better served — personally and even professionally (see below) — if they focused on service instead of pay.

If doing good is limited to an after-work activity for you (assuming it happens at all), you might re-think your priorities and your business plan.

For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. (Matthew 16:25)

The irony here is powerful, and it has powerful practical application too.  Notice what Jeff Bezos of Amazon says (also highlighted by Josh):  “Proactively delighting customers earns trust,which earns more business from those customers, even in new business arenas. Take a long-term view, and the interests of customers and shareholders align.”

But no matter how many times I hear (or say) something like doing what’s best for clients is very good business, few seem to try it (which makes it really promising financially, of course). That’s largely because of the behavioral and cognitive biases I talk about so often. Notice that Bezos acknowledges that the customer-centric approach works (and it works spectacularly), but it requires “a long-term view.”  For most of us, in the money business or not, it’s all about getting paid now.  Gratification delayed is gratification denied.  Lunch tomorrow is a long-range plan.

What kind of deal is it to get everything you want but lose yourself? (Matthew 16:26)

It’s easy to lose yourself in our business. In financial planning we talk about legacy a lot.  What will your legacy be?  You can change it still.


We now return you to our regularly scheduled programming.


7 thoughts on “Sunday Sermon

  1. excellent post: another way of saying this: those who live by the sword, die by the sword (greed may lead to penury?). Or, EVERYONE talks their book. The thing which is disturbing to me, and this applies across all disciplines [investment advice, medical advice, athletic advice, political thought], is how both mediocre and ignorant, or undisciplined, or ill-thought out, the vast majority of advice is.

  2. Bob, well said. Just left church where we are studying 1 John, which takes you back to the old testament – Exodus Chapter 20 – Commandment #1 – I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of bondage (bondage to what??? what are we in bondage to??). You shall have no other Gods before me. Can we worship God and money?? We are paid well to do good in this business. It is the doing good that needs to come first. “Seek ye first”………..

  3. Pingback: Sunday Sermon | Above the Market | Sermon Watch

  4. Pingback: Cycle Signals This Week | Prudent Trader

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