Friday, June 13, 2014

People vs Profits?

SCRIPTURE: Hebrews 13:5
Written by: Dr Conrade Yap
Date:  June 13th, 2014
Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5)

KEY POINT: Money is not everything but everything needs money. For the Christian, the love of money is a spiritual threat that cannot be taken lightly. This week, I look at the financial industry and offers three tips for those who are inside and for those considering a career in the financial industry.

It has been said that "Money makes the world go round." The statement is very prevalent in the lives of many people. For while money is not everything, everything needs money. We need money to keep up with our mortgages, pay school fees, buy groceries, filling up gas, paying for utilities, buy coffee, or take that much needed vacation.  What defines a society as rich or poor is usually based on a monetary index, based on a currency of reference.

"Show me the money!" is a popular term that also describes this mood. In other words, if you want me to do something, pay me first. No money no talk. In the "Jerry MacGuire" movie, the phrase was used to underline the fact that money talks louder than anything else.

A) Money: The More the Happier?

Making money is the underlying ethos of many societies, especially those called first world nations. Being rich is a sign of success. Being highly paid is a sign of accomplishments. That is why school is being seen more as a tool for making money rather than an education in itself. People may claim that it is both but few see it that way. What if the job we get is not we want, but it pays three times the average starting salary for graduates? What if we hate our jobs but cannot afford to quit because the money was too good? What if the contract was too irresistible that we end up rationalizing a moral issue into an amoral situation? After all, if it is partly true that rationale, it is even more true that man is a "rationalizing animal."

Think about it. When the best and the brightest from the nation's best colleges and Universities graduate and enter top financial firms, rationalizing anything is easy. In the book, "Young Money," Kevin Roose reveals some alarming effects of how such young graduates have their sense of morality gradually being sucked away by the financial industry. (You can read an excellent review here.) Tracing the lives of eight promising top young graduates, Roose notes how the financial industry can impoverish one's sense of moral well-being. With making money as the primary goal, it does not matter if smaller businesses go belly up. Overworked, stressed out, and measured only on the basis of profits, such workers soon become indoctrinated with the making-money-at-all-costs dictum. Soon, big picture thinking is used to justify the "small price" others are paying. Social life becomes non-existent other than entertainment activities for work and client relationship building. As financial traders, workers are measured strictly on the basis of their Profit and Loss performances. Everything else is secondary. The journalist, Michael Lerner:

"This focus on money and power may do wonders in the marketplace, but it creates a tremendous crisis in our society. People who have spent all day learning how to sell themselves and to manipulate others are in no position to form lasting friendships or intimate relationships... Many Americans hunger for a different kind of society -- one based on principles of caring, ethical and spiritual sensitivity, and communal solidarity. Their need for meaning is just as intense as their need for economic security."

B) Theology of Work - Finance

Now, that's how the love of money turns people inside out and reveals the sinful side of man. With greed in the driving seat, making money is not enough. Making more money is better. That in turn will be overtaken by making even more money and so on. Indoctrinated with Wall Street lingo, the young workers with newly minted Ivy League qualifications become slaves to their bosses' whims and fancies. The difference between the top brass and their subordinates is simply this: The former makes a lot more money. Money not only makes the world go round, it is the rudder that steers people to do what their bosses want them to do. Moral resistance becomes increasingly futile.

In the Theology of Work project, a collection of scholars, theologians, professors, pastors, and working professionals have come together to produce a biblical perspective of faith and work. In the Finance category, financial professionals are urged the following:

"Finance professionals and investors would do well to research diligently whether a particular hedge fund—or any investment—results in good stewardship, justice, and love, or whether it primarily serves to make as much money as possible for the hedge fund managers at the expense of other parties." (link)

I think it does not go far enough. For after the research has been made and done, the decision has to be made with regards to the next step. Do we blow the whistle if we find some moral failings? What if we lose our jobs? What if the issue is too ambiguous that one cannot make a moral judgment at all?

According to the TOW Project, the purposes of financial institutions from a Christian standpoint, are three-fold: "the purposes of finance are to bring glory to God, to enable humans to be creation stewards, and to allow justice and love."

How do we do that?  Let me propose asking three honest questions.

C) Three Tips for the Finance Professional

I) Who is your God?

Simply put, who do we worship? If all our lives are filled with thoughts of money, and our worries are all about filling up our bank accounts, is that not money driving us? If all our decision making has this one thought in mind, "What honours God more?" will that not keep our allegiances clear? The eight young financial professionals in "Young Money" all shared bad experiences of how their own sense of morality got battered and bruised. In my opinion, an amoral climate is just another disguise that the immoral camp places upon. Rather than to talk about morals, ask ourselves which God we are worshiping. Other questions include:
  • Are we slaves to God or to our bosses?
  • If we see a subordinate abused unfairly by a high-ranking official, will we step in to speak up for fairness and justice?
  • What if the work takes us away from our families frequently and excessively?
  • What if the money is good but the environmental consequences are bad?

II) Why do you want to be a financial professional?

I remember hearing of someone applying to medical school being asked: "Why do you want to be a doctor?" When the student bluntly replied: "To get rich," he was subsequently rejected. However, when it comes to the finance industry, making money and being rich is exactly what prospective employers want. They will assure the prospective that making money is exactly what the entire firm stands for.  What about the Christian? Why do you want to work in a bank?

Don't kid yourself. Money plays a huge part in any answer. All it takes is a rationalization of how making money (plus something else), and the balance will quickly tilt toward yes. Money, power, and greed feed on one another and bond tightly and quickly.

For Christians, it is a very tough arena to be in, for money is a powerful tempter, a moral destroyer, and a vicious slave master. Questions to ask include:

  • Is there a better alternative to honour God, to help fellow humans, and to practice justice and love?
  • If money becomes a slave, will you be ready to quit?
  • Do you have a calling to enter the morally-dangerous world of finance?
  • Are you prepared to be a witness to counter the "religion of Wall Street?"
  • Will you be trained and equipped to be a light in the financial industry?
  • Are you excited about the different kinds of financial professions and are prepared to look for the right fit other than the right money?

III) Are you content with what you now have?

Hebrews 13:5 urges us to be content with what we have. Along with that, we are asked to keep our lives free from the love of money. What does it mean to be free from the love of money? Like a coin, contentment has two sides. One side is to be free of money. The other side is to be thankful with what we already have. For those of us looking for our first job, we have a lot to choose from. I have known individuals who took on jobs totally unrelated to their course of study. I believe that while aptitude is needed for doing our work well, and attitude essential for maintaining a positive atmosphere in our job situations, gratitude itself honours God. It trusts God and offers an acknowledgment that all things come from God. Learning contentment is not easy, especially for financial professionals where money is the fuel for everything, and making money the very essence of what the whole industry stands for. Any work of charity by financial companies is predicated on making enough money in the first place. The question is:

  • Is the charity driving your financial performance? Or simply a means to make more money?
  • Can you afford NOT to be in the financial industry?
  • Will you be willing to consider an alternative industry if you sense greed becoming too hot to handle?
  • On the scale of 1 to 10, how contented are you?

Is God enough for us? I know for the most part that as far as money is concerned, it is never enough. It always makes us wish for something more. Hebrews assures us of God's presence, that God would never leave nor forsake us. Without money, people will leave us. People will even detest us and flee from us for fear that we may ask them for money. Not God. God will be with us, even when the world forsakes us. God knows that full well. For Jesus himself had personally experienced what it means to be betrayed, forsaken, and deserted.

THOUGHT: "There is something perverse about more than enough. When we have more, it is never enough. It is always somewhere out there, just out of reach. The more we acquire, the more elusive enough becomes." (unknown)


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