Skip to main content
Monthly Archives

July 2021

Finding Purpose in Finance

By Future of Finance, Integrity, Principles, Purpose of Finance No Comments

Defining finance is akin to defining nature itself: its functions and complexities are so broad in influence that it almost becomes too difficult to assign a straightforward definition. With businesses and people across the world threatened by the new coronavirus delta variant, companies going public at record rates, and new innovative solutions in every industry, the need for financial solutions has never been more apparent. As we see these recent developments and dynamic future trends, we must return to the basics and ask ourselves, what is the purpose of finance?

 

It can be easy to view the discipline as a means of financiers shifting around capital. Another view is that finance allows companies and individuals to progress in their endeavors, fueling the idea that finance “makes the world go round.” On a fundamental level, finance is the process of managing and raising money, but there is so much more to it.

 

Why Do We Need to Understand Finance’s Purpose?

As with our personal ambitions or in traditional altruistic lines of work, purpose drives action. But it is deeper than that. As Mission co-founder Bård Annweiler astutely states in Point of Purpose, purpose is the core of everything. Purpose gives us reason to work toward a cause and stay motivated. It allows us to create our identity, set goals, and communicate effectively. Purpose is our meaning in life.

 

The same can be applied to finance, and some would even argue that it is more important in finance considering the sheer impact it has on businesses, industries, and most importantly, people. By understanding the purpose of finance, we can truly maximize our role in the industry and orient its functionality to optimize for success. We can innovate beyond the imaginable, achieving feats at a scale never seen before. That said, when we lose purpose, we lose direction, which has dramatic ramifications when matters pertain to finance.

 

So, What is the Purpose of Finance?

In a broad sense, the purpose of finance is to be a means to provide and scale solutions. It allows businesses to grow, employ new workers, and build communities. It ensures that entire institutions remain intact and avoid devastating collapse. In this sense, finance is the mechanism which steers the direction of society at large. When viewing finance and its purpose, we must look past the idea that finance is solely about capital; rather, it is about how capital will impact people.

 

This is why ethics and morals are essential when applied to finance. With so much influence on the direction of society, it is in our hands to determine where society heads. In other words, it is clear that finance stewards capital which allow companies to grow, but how companies grow and which companies grow are determined by individuals’ decisions. This includes which industries we invest in and how well-run the companies we finance are. Additionally, with so many incentives linked to short-term gratification, it is easy to sometimes sacrifice our integrity or judgment when making decisions. This is why having values influence or even guide our decision making is of the utmost importance: when we are grounded in our morals and a general desire to make a positive impact, then not only will we benefit others, but we will benefit personally as well. The data supports this line of reasoning too. According to the McKinsey report “Profits with purpose: How organizing for sustainability can benefit the bottom line” by Sheila Bonini and Steven Swartz, “an investment of $1 at the beginning of 1993 in a value-weighted portfolio of high-sustainability companies would have grown to $22.60 by the end of 2010, compared with $15.40 for the portfolio of low-sustainability companies. The high-sustainability companies also did better with respect to return on assets (34 percent) and return on equity (16 percent).” Logically, this makes sense. By investing in our future and steering society in a beneficial direction, we are driving innovation as well as positioning ourselves for long-term success.

 

When we either forget the monumental consequences of our actions and finances, or when we have a poor use of judgment while stewarding capital, we have the potential to hurt millions of people. A classic example is the 2008 Financial Crisis: with a misalignment of incentives and a series of internal seemingly harmless manipulations in banks, employees were motivated by short-sighted decision-making. While the financial services industry was by no means the sole contributor to this financial and housing bubble collapse, even with significant governmental intervention, unemployment still rose to 10 percent and about 3.8 million Americans lost their homes due to foreclosure. In this sense, we lost sight of the purpose of finance. We lost sight of how we could harness our work to benefit the greater good. We lost sight of the impact our work has on society as a whole.

 

At a technical level, finance’s purpose is clear: to manage, raise, and invest capital; however, on a human level, which is arguably far more important, it is up to us to define its purpose. It is easy to become complacent in our understanding of finance’s purpose by viewing it solely from a technical perspective; doing so makes the job easier and more straightforward. Once we add purpose to the equation, however, each action we take has more weight, but we can also help others and ourselves more with this external understanding. With ethics and morals ingrained in our decision making, the purpose of finance soon becomes to steward capital for the greater good.

 

Going Forward

So, by understanding the purpose of finance and how consequential our actions are within this broad space, what can we do moving forward? On a macro level, institutions and governments can invest in solutions that are sustainable and benefit communities.

 

On an individual level, there are steps we can take to maximize finance’s purpose:

 

  • If you do not work in the financial services industry, seek to understand how finance impacts your life – you will find it is much more involved than expected. With this understanding, you will not only be better informed, but you can advocate for certain causes with attainable approaches.
  • If you have a junior level position in the financial services industry, continue to have your purpose drive your work. Again, when we lose sight of the impact of our work or why each of our job functions matter, we become complacent and begin to view our actions as solely transactional. Instead, keep your work people-oriented, and remind yourself of your mission every day.
  • If you are a finance leader, realize the importance and impact your work has on others. You have the potential to contribute to shaping the course of history, either for better or for worse. Never underestimate how your actions and decisions influence others, ranging from those working alongside you to the millions of stakeholders you are responsible for. 

 

By taking these actions, we will become one step closer to having finance work for everyone–and while the entire global population may not understand finance’s purpose to this degree overnight, we will make incremental success toward this end goal. After all, when it comes to societal awareness in the lens of finance, we are not in a sprint but instead a marathon.

An Antidote to Polarizing Controversy: Civility, Conversation and Compromise

By Compassion, Courage, Curiosity, Humility, Impact, Integrity, Principles, Resources No Comments

You may be sick of hearing about polarization, or perhaps experiencing it, but this (understandable) exhaustion eventually gives way to apathy which ultimately resigns our society to a deep, harmful division. So, I encourage you to read on, because hope is only lost when we give up on the challenges we face and become complacent. I truly believe that a major shift in bridging divides is possible, but only if each individual works at it, practicing new habits in their everyday interactions. In order to form these new habits, we must first remember and reflect on shared values. The six Scholars of Finance values provide a strong foundation and starting point for a much needed transformation in how we treat one another. In this blog post, I explore the different ways in which our principles guide us through the tough and often uncomfortable conversations with which we are consistently confronted, from a casual classroom debate to a workplace discussion about current events. I also take what I have learned from others who have had to toe the difficult line of controversy and compromise in politics, one of the most heated arenas for these conversations. 

 

Finally, I want you to know that I am no stranger to holding opposing viewpoints in tension. As someone who grew up in a conservative, Christian home and attended a liberal, secular school, I spent each day going back and forth between opinions, forming my own from what I heard my parents, teachers, and peers say. I write this not to force my own personal beliefs on anyone, but rather to help you navigate everyday situations such as my own with grace, humility, respect, and, hopefully, success.    

 

When it comes down to it, we are all human beings living on one, shared planet. When we look at the bigger picture, we can all realize that it is much more important to have respect for one another, to care for one another, and to work together for the greater good than to bombard our co-worker or family member with a barrage of statistics to explain our point of view and shut theirs down. However, holding respect for others’ viewpoints is often easier said than done. In fact, in the everyday interactions we have, we all fall into the trap of needing to be correct, of needing to convince others of our point of view, and of needing to get the last word in. Sadly, when these temporary desires take over, our values start to fade into the background, and we become creatures of the moment, easily swayed by the temptation to “win” the debate. However, this is something that when we assess rationally and outside of the heat of the moment we find to be unsustainable. If we live all of our lives trying to simply prove our point to others with the sole purpose of “winning” without listening to others’ perspectives, we will get nowhere. No one is right 100% of the time, so why go through life with that false perception, when we can instead learn and grow by listening to others? For a more concrete example of how this plays out and is a benefit to businesses, you can observe the 20% increase in innovation brought upon by diversity of thought, as discussed in a Deloitte article. In a workplace, we need to be able to harness those diverse perspectives effectively, and thus, respectfully

 

Each SoF Value has principles which speak to this issue quite well, and offer simple yet profound advice for how to live a life of civility, conversation, and compromise.

 

  • Integrity 
  •  Speak the truth at all times.  

This is the only way to get anywhere with difficult conversations. Both parties need to speak the truth, whether that be honestly sharing a personal experience, or backing up opinions with factual data.  

 

  • Compassion 
  • Foster relationships with respect and empathy. 

Maintaining respect throughout difficult conversations is absolutely critical. Without a foundational level of respect and empathy, conversations about hot button issues can quickly escalate to heated debates or even full-scale arguments.  

 

  • Humility 
  •  Ask for and share honest feedback regularly.  

Conversations within personal relationships or in the workplace will often necessitate a discussion about where things need to be improved, and are a perfect setting for practicing civility within difficult conversations. But we first need to be open to that feedback before beginning the conversation.  

 

    • Curiosity 
      •  Seek first to understand, then to be understood. 
  •  Pursue and embrace diverse perspectives.  

We live in an incredibly diverse world, and we should take advantage of how much we can learn from each other. We all grow when we step out of our comfort zones, hear a new perspective, listen carefully and begin to question our previously held views. Perhaps this leads to a change of mind, or simply solidifies our views if we have found that we disagree with the fundamentals of the opposite argument. No matter the outcome, the key is to listen to someone else’s reasoning behind their view before making a hasty judgement or interjecting with our own opinion.

 

  •  Impact 
  • Operate patiently and think long term.  

Ultimately, when we need to have a serious conversation with someone important to us (professionally, personally, etc.), there is no guarantee that everything will be worked out in a single chat. These discussions could take months or even years, and we need to be patient with ourselves and with one another. 

 

  • Courage 
  • Stand up for what you believe is right. 

While the best practice is to listen to others seriously and consider what they have to say, at no point in this process should you compromise your own beliefs and values. Compromise on common ground, but, if after carefully considering all perspectives with an open mind, you still hold the same views, don’t compromise on what you truly believe is right. 

 

In addition to our SoF values offering guidance, we can also learn from leaders within politics about how they handled polarization. I attended a Zoom lecture/Q&A with Condoleeza Rice, former Secretary of State and National Security Advisor, who gave incredible insight into this exact topic. She explained how critical it is to be a good listener in order to see where there is common interest and overlap, which should be the most important part of a controversial conversation. 

Chris Campbell, the former Assistant Secretary of the Treasury for Financial Institutions and majority staff director for the U.S. Senate Committee on Finance (which he held among other high ranking government roles), spoke to SoF students and shared his own experience balancing agendas and perspectives which were definitely at odds. He emphasized always being honest– no matter who it is you are speaking with, and to fight the instinct of thinking poorly of someone for simply having a different perspective

Lanhee Chen, a political campaign veteran, who served as the policy director for the Romney-Ryan campaign, maintains a similar perspective, and believes in beginning the process of these discussions by agreeing on a problem statement. For example, if both a Democrat and a Republican can agree that healthcare costs are too high in our country, that is a place of common ground from where they can begin, and then they can work together to find a solution. 

While it has been far easier to write this out than to put it into regular practice, I genuinely believe that if we listen carefully, assume best intentions and think well of the person across the table from us, and start from a place of common ground, we can actually begin to make progress. Remember, this doesn’t just apply to politicians; it applies to you while conversing with your dad who holds the exact opposite political views as you, to your colleague when you need to revamp your company’s sales strategy, and to your friend at dinner when she brings up the local elections. 

In summary, remember that you and everyone around you are merely humans. You are humans who make mistakes, who have had countless views thrown at you by the media, school, and family for as long as you can remember, and who are just trying to do the best for yourself and those around you. We are all going to mess up on this journey, but let’s mess up together, be understanding, and find common ground through civil discourse and legitimate compromise—and, most importantly, let’s do it all with genuine respect for one another. 

 

Further Reading + Resources: 

If you have questions, comments, or concerns, feel free to reach out to the author at: isabella@scholarsoffinance.org or bella17@stanford.edu.

Send your donation
To make a direct donation in Bitcoin send BTC to the address below.
3Qkv1gccndjqM5LT7YBh5YwLCbXiyyoEwW Copy
Send your donation
To make a direct donation in Bitcoin send BTC to the address below.
3Qkv1gccndjqM5LT7YBh5YwLCbXiyyoEwW Copy
Send your donation
To make a direct donation in Dogecoin send DOGE to the address below.
DLnbog4NokcoVviZeB9CyRtWagbA3R1vEp Copy
Send your donation
To make a direct donation in Dogecoin send DOGE to the address below.
DLnbog4NokcoVviZeB9CyRtWagbA3R1vEp Copy
Send your donation
To make a direct donation in Bitcoin Cash send BCH to the address below.
qrd0tq9n7azr52phqe0cf5uvayhxz0mv25pd0es88s Copy
Send your donation
To make a direct donation in Bitcoin Cash send BCH to the address below.
qrd0tq9n7azr52phqe0cf5uvayhxz0mv25pd0es88s Copy
Send your donation
To make a direct donation in Litecoin send LTC to the address below.
M8WsuTTdnbTkb3DPJFmzE3iefXDYkgNdq Copy
Send your donation
To make a direct donation in Litecoin send LTC to the address below.
M8WsuTTdnbTkb3DPJFmzE3iefXDYkgNdq Copy
Send your donation
To make a direct donation in Filecoin send FIL to the address below.
f1nitkcsb5eon7agkjxl3irfmkkljm7wtbo7e4osq Copy
Send your donation
To make a direct donation in Filecoin send FIL to the address below.
f1nitkcsb5eon7agkjxl3irfmkkljm7wtbo7e4osq Copy
Send your donation
To make a direct donation in Zcash send ZEC to the address below.
t1XFGudFg5Hx1uQjFfU8oZ9P97ZdMtffxfK Copy
Send your donation
To make a direct donation in Zcash send ZEC to the address below.
t1XFGudFg5Hx1uQjFfU8oZ9P97ZdMtffxfK Copy
Send your donation
To make a direct donation in Ethereum send RTH to the address below.
0xa6E72617C51581D25F04151F156d913988d6cAcF Copy
Send your donation
To make a direct donation in Ethereum send RTH to the address below.
0xa6E72617C51581D25F04151F156d913988d6cAcF Copy
Send your donation
To make a direct donation in Ripple send XRP to the address below.
XRP Address:
rw2ciyaNshpHe7bCHo4bRWq6pqqynnWKQg Copy
XRP Tag:
914351319 Copy
Send your donation
To make a direct donation in Ripple send XRP to the address below.
XRP Address:
rw2ciyaNshpHe7bCHo4bRWq6pqqynnWKQg Copy
XRP Tag:
914351319 Copy