Does finance have a soul?I've worked for more than 30 years in the field of financial services, but not in the usual way. I've worked at the bottom end of the market, extending credit, savings and insurance to some of the poorest people in the world. I've watched as people living in poverty have used these services as tools of liberation, investing in small business activities that enabled them to create a different future for themselves and their children. I've also watched as financial services became a tool of bondage, catching people in debt traps that they could not escape. And I’ve watched as people who provided these services, well-meaning people who wanted to make life better for others, became captured by the financial success of their work, using it to enrich themselves at the expense of those they sought to help. I've come to see finance as a powerful tool, prescription strength medicine, as David Roodman calls it, that can both promote healing and create addictions. And it has always been this way.
Together, as people struggling to make finances our servant rather than our master, we can share our experiences, lessons and examples.
A multiplier for human desiresThe invention of new financial instruments helped build the ships that jump-started global trade, and at the same time financed ships to carry the soldiers that colonized other lands. Financial services also fueled the trade in human bodies, bringing slaves from Africa to the New World to produce cotton for British mills. Financial services have allowed people of modest means in high-income countries to purchase their own homes, a live-in asset that lasts a lifetime, and at the same time led to a global financial crisis that robbed the accumulated wealth of some of those same people. Financial services serve as a multiplier for human desires, allowing us to build, create and expand things at a scale that no one person could do on their own. And since human desires are fueled by both generosity and greed, financial services can multiply the good and the evil that humans can do. We don't usually think of finance this way. More often we see it as an impersonal force, seeking the highest return in the same inexorable way that water flows downhill. But if financial services are created by humans, then they serve human desires, and humans desire more than financial returns.
Finance has whatever amount of soul we apply as we deploy financial services.
I want Soul of Finance to be a place where, together, we can learn how to make finance a tool of our highest values.