A COMPLIMENT IN MONTE CARLO: I received an amazing compliment in Monte Carlo last month. A grizzled and seasoned banker looked at me owlishly over his tortoise-shell spectacles and said, “Mr. Hansen, you come from a land of smiles. But we are bankers and we care about just one thing in life: making money.”
I sat with this compliment for some time, thinking about what it meant for me personally. And, as I sat, I kept coming back to the theme of happiness. How am I happy? How is this banker happy? How is my family happy? How is this banker’s family happy? Is it really money that makes a person happy? Or is it something else?
THE HISTORY OF MONEY: When one looks at the history of money itself, it becomes very clear that the pursuit of money alone does not yield happiness. In The Ascent of Money, Niall Ferguson writes, “And yet the silver of the New World could not bring the rebellious Dutch Republic to heel; could not secure England for the Spanish crown; could not save Spain from an inexorable economic and imperial decline. Like King Midas, the Spanish monarchs of the sixteenth century, Charles V and Philip II, found that an abundance of precious metal could be as much a curse as a blessing…What the Spaniards had failed to understand is that the value of precious metal is not absolute…an increase in its supply will not make a society richer…”
REAL SUCCESS: The real value that people seek is an in-the-flesh connection to other human beings in the context of love. And no amount of money in the world can buy this. Maria Elita, a Greek-Australian healer, has said, “Success to me is being able to look after my grand-daughter when I can, help my children grow up respectfully, spend time with my aging parents, listen to other people’s stories of hope, kiss my boyfriend often, spend every Sunday night with my crazy Greek family, express my truth as only I can, forgive the past, embrace the future and remember The Miracle that I am. None of my success is monetary or material .. Because TRUE SUCCESS has no dollar value, cannot be measured, and does not need awards.”
My hypothesis is that the “land of smiles” is precisely where the banker in Monte Carlo wants to be. This desired place is, as Miss Elita writes, where the awards have to do with family, friends, kisses and hugs.
Now I could stop there and feel self-satisfied about this little piece I’ve written on this sunny morning with coffee, fresh orange juice, steaming croissants and love by my side.
But I won’t.
Because the journey that I want to take is with this banker. In person.
WHAT THE WORLD NEEDS FROM BANKERS: I want this particular banker to find a way “out” of the vault of his office and into the sunlight of his family’s embrace. He has a family, he has a life outside the bank. And that family does not get enough of his presence. And, deep down, he does not get enough of their presence.
Yes, this banker likes his bank and the adventure of business. And this keeps his blood pumping. But there’s a missing piece of the story: how can he take this sense of adventure, this exhilaration of the “hunt”, this heady rush of blood that comes from successful risk-taking and turn it into a gift to humanity? How can he turn his creativity with digits into a creative act for communities, for families and for the world at large. Because that’s what the world needs from bankers now.
One of the world’s most powerful bankers, Lloyd Blankfein, CEO of Goldman Sachs, has said, “Investment bankers are just doing God’s work.” But how can bankers fulfill on this statement of Mr. Blankfein’s? Because most of the rest of the world would disagree with him.
WHAT A BANK CAN BE: Banks have always been solid pillars in society, providing a reference point with a promise of strength, stability and assurance. The bank manager has always been a respected and acknowledged expert leader in the community. A facilitator of conversation. An authoritative source of advice and assurance. But this role lessened in the age of mass distribution and mass communication. It became a game of mass advertising, selling mass product through mass distribution.
Online gathering places allow institutions such as banks to reclaim their position of community leadership. By opening up and facilitating one on one conversation within the supercharged online community environment. And as banks listen to their customers and follow their lives, a new relationship between a bank and a customer emerges. In this relationship, the bank brings a new and deeper emotional and social intelligence to working with human beings.
BANKS TAKING THEIR PROPER PLACE IN THE COMMUNITY: Banks should take their place within the community created through human-centered actions, in ways that are consistent with their institutional strength and provision. Acting in this way in the context of community, the bank will gain true human dimension: by interacting with the community and assuming its place as a pillar in society.
This is an incredibly worthwhile objective, which provides added value and a distinct competitive advantage for banks that choose this path. It’s a path bankers can lead humanity along into the land of smiles.