By Patricia Aburdene
Today, there are signs that a critical mass of humanity is expanding in consciousness. Millions the world over practice yoga and meditation or voice their commitment to social justice on sites like Avaaz.org. As awareness grows, so does the desire to heal persistent poverty and epidemic violence. The question for financial professionals is this: as more people are finally ready to be conscious about their money, too, will you be properly positioned to help them?
Such a job requires more than assembling a list of acceptable SRI funds. But it also signals unprecedented opportunity to create deeper, more successful client relationships and to differentiate genuine responsible investing from the lesser offerings of mainstream finance. In Conscious Money: Living, Creating, and Investing with Your Values for a Sustainable New Prosperity (2012), I offer a practical blueprint—of questions, checklists, and exercises—that prepares people and advisors to fully integrate human values and consciousness into rewarding financial choices.
But Conscious Money comes with a caveat: it requires individuals to be highly conscious about money. Old habits die hard: most of us have at times given away our power by allowing (even encouraging) financial professionals to make too many decisions for us. I advise people to make good use of financial advice, then take full responsibility for each money move. Of course, the best financial counselors heartily endorse this approach. Nevertheless, it requires clients to engage in a good deal of self-assessment, an undertaking some wish to avoid: money brings up uncomfortable feelings. And few of us are willing to admit we do not understand an investment.
Ultimately, however, the psychic and monetary rewards of supporting clients to make powerful, informed money choices in a conscious, collaborative manner are well worth the time and effort.
What Is Conscious Money?
Conscious Money embodies a simple, but powerful idea: life is more fulfilling when we enjoy a life-affirming relationship with money. We create that relationship when consciousness and values guide our money choices, while we also respect sound financial principles. The result is greater fulfillment and financial resources for ourselves, for others, and for the planet at large. Figuratively speaking, money becomes “conscious” when we infuse our cash, savings, income, expenditures, investments, and contributions with our values, awareness, and positive intentions.
SRI and LOHAS Embody Conscious Money
Granted, you won’t find this brand of money consciousness on Wall Street or in traditional finance. But the success of the $3.74 trillion SRI sector (up 22 percent since 2010) and the $290 billion LOHAS market demonstrate that every year, more and more people embrace values-driven financial choices. SRI and LOHAS exemplify Conscious Money and continue to thrive despite a weak economic recovery. No wonder traditional financial and consumer brands avidly pursue the LOHAS and SRI markets. But if business and financial giants seek to exploit these pioneering sectors, most mundane money thinkers (surprisingly) do not.
Why Conventional Money Thinking Is Wrong about Values
Even the most thoughtful “money gurus” continue to assert that human values should play no role whatsoever in finance. That view is clearly mistaken, since values already play a huge role: they powerfully shape our choices (even if we’re unaware of it) and subsequently, our behavior. Over time, our choices and actions write the story of our lives—and our money lives.
But I believe there’s an even stronger argument to make: human values, in conjunction with sound monetary standards, position us to make better financial choices and to tackle daunting issues like paying off credit card debt, saving for retirement, or becoming a wise investor. How? Values engage the heart in the same way that healthy financial practices honor the head. Without the heart, motivation can waver. When heart and head are in sync, however, we feel centered: our emotions are steady, our minds are settled, and our direction is clear—all of which enhance our capacity to make good financial decisions—and stick to them for the long run. This common sense, head-plus-heart approach is the key to resolving numerous money challenges.
Conscious Money: A Three-Part Strategy
Conscious Money entails three basic steps. I describe each below, first indicating how they work for individuals then suggesting how professionals can apply these principles with clients.
Part One: Conscious Money starts with you. People need to know themselves, their deeply-held values, hidden money beliefs, and greatest desires before they can hope to chart a happy, successful money life. This initial step is one that financial advisors tend to downplay. True, advisors do an excellent job clarifying people’s money goals and determining investor risk tolerance. But if financial pros also encourage people to identify their values or passions (which may include love, freedom, justice, animal welfare, or innovation as well as sustainability), they will: 1) Learn more about their client, 2) Better match the client’s inner landscape of feeling, spirit, and psychology with specific investment choices, and 3) Build greater client trust.
A Conscious Money life also invites people to look at recurring thoughts and patterns around money. This is an area financial advisors typically avoid—and with good reason. They are not psychologists. Nor are they trained to support people to examine their belief systems, an inquiry that can’t be resolved in a 30-minute meeting. But with the right self-observation tools, people can achieve results in a relatively short time. In the first three chapters of Conscious Money, readers discover their values, monitor money beliefs, and experiment with techniques to begin releasing any limiting factors. Later I point them toward resources for further study. Armed with these inner tools, readers are ready to explore the Conscious Marketplace.
Part Two: Learn to recognize firms whose policies are in line with your ideals. I urge readers to do business with companies that share their values. But first they must identify those enterprises. In chapter four, readers explore the “trademarks” of Conscious Capitalism. These companies: 1) Enjoy excellent relationships with customers, employees, suppliers, investors, communities, and planet Earth; 2) Embrace a higher purpose, such as global sustainability, above earning profit; and 3) Embody human values, like trust or transparency, in business policies.
I also describe the growing body of research demonstrating that Conscious Capitalists financially outperform their peers and competitors.
Financial counselors might similarly suggest that clients (especially beginning investors) review Fortune’s annual list of the “100 Best Companies to Work For” for investment ideas. Advisors will of course steer clients clear of investments they deem unwise (and explain the thinking behind that advice). But investments that satisfy both client and advisor are more likely to succeed long term. Without a strong sense of “buy-in,” clients may want to divest prematurely, distance themselves from the advisor, or seek a new professional.
Part Three: Translate this knowledge into action as you spend, earn or invest your Conscious Money. The remaining chapters, described below, focus on core economic roles:
The Joy of Mindful Spending. Conscious shopping is as vital to a person’s money life as their earnings or investments. While investment advisors might not focus on spending, financial planners must. In a consumerist world, the wisdom of self-mastery may be the best antidote to overspending. Conscious consumers first identify, then shop with, values like well-being, social justice, and sustainability in sectors like Fair Trade, organic personal care, and nontoxic cleaning.
The Wealth of Creativity. An individual’s capacity to earn Conscious Money at a job they love is vital to a positive money life. While financial professionals aren’t job coaches, they clearly appreciate the power of economic trends. Today, as the Information Age winds down, humanity is creating new jobs and new wealth (through investment, employment, and entrepreneurship), not with information, but with the genius of human consciousness. That’s what drives advances in the arts, science, technology, and social invention. I call this era the “New Economy of Consciousness.” And it explains why an IBM study of 1500 global CEOs concluded that “creativity” (rather than marketing, finance, or operational expertise) tops the list of most desirable executive traits. Why? As IBM determined, creativity is the only way to master the challenge of global complexity.
The Rewards of Conscious Investing. Investing in outstanding companies is still the best way to grow Conscious Wealth. Having discovered one’s values and learned to recognize firms that practice them, conscious investors seek trustworthy advisors to help them find the “sweet spot” of conscious investing: companies with great values and superior financial performance.
Conscious Money and Conscious Capitalism are two of today’s greatest Megatrends. Conscious Capitalism, which I described in Megatrends 2010: The Rise of Conscious Capitalism (2005), differs from traditional capitalism in several ways. The late Milton Friedman, the Nobel laureate in economics, famously stated: “The social responsibility of business is to increase profit.” You might disagree with Professor Friedman, but you must concede that few have better or more succinctly articulated the “shareholder” model of free enterprise.
Conscious Capitalists earn healthy profits but achieve that goal through the “stakeholder model” of capitalism, which considers the interests of all parties with a stake in the business —customers, employees, investors, suppliers, communities, and the planet at large, without caving in to the demands of any one stakeholder. This holistic strategy positions a firm to better adapt to the constant structural shifts of a global economy.
Conscious Money and Conscious Capitalism create an unparalleled platform for global transformation. With every financial transaction made possible by these Megatrends there’s an opening for synergy and co-creation. Conscious shoppers wield an enormous force for economic good, for example.
Conscious Capitalists, in turn, are more likely to invest in green innovation knowing there’s a growing market for green products. Each time individuals and businesses engage in a conscious financial exchange, the inner world of awareness and values tempers the commercial demands of the marketplace, transforming economic reality. With each life-affirming transaction, we create a new conscious economy that will sustain the future of human evolution.
Article by Patricia Aburdene, one of the world’s leading social forecasters and a world renown speaker. She coauthored the number one New York Times bestseller Megatrends 2000. Patricia lectures and conducts workshops on Conscious Money and Conscious Capitalism. Her website is www.patriciaaburdene.com