Last night I went and saw the play The Miser, from the Bell Shakespeare company. It was a play written by French playwright Moliere in 1668.
As I watched the masterful John Bell unravel this miserly character, who lusted after money and slavishly guarded against spending it, it reminded me that the concept of greed, and what people are prepared to do for money, is age old.
When people or businesses are focused on money first, the very things about being human are left behind, something the miser showed very well through masterful storytelling.
The miser was left alone on stage at the end, clutching his money, while everyone else went on to live happily ever after. His face showed conflicting emotions - the awareness of his complete aloneness, matched by his overwhelming desire to hang onto his wealth.
Every day I talk to people in our industry who are under intense pressure to deliver financial results above all else. For listed companies, the slavish attention paid to share price movement on a daily basis leads to decisions being made that put financial results first. While we all know post Royal Commission that the customer is to be put first at all times, in theory that becomes hard to do when the almighty dollar is the most valued output of business today.
I’m not unrealistic - money is incredibly important, and I along with everyone else have pressure to deliver financially and on quality to stay alive in business. But somewhere along the way, the focus on short term bottom line results has left us losing some of the things that would make life better - happier, and more in tune with being connected and, most importantly human.
The miser worshipped money above all else, and alienated family and friends in the process. On stage we all saw that greed for what it was - ugly and almost inhuman. Yet we are all faced with decisions day to day, and in our working lives that make us choose between money and other things.
With high debt levels, challenging markets and falling house prices, a focus on money in Australia, and for many the lack of it, is going to increase.
It is starting to make for a society that has an ever growing undercurrent of fear, resentment and anger. The reaction we saw from people from media reporting on the Royal Commission is, I believe, not the end of a growing resentment around those in the finance industry. Very hard to build back trust in an environment that is fuelled by some of the most intense emotions we as human beings have.
But try we must, as we have to prepare people as best we can for more financially challenging times ahead. We have to teach people how to lower their overheads, work their way out of debt and most importantly, to become investors. To engage people in their financial future in a way we have not succeeded in doing in the past, is one of the most important tasks ahead for us. For without it, the landscape of Australia is going to erode over the years into a place I certainly don't want my children to inherit.
For those who are already helping us on this journey, I thank you. As always I remain committed to showing people the very best our industry has to offer, and helping them engage and learn to their benefit. For as art reflects life, the repulsive nature of the miser reminded me that money above all else never has a happy ending.
Until next time,
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