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The ethics of financial planning

Over the next one week, we are going to be hearing the financial regulators and financial institutions as well as organizations and individuals that promote the education of financial planning, speaking, teaching and campaigning about financial inclusion, and financial literacy. It is important as we implement the various programmes of this year’ s celebrations that we pay attention to the “Ethics of Financial Planning”. Often we pay too much attention to the quantum of money that we are able to save, invest and make; and spend too little attention talking about the “quality” of the money we make, and the ethical considerations that we have to reflect when making financial decisions. This conversation is even more valuable in a country that is plagued with massive indiscipline, corruption and nepotism, and whose values have been so perverted that it looks like ‘mammonism” (the worship of money) is the dominant religion and culture.

We must be careful that our conversations on financial literacy reflect the ethical dimensions of financial planning, because without these ethical dimensions we may risk teaching and educating people to become more conscious about money, only to turn it to a “god” that they worship, as has become the case for many “successful” Nigerians today. Each time I reflect on this I am reminded of the powerful words of Reverend Father George Ehusani, a Catholic Priest and Teacher of Values-based leadership when he says – “In a dirty latrine, it is the maggots that do well”. Nigeria is a “dirty latrine” and if we measure success or “doing well’ by how much money people have, then one is tempted to imagine that most wealthy Nigerians are “maggots’ in the dirty latrine, and became wealthy on account of unethical choices that they made regarding their finances.

A great way to begin looking at these ethical dimensions is to remind people that “making money” is not the most important thing. While money is the currency of the world, there are other things that have a much higher value, and as a country where people brand themselves as “people of faith”, we must be careful to remember that money and pride are the most serious competitors to the Almighty God in most people’s lives and that on a daily basis we have to be cognizant of that temptation to “worry” about what we eat, drink, and wear, so much so that we lose faith in the values and virtues that last forever.

Also, as we talk and teach about financial planning, we should be careful that our discussions are not too skewed towards certain aspects of financial planning, while ignoring others. Rather than just talking about how to ‘make” money and store it up in savings and investments for ourselves, shouldn’t the conversation be around the principles of “contentment” and ‘delayed gratification”, how to be charitable with your money, time and talents, and how to make an honest living? Without these other dimensions wouldn’t the young children who are at the center of most of our financial literacy campaigns be otherwise focused on how to make money “at all costs”, and store up treasures for “me, myself and I”, and perhaps my grandchildren who are yet to be born (as is quite common among Nigerians today).

The concept of ‘legacy” is now measured strictly by the number of estates and shares in blue chip companies that you bequeathed to your children and their off-spring, and how many houses in the city center bear your name, rather than the positive impact that you had on the society in which you lived. Even some of the games that promote financial literacy for children are so focused on “deals” and making money, that one must be concerned about the values that are being transmitted to children via these resources.

Another area of concern for us should be the people that we put out there as role models when it comes to financial “success”. Again because of Ehusani’s latrine theory, chances are most people that will be in the limelight when it comes to financial planning may be themselves embodiments of everything unethical about finance. Remember, most, not all, and so there must be examples of people who are charitable, who live out the principles of contentment and delayed gratification, who became wealthy on account of honest business and transactions. You will agree that some the “rock-stars” of financial literacy campaigns are more often than not those who represent the antithesis of these values, but, who are we to judge.

An ethical approach to financial planning means that the discussions and education that we provide during this week and beyond through our books, games, and educational programs must focus on the higher values when it comes to managing financial resources. People must be taught about the moral hazards of things like Ponzi schemes, the immoralities of “get rich quick” deals that 419ers offer. We must be reminded of the values and principles of “hard-work pays”, delayed gratification, charity and contentment. Without these our discussions on financial literacy will be “empty” – lacking the spirit and soul required to really transform the audience. Without it, people will be left with the ideas and temptations of making money at all cost and storing it up for themselves.Barrow is a Chartered Accountant and author of “My Fun Finance Stories” and “110 Money Facts You Should Know”

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