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Bulls, bears and financial sharks

The Mindful Finance Walk at the Zoo

Money and mindfulness - two things that at first glance do not seem to really fit together. As a banker, Friedhelm Boschert spent his entire professional life in cooperative banks, most recently as CEO of a banking network in Eastern Europe. As a trained teacher of mindfulness and meditation, he now combines these two different worlds and founded the "Mindful Finance Institute" in Oxford together with two colleagues from Germany and America. In order to contribute to making banking (again) an integral part of society, contributing creatively to the solution of present and future problems. Mindfulness and awareness in financial decisions are the most important instruments with which the Institute wants to change both thinking, behaviour, and the orientation of the financial world.
 
The 'Mindful Finance Walk' takes place at Cologne Zoo. © Viola Nyssen GuillenRecently at the "8th Conference on Sustainability and Resonsibility" in Cologne. I had already become very curious when I read about the "Mindful Finance Walk" in the announcement of the workshop, to be held at Cologne Zoo! So I put on my jacket and left the wonderful Cologne conference location to head over to the neighbouring zoo.
 
"Much has gone wrong in banking. For a long time, sustainability and responsibility were not part of the management credo of all bank managers," said Dr. Friedhelm Boschert, starting his "Workshop in Motion" at the bear enclosure. No coincidence, because bulls and bears are symbols of the financial markets worldwide. "Even before the outbreak of the financial crisis, the EU Commission asked how the behavior of managers could be changed with respect to corporate social responsibility." says Boschert, explaining why he considers mindfulness one of the most effective approaches to transformation. "One of the astonishing results of a large-scale study was that forms of meditation based on introspection, i.e. insight, had a far more lasting impact on managers' thinking and behavior than the mere abstract-cognitive transfer of knowledge about ethics and values," Boschert said. "With mindfulness, you learn to direct your attention and thus manage to step out of old thought patterns and disturbing emotions. Only then will you be able to reflect deeply, recognize values, and tackle change. This is exactly what the Mindful Finance approach is based on." One of the participants asked critically whether the finance industry is at all open and ready for such changes. Boschert sees the pressure of suffering in the banks from bad image, fears, high employee dissatisfaction, lack of perspective large enough to venture into new approaches to solutions. "Banks are increasingly realizing that it is only in fear-free, open spaces for thought that new creativity can emerge and sustainable perspectives can be created," answers Boschert, while the little black bear behind him slowly climbs into the branches of the tree.
 
Next stop - the monkey enclosure. Dozens of baboons sit on sunny rocks. Suddenly the whole gang of monkeys gets excited, screams wildly, and runs in a pack around the rocks. Feeding time. Handed on a plate for Boschert, who invites the participants to a mindfulness exercise and first elaborated on the "monkey mind". "If in your head your thoughts rage through the jungle like the gang of monkeys behind us," explains Boschert with a laugh, "then you have no choice - and the Taoists already knew that 2,400 years ago, that's how old the term is - but to observe and watch. You simply can't get them to stop". It's better to take the "third person perspective" - let your thoughts run and focus your attention in such a way that you can observe thoughts and return to your focus. We then practiced exactly that. With Boscherts calm voice we tuned in with our breath, felt its regular flow and brought our attention back there again and again. We created a small oasis of silence behind the excited horde of monkeys and the much wilder thoughts within us.
 
Elephants are the symbol of wisdom and strength. © Kölner ZooSoon we left grasshoppers, vultures and sharks behind us and stopped in front of a spacious enclosure by the elephants, the symbol of wisdom and strength. "What are we going to do with all this? Where are the concrete starting points so that applied awareness can become a transformative force in the financial sector, an in our handling of money as well," Boschert summed up the essential question in a nutshell. He said that the approach would be based on several levels. On a personal level, one would begin by saying that money and financial matters are highly emotional, often stressful matters for people. Instead of perceiving these emotions in a negative way and repressing them, it is better to use them as a valuable source of information for what we really think of money, what we want with our money. "This usually provides you with completely new information about yourself - and you can then deal with money more responsibly and without stress," sums up Boschert.
 
At the financial professional level, Boschert points to the international association of financial analysts CFA, which has already integrated mindfulness into its training program in the U.S. and created the "Meditation Guide for Investment Professionals" for this purpose. "Don't think they're doing this as a kind of wellness program," says Boschert, "no, they want to use it to improve the quality of financial decisions. He quotes from the course reasoning: "to improve mental focus and creativity, promote ethical behavior, and overcome behavioral biases". This is the whole catalogue of requirements for responsible management and responsible leadership in banks. It also applies to private individuals who want to act more sustainably and responsibly with their investments and financial decisions. That is why the Mindful Finance Institute also turns to the customers of financial institutions. This is where the will to change must come from.
 
On an organisational level, mindfulness first and foremost helps employees and managers to cope better with pressure, stress and uncertainty. "We have empirically sufficient and reliable evidence from our previous training programs in companies," says Boschert. Several thousand managers have already been trained in mindfulness and in almost all cases have shown a better ability to concentrate, a significantly improved way of dealing with stress, and an improvement in team communication and collaboration.
 
Boschert used the so-called "High Reliability Organizations" to demonstrate that the mindfulness concept is nothing really new at a company level. In addition to aviation and rail companies, these concepts hvae been taught at power plants, chemical companies, and banks. "More than twenty years ago science already showed that companies with an awareness based risk culture control risks more effectively than through the use of excessive manuals and regulations. Due tothe complexity of risk, Mindful Finance applies today to almost every company, and especially to banks," says Boschert, summarizing the results of mindfulness research. The Mindful Finance Institute will cooperate closely with banks, in particular with regard to the necessary transformation of corporate culture.
 
"As you can see, Mindful Finance can contribute to a real paradigm shift in the financial industry. The Mindful Finance Institute will become a platform for all those who want to contribute to change," says Boschert as he concludes this unusual workshop. With a glimpse of the elephants leisurely wandering among the rocks, Boschert finishes: "More wisdom and awareness in financial decisions will make us all much more relaxed." 
von Fritz Lietsch
 
As a banker, Friedhelm Boschert spent his entire professional life in cooperative banks, most recently as CEO of a banking network in Eastern Europe. As a trained teacher of mindfulness and meditation, he now combines these two different worlds and founded the "Mindful Finance Institute" in Oxford together with two colleagues from Germany and America.

Lifestyle | Geld & Investment, 30.12.2018

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