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Who’s going to be at your funeral?

A dreadful question I know, but one that comes up regularly in discussions about work/life balance and, more importantly, money/happiness debates.

The question is at the heart of where you prioritise: family and community or work and wealth.

It came up again during the last few weeks of scandal in the City, and the conversation went something like this.

Isn’t it strange how people seem happier the poorer they are?

If you look at any area where people are poor, they have a real sense of community.

They all look out for each other and there’s lots of support amongst the community. 

On the other hand, the more professional or wealthy you become, the more you become selfish. 

You lose that sense of community and you just become very insular. 

It’s probably to do with selfishness, in that you become motivated by money rather than happiness.

You seek more wealth by dominating and hoarding, pursuing self-interest and focusing purely on what you have rather than what is around you.

When you lose that money focus, you focus upon what is around you: your family, friends, neighbours and community.

This is why the work-life balance is so hard to manage.

You work to earn money.  The more you work, the more money you have but the less life you live.

You cannot nurture friends, family and community if all you do is work.

And then the real question is: who’s going to be at your funeral?

You know when you cop it that the only ones who will come to your funeral will be your friends, family and community.

Work colleagues, if they are still around, will be too busy working and hoarding to bother.

The conversation went on a lot longer than this – yes, you guessed it, it’s summertime philosophy over bottles of wine – but it struck me that there may be something in this, as it brings me back to one of my favourite financial philosophers: Bernard Lietaer.

Bernard has been expounding the idea of community currencies for years, along with other leading thinkers in this space such as Magrit Kennedy.

The idea of a community currency is that it focuses upon nurturing the long-term sustainability of the community or, in a global context, this planet earth.


You can read all about it in previous blog entries:

The reason why this is important today is that we talk about social networks, but these are not networks.  They are communities.

And the term community has a very particular meaning as it is derived from two Latin words: cum which means together, and munus which means gift.

So a community provides gifts to each other in order to ensure stability and happiness.

A community looks after the weak and ill through the gift of caring from the strong and healthy.

This is why the word community today is defined in various ways, but here’s the Wikipedia view:

The term community describes a group of interacting people, living in some proximity (i.e., in space, time, or relationship). Community usually refers to a social unit larger than a household that shares common values and has social cohesion.

In human communities, intent, belief, resources, preferences, needs, risks, and a number of other conditions may be present and common, affecting the identity of the participants and their degree of cohesiveness.

Since the advent of the Internet, the concept of community has less geographical limitation, as people can now gather virtually in an online community and share common interests regardless of physical location. Prior to the internet, virtual communities (like social or academic organizations) were far more limited by the constraints of available communication and transportation technologies.

The word "community" is derived from the Old French communité which is derived from the Latin communitas (cum, "with/together" + munus, "gift"), a broad term for fellowship or organised society.  Some examples of community service is to help in church, tutoring, hospitals, etc.

In other words, by focusing upon others in the community rather than yourself, you become an integral part of the network recognised for the value you are giving, rather than the value you are taking out of it.

Back to the City and this whole debate about bonuses, governance, insider trading, fraud, rate fixing and more and you can now see where this is all coming from.

If a bank is to behave in the future, they need to recognise their role in the community (not society or the economy) and think about who’s going to come to their funeral (bearing in mind they have a 'living will').


Images sourced from m4id and Kenny Silva.

About Chris M Skinner

Chris M Skinner
Chris Skinner is best known as an independent commentator on the financial markets through his blog, the Finanser.com, as author of the bestselling book Digital Bank, and Chair of the European networking forum the Financial Services Club. He has been voted one of the most influential people in banking by The Financial Brand (as well as one of the best blogs), a FinTech Titan (Next Bank), one of the Fintech Leaders you need to follow (City AM, Deluxe and Jax Finance), as well as one of the Top 40 most influential people in financial technology by the Wall Street Journal’s Financial News. To learn more click here...

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  • Chris, I spend a LOT of time online, in good company, too, so I experience a lot of blog posts. This one is out of the park exceptional. Thank you.
    It’s brilliant because it drives home the idea in a context that everyone can understand. The whimsy is delectable.
    As my firm’s focus is social business strategy for risk averse organizations, I want to connect your message more strongly to your mention of “social networks.”
    I have written extensively about how enterprise executives can produce much more value by thinking in small numbers. In other words, from a social business perspective, the firm has to be very clear of whom it wants to come to its funeral. To earn that, it has to interact with them consistently, and above expectation. There’s no magic. It takes commitment, focus and care. That said, it’s very difficult for executives to accept the small numbers part. As I wrote in Networks vs Mass Communications [http://bit.ly/netvmass%5D, only by appealing in an extraordinary way (focus) will firms (i.e. FSIs) earn access to their readers’/followers’/etc. networks.
    The mass marketing era is largely over with its formula of dishing out “content” like smiley pictures on home pages and frankenfeelings on social media to general audiences. Most FSIs and brands haven’t gotten the memo, so they don’t earn “engagement.” At this rate, they’ll have to hire their pallbearers.
    I will refer people to your post repeatedly because it communicates the ethos in a delightful, viseral way. Thanks again!

  • This is indeed a great piece and is very much on the money ( or rather lack of it as is the case today, and seems set to be more so tomorrow etc). You mean I have to justify my bonus to the shareholders???
    Social interaction (it used to be called social intercourse) has however been transformed as the world of technology creates virtual communities who prefer to meet in cyber space. The phenomenons of Facebook, Twitter, You Tube etc suggest that community is being redefined in a virtual way, but may not provide for appropriate social interaction. This reinforces isolationism and is not a development likely to support your theory.
    Already concerns exist over how to create better connections and of course in financial services there is a ready made solution – yes – it is The Financial Services Club, a place where real people meet to discuss real life solutions – it seems you got there first!!!
    Nice one Chris and keep up the thinking and community spirit, we need it!