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Hong Kong’s rock star bankers do it for charity

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Rock stars? Gag.

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Steve Bernstein

Steve Bernstein

In just over a week, Hong Kong’s investment banks will gather for a different kind of club deal. The brainchild of Steve Bernstein, the Finance Live rock concert will feature bankers-turned-musos to raise money for ‘Music for the Growing Mind’, a charity providing musical education to severely underprivileged children in Hong Kong and China.
Bankers and other finance executives from Barclays, Interactive Data, InvestOrbit, JP Morgan, Mathews Asia, Morgan Stanley, Nomura, SinoPac Solutions and Services, UBS and Wells Fargo will take the stage on Thursday 21 November for six hours of music. eFinancialCareers caught up with Bluegrass fan Steve Bernstein to ask him how it all got started.
How did you come up with the idea of Finance Live?
Music, finance and charity. These are the things we really care about. A friend of mine called me after the tsunami in Japan and asked me if we were planning an event for charity to help out. I said yes and then got to work planning a concert. We managed to get six bands together to perform in front of 550 people at the Four Seasons and raised US$350,000.
I play the mandolin and guitar. I have friends who are bankers who also happen to play in bands - guys from Barclays, Wells Fargo, JPMorgan and Interactive Data, so I had the idea of putting on a concert with bankers who play in bands, with the proceeds going to charity. So far, we’ve signed 13 sponsors, and sold 250 tickets, raising about US$20,000 for a local charity that gives under-privileged kids music classes. It’s a good charity for us because they are music-focused.
Who are the musicians?
We have bankers from all the firms, including Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, JPMorgan, Barclays and Wells Fargo, so it’s really a good cross-section. The audience will probably be mostly finance people, but it will be casual. You know, jeans and t-shirts.
Which bank has the best band?
We don’t know yet. The band from Barclays is quite good and the guys from Morgan Stanley are great musicians. But it’s not a competition. This is just about celebrating music and supporting charity. We have some people from different banks playing together. The music has brought them together. So far, the bands playing are: Bauhinia Rhapsody from UBS and JPMorgan; the Golden Bluegrass Ensemble from SinoPac; @one from Wells Fargo, Mathews Capital Asia; the Joven Goce Band with players from SinoPac and others; No Direction from Invest Orbit and Barclays Capital; Fuster Cluck from Interactive Data and Morgan Stanley; and Jellyfish from Nomura.

Who is your musical inspiration or musical hero?

I have a few. Jerry Garcia in the Grateful Dead is one. Another is Bob Dylan for his lyrics and then there is also David Grisman, who plays the mandolin. They’ve probably had the most influence on me.

If you could share a stage with your favourite artist today, who would it be?
The band, Phish. They are great musicians, they play improvisational rock.
Will there be a live link or a CD from the concert?
I don’t think so. I think there will be pictures for sure, and probably be some videos posted on YouTube and our website.
Apart from this charity, are you involved in any other charities?

I set up a charity called Wear your Music seven years ago. We recycle guitar strings from famous musicians. So far 150 musicians, including Jason Mraz, John Mayer, and Keith Richards have all sent me their old guitar strings.

We make the bracelets for sale, and the profits go to charities picked by the musicians. We’ve donated over US$300,000 to 60 different charities. It’s based in the US but we are now launching in Hong Kong, recycling guitar strings from local musicians.
I am also involved in Foodlink, a local charity in Hong Kong that collects leftover food and distributes it to homeless people.
If you could live your life over would you choose to be a professional musician or a professional banker?
Being a professional banker gives me the opportunity to play music for people, travel, and live in Hong Kong. If I was a musician, probably I’d still be in New York and it’s very difficult to have a successful career, financially, as a musician. Only a small percentage really make any money. All my friends are musicians and they are happy people. The bankers I know make more money and they are all miserable. For musicians, music is primary and money is secondary. As a banker I have a nice lifestyle, I meet very smart people, and I get to live in Hong Kong, Japan and New York, but I also get to play music. For me it’s a good balance.
What will you be performing at Finance Live?
I am going to play some bluegrass music with my band, the Golden Bluegrass Ensemble. I also have a rock band called Joven Goce.
This is the first event – are there plans to make it an annual event?
Well, we’ve trademarked the name Finance Live, and we plan to do it more often, possible every three or four months. We’ll pick a different charity each time.
Will they all be in Hong Kong or would you consider elsewhere?
Probably just Hong Kong at first. We also want to do one in Singapore and Tokyo if we have enough musicians.

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