Investment bankers and God don’t have a great history. Lloyd Blankfein was much maligned after famously claiming to be doing God’s work in a Sunday Times article of 2009. The Bible famously says rich men have as much chance of getting to heaven as camels have of squeezing through the eyes of needles. And more recently, Justin Welby, Archbishop of the Church of England and a member of the U.K’s Banking Standards Commission, has declared both that bankers have an unethical culture of entitlement and that they have lost their sense of spiritual perspective.
In this context, you might think that St. Margaret Lothbury – a church opposite the Bank of England in the City of London – would be bereft of a congregation. Not at all, said rector Jeremy Crossley. “We have around 100 regular attendees who come here on a Wednesday lunchtime,” he told us. “They all work within the Square Mile. We’ve always had people from every aspect of the financial services industry coming to church.”
On the Thursday we attended St. Margaret Lothbury for an organ recital, bankers weren’t much in evidence, however. With the exception of one devout financier in a suit and tie, who spent the entire event praying (or sleeping) and slipped away before the end, most of the attendees appeared retired or out of work. “I only come for the music,” confessed one man when we asked whether he attended the church regularly.
Nonetheless, figures from the Diocese of London suggest churchgoing in the City has risen 25% since the financial crisis. “From the church’s point of view, everyone is equal before God,” said Crossley. “We see people as human rather than in terms of their profession.”
The best known Christian financier is Ken Costa, the former UBS and Lazard banker who last year joined Developing Markets Capital Partners. a private equity firm. Costa didn’t respond to a request to comment for this article, but in his book, God at Work, he says he felt drawn towards a career in banking even though a bishop suggested to him that he went into the church. “A strong conviction took hold of me that the banking door should be pushed first,” Costa said, adding that as a banker he reads both the Bible and the Financial Times every day, that his work station is also his “worship station,” and that working in banking can “advance the kingdom of God,” to the extent that the provision of funds and the flow of capital are important to society as a whole.
The monk of Wall Street
Costa is not the only senior Christian in the financial services sector. John Studzinski, the senior dealmaker at Blackstone and former Morgan Stanley investment banker, is a committed Catholic. Stephen Green, the former chairman of HSBC is an ordained Anglican priest. Other bankers have followed different spiritual paths. Rasanath Das, a former telecoms media and telecommunications (TMT) banker at Bank of America, spent several months sleeping on the floor of a Hindu monastery in Lower East Village, whilst working in M&A.
“I wasn’t in the monastery very much while I was working,” Das told us. “I was probably only there four or five hours a day. Three of those hours were spent sleeping and two were spent in meditation.”
Ultimately, Das found his two lives difficult to reconcile and gave up banking to pursue his spiritual following. He now runs the Bhakti Center, a Hindu cultural centre on 1st Avenue on the East Side. While he worked at Bank of America, however, Das said his spirituality was an advantage: “People began to trust me in a very deep way. Some of my colleagues started opening up about their personal lives – for me, it was a form of validation which showed how living in an authentic way can effect people.”
The M&A banker who found mindfulness
Like Das, Rohan Narse is a former M&A banker. Also like Das, he’s left the finance industry. Narse now specializes in ‘mindfulness’ rather than Hinduism. But he too said that ‘authenticity’ is the key to a good life.
“I worked in M&A at Goldman Sachs for around six years and then ran a real estate investment fund of my own for five years,” Narse told us.
For him, the catalyst for change was a major car accident in which he nearly died, and which prompted him to reevaluate his life.
“For me, being spiritual is about being authentic,” said Narse, who now runs programmes on mindfulness. “It can be difficult to be authentic in banking – it’s a toxic environment based on fear and greed, but some banking chief executives are starting to realize the need to change and to help people live with integrity.”
The private banker who channels archangels
Shivani Sinha Sola worked as a private banker in India before meeting a guru who said, “enough of banking” and encouraged her to become a spiritual counselor.
“I realized that the focus of the banks was completely on revenue generation rather than what is in the best interest of the clients, and this conflicted with my value system,” Shivani told us. “I believed and had experienced that there is always a higher purpose to all our lives.”
Now, Shivani runs Devas Unlimited, a firm of spiritual healers which works with financial services clients from India. “They tell me that they wish they could have the peace, love and joy that I have. And many ask for help to grow spiritually and how they can integrate the same into their banking profession,” she said.
Advice for bankers in search of meaning
Shivani helps her clients achieve spiritual growth by taking them through an, “intense meditation to draw in and connect with the energy of the Archangel.
“The Archangels are very powerful and beautiful beings,” she explained. “They have specialized functions like healing, opening the heart, giving up the negativity, growing in awareness and many more. Depending on what the client needs, the Archangel is selected. The session is conducted in a crystal grid made of very powerful crystals and arranged in a sacred geometric pattern.”
Back in London, Crossley has lined up a forthcoming programme of sermons which seem to address the concerns of the finance community, and include themes like, ‘Enjoying Success,’ ‘Dealing with Dishonesty’ and ‘Taking Risks.’
However, Crossley said bankers are in no more or less need of salvation than anyone else:. “Bankers have no more need to justify themselves than other professions. There’s a danger of tarring the whole industry with the misdemeanours of the few.”
To bankers who nonetheless want more meaning in their lives, Das suggests speaking to other people who are living authentically and who can show the the way. Where do you find these people on Wall Street or in the City of London? “Seek and you will find,” he said.
Narse advocated slowing down and taking proper note of the here and now. “I would advise bankers to really spend time feeling the emotions of their loved ones,” he said. “I give my 12 year old son a hug for 20 minutes a day. You move from a state where you’re engaged with the world to a state where you’re just being. There’s a kind of transformation that happens. Your relationships become better, you sleep better, you laugh more and life becomes a great journey.”
Avoid alcohol, added Narse: “That kills the whole game.”