July 17th, 2014
Bolder Giving/Bolder Investing: Move Your Money to Align with Your Values
Outraged by apartheid in South Africa, my parents decided we had to leave our homeland when I was just a child. We were white, and despite volunteering in the townships and providing fair-paying jobs to blacks in our family business, we could not effect change fast enough. We settled in California, and although I was too young to understand the implications of apartheid, I know now that these experiences had a profound effect on my future.
I have always been fascinated with money, yet I knew there was more to life. I’d been following the financial world and the stock market from a young age and heard Calvert was divesting its Coca-Cola stock due to their labor practices in South Africa. After years growing up there, this piqued my interest. I didn’t realize this was socially responsible investing, I just knew I had to be involved. I became a financial analyst for a real estate company, hoping I could help people buy homes and finance their income properties.
Flash forward five years, it’s 1991 and I’m 23 years old, sitting in the middle of the worst real estate recession since the 70’s. I call my girlfriend and say, “Let’s go to India—we’ve been talking about it for two years, and I need to get out of here.”
I don’t know what attracted us to visit Dharamsala. I wasn’t really a “Free Tibet” kind of guy and hadn’t gotten into meditation yet, but when I noticed a poster announcing an audience with His Holiness the Dalai Lama the following day, I was compelled to go. Our small group was ushered into a room and asked to stand in a circle. His Holiness came into the middle, bowed slightly, then slowly made his way around greeting each one of us. When he stepped in front of me, he gazed into my eyes and put his two hands out, palms facing up. I put my hands in his, facing down. He squeezed them with a warm grandfatherly embrace, looked into my eyes again and let out a deep throaty chuckle that sounded like a Tibetan chant. Chills rushed down my back. “Everything is absolutely okay. It’s perfect and you’re going to be fine” was the message I heard, although he didn’t speak a word. The message was one of absolute safety and a counter to the one I’d grown up with. I always thought, “I’ve got to strive, I’ve got to achieve, I’ve got to be driven.” That was a turning point, an experience that inspired me to provide holistic financial advice to others in order to help them feel the same sufficiency His Holiness had infused in me.
Four years later on another trip to India, I felt despondent about the thought of returning to my life as a mortgage broker. When I thought of the apartment buildings in Vegas and the Super 8 Motels I was brokering, I realized that was not the legacy I wanted to leave.
Upon my return to California, I started interviewing a variety of people who might help to guide me; investment bankers, the CEO of a major life insurance company, a stockbroker, several therapists, my yoga teacher, financial planners. I had read Money and the Meaning of Life by Jacob Needleman, and read every issue of More Than Money cover to cover, and the material inspired me. I studied economics, psychology, meditation and Ashtanga yoga. During this time, I met Spencer Sherman with whom I shared an uncanny number of similarities, especially a commitment to helping people make a significant impact with their time and money. We merged our two companies and created Abacus Wealth Partners with the goal to be a catalyst for people not simply to get richer, but to live a more richly fulfilling life.
I married Britta, who joined me on my second trip to India, and we now have two great sons. Our first involvement in philanthropy came about when our youngest son was three and was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. We organized a Walk to Cure Diabetes to raise funds for research, placing third in the country with $60,000 in donations. We asked ourselves, “Why just diabetes? Why not other diseases?” Our friends’ daughter had leukemia so we organized a poker tournament fundraiser. We hadn’t thought of ourselves as philanthropists; we lived in a modest house and didn’t drive expensive cars. It was such a great experience we decided to branch out to other causes. We now list the issues we care about on a spreadsheet. I concentrate on poverty and economic empowerment, Britta focuses on women’s issues and Planned Parenthood, our now teenage sons are interested in funding organizations that address sex trafficking and develop government policies. We also launched the Abacus Generosity Initiative to maximize our social impact at Abacus by engaging our staff, clients, friends, and colleagues in philanthropic endeavors. We are committed to performing at least one act of generosity every month.
In addition to supporting individuals with their philanthropy and investing, I’d like to make it easier for them to understand their relationship with money, to align their financial decisions with their heart and soul. To help individuals achieve spiritual and financial abundance I wrote It's Not About the Money: Unlock Your Money Type to Achieve Spiritual and Financial Abundance. Spencer and I developed The Money and Spirit Workshop materials and workshops to help individuals integrate their spiritual and financial lives.
Before hearing a TED talk by Dan Gilbert on happiness, we were asked, “If you had a conversation with your future self, what would you wish you had done and why aren’t you doing it?” I answered, “I would meditate more. I’d be a part of shifting the investment mindset: you do not have to trade value for values - you can get rich by helping others. I’d like to continue to help people have a more balanced relationship with their money and understand the role of philanthropy and investing.” My ultimate goals are to bring financial advice to the masses, to make it easier for individual shareholders to become educated advocates to push the companies they invest in to have good environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG) practices, and to make impact investing the norm, not the exception.
I’d like to offer the following advice to my sons and to those searching for a purpose, “Follow the deepest dream you can access and it’ll all be fine.”