From Capital Without Conscience to Ethical Capital creating Sacred Commerce

My life purpose is to advocate and advise in the space of Sacred Commerce and Sacred Governance. In simple terms I want to work with business and government and show them that by bringing reverence and integrity into everything they do they can be more successful, more proud of the contribution they make to the world, and in fact make as much profit as they ever have but without having done so in a disingenuous way.

I am not alone in the changes I want to create in the world. There are others who are doing as I have done and are creating advisory and training businesses and who hope to swoop in to organisations and through training or facilitation help them create organisations that operate in integrity.

But, there is a problem. No matter how many well intentioned people there are in most businesses who would love to put a value on operating with integrity, there is a force at the heart of Capitalism that can and does override them and which needs to be understood by people wishing to advocate for change as I do. Let me outline the problem.

CAPITAL HAS NO CONSCIENCE

A dear friend from my Men’s group, a business trainer and a man of the highest integrity, was recently sharing his excitement around some training he was giving, as part of a course he delivers, with respect to financial calculations for Present Value (PV) and Internal Rate of Return (IRR). They are calculations that can be performed, very simply in a spreadsheet once you know how, to tell you whether an investment with an assumed series of cash flows is one that is advisable to make given a desired return you seek and applying a risk premium.

While I was excited for him feeling such passion for the course he was giving, and his success is building up his business as a contract trainer, I felt compelled to share with him that these tools he so enjoys teaching are a huge part of the problem at the heart of Capitalism.

Let me explain why.

Capital is at the heart of the system of Capitalism. An investor provides capital through subscribing for a new share in a company, or through buying a share from another shareholder. That investor then hopes to make a return on their capital by way of dividends paid from profit, or through capital growth as the value of the company and its shares increase until a point when the investor chooses to sell to another investor and take a profit that way.

So far so good. The investor provides something the business needs in capital to operate and expand the business, and the business provides a return.

However we live in a world where investors capital tends to move around. So we have markets where investors trade their shares. So if an investor needs his money back, he doesn’t need to bother the business to repay him, instead he just offers to sell his shares on the market and someone who is looking to buy those shares takes them off his hands.

Again, this seems like a good thing. The business gets to continue to use the capital it needs, and the investor gets access to their capital when they need it, perhaps because they are retirees and need to turn some into cash to buy a motor home and go on a two-year road-trip.

The next part is where we strike a problem. The shares in the company have a share price. In simple terms, the share price is the value of the business if you were to buy the whole thing, divided by the number of shares that have been issued to raise capital. Now sadly our average investor is not a little old couple who choose a nice company that does good for the world and leave their money there until they need to go buy a motor home.

The reality is that in public capital markets there is competition and, I am guessing but, I would estimate that north of 99% of the money in global stock exchanges is managed by professional investment managers who are investing on behalf of funds which are in the business of providing their investors (Banks, Superannuation & Pension Funds, and Private Wealth) with the optimal returns.

So here is where the PV and IRR calculations come in. A share price on any day is supposed to be a representation of the present value of the future cash flows that it will generate. So in short analysts and fund managers put together financial models in spreadsheets that project the future cash flows for the business. Then they run a PV calculation (or any IRR which is just a different view of the same thing describing the return the investment will provide based on today’s price) to determine the present value of the business and divide by the number of shares to get a share price.

The fund managers are paid huge bonuses for their performance and to keep their jobs they need to deliver the best returns, so they are very focused on ensuring their capital is parked in the companies where they will get the best returns.

Next we have to recognise that business is cyclic. What happens when a company hits the downside of its cycle is that capital mobilises. Suddenly the optimistic views of the company’s future change. The analysts reopen the financial models on the company and cut into the projected cash flows, the PV drops, the theoretical share price drops, and their interest in holding the stock drops. So they and everyone else as they wake up start selling the shares and the share price heads south.

About this time one of the following things will happen:

  1. The remaining shareholders at an AGM will sack typically the Chair and several of the directors on the Board
  2. The Board will sack the CEO
  3. The CEO will sack several key executives

THE CAPITAL MINDSET OF LEADERSHIP

Now control of the company changes. The brief for the new people is “Profit and Growth at any cost”. The consequences of not succeeding will be that if it was #3 that happened that if the new people fail #2 or #1 will happen

So over time our companies become populated at the top by people who are very answerable to Capital and very conscious that they hold their job until capital which has no conscience sacks them.

So we need to understand that the top three rungs of the corporate ladder know that they have an axe over their heads, which will be wielded not even by a particular investor or person within an investor who they can go and visit. The axe is actually wielded by the movement of capital, and the capital will move based on the calculations, the PVs and the IRRs.

The other influence these calculations have on corporate strategy is a 10 year time window. When you learn about PV calculations one of the things that quickly becomes apparent as you use them is that anything that happens in the projections beyond the 10 year mark will have very little effect on the PV calculation. So the impact is that if there is some great for the world initiative that will also create great profit for the company, but which will take more than 10 years to pull off, then a PV calculation will give those profits that lie beyond 10 years very very little value. This further shapes short term thinking of corporate leaders and makes it difficult for them to get capital for long term strategic projects of any significant scale.

In this environment profit becomes king, thinking is short term, strategy is protectionist, pricing is manipulative. The top three rungs of the business know that they hold their roles so long as this quarter’s results are good.

The Corporations in this globalised world, many of which are getting to the point of being as big as small countries, have a massive influence on quality of life for all of us. They impact us when we work for them as employees, as contractors, or as suppliers, they impact us through the product and services they provide us, they impact us through their impact on our environment, and they impact our culture by bringing through the ruthlessness of Capital without conscience.

SACRED COMMERCE AND SACRED CAPITAL

Now I have a vision of a world that is different. Sacred Governance will bring reverence to an organisation’s relationship with its employees, its contractors and its suppliers, and for the impact it has on the environment. Sacred Commerce will ensure the customer is treated with reverence with craftsman-like products, caring and well conceived service, fair pricing models, fair dealing, and a good return for fulfilling customer needs so well.

One of the learnings that was most memorable for me from the one month Senior Executive Program I did at Columbia University in 2002 was the change model. You have a current reality which you need to properly understand, you have a future reality which you are seeking to create, so what are the elements that need to be present in every spectrum of managing the change for the movement from the current state to future desired state to succeed.

This blog is already getting a bit long to go into all of the elements for my vision to be achieved, however it is clear to me that one of the most critical is a way of bringing capital to the table that cares about this vision.

Now, there are Ethical Investment Funds and typically these funds do partially have a conscience.

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They look to businesses doing good for the world, or at the very least not doing bad. They do however naturally look for healthy returns as well and within the ethical business space move their funds around in the same way. My sense is that ethical funds are approached by ethical businesses to invest funds in a fairly usual manner. I don’t have any data, but from some working knowledge of the capital markets space from my time as a CFO I would guess that Ethical Funds Pools of capital would represent a fraction of 1% of the world’s investment capital.

However my belief is that there is a massive unrealised potential in ethical funds.

This is where sacred commerce comes in. In my opinion there is much dysfunction in commerce. Telcos force us to take landline telephone services because they refuse to offer a bundle including the data service we do need without a land line service. Packages and pricing are set to deny us the things we really need unless we comply and pay a price that is really beyond what is fair given the relationship between what we are getting and the costs to provide them. Much of it comes from entrenched interests and anti-competitive practices.

I talk to a lot of the younger upcoming generations and they know they are being treated disingenuously by a majority of corporations. They feel it as employees, as customers, and as beings of this planet. These younger generations are a time bomb for social, structural, and economic change.

It is only going to take a small percentage of new or brave businesses to create a whole new model of commerce through providing products and services that call to the soul of these more discriminating generations and they will have a runaway success with an avalanche of support. The existence of these businesses will then create a new consciousness about what is acceptable in business.

We cant rely on existing businesses to drive the change. Some will come to this view and may have visionary leaders with track records good enough to source capital for the new model, but my sense is that most existing businesses will wait and protect their turf until it becomes apparent that they will die unless they can create a business model grounded in Sacred Commerce and Sacred Governance.

I see an opportunity. I believe there is massive potential for ethical capital to work with either new businesses, or with players who have good infrastructure but limited success beating the majors at the game of ruthless disingenuous commerce. I see an opportunity for ethical capital to provide significant investments to turn industries on their heads by changing the rules and providing products and services in a Sacred Commerce framework and snatching market-share on a scale that is neck snapping for the entrenched players. There is massive dissatisfaction in the world of consumers, and one of the things I have learned in life is that when you solve people’s problems you succeed.

As Ethical Capital becomes more strategic and as our community understands the impact it can have on our world, its ability to attract capital and have more of us tick the ethical capital box in our super fund and pension fund preferences will be huge. I could see it growing to attain a significant market share and ultimately could become the standard way that capital is managed.

SACRED COMMERCE AND PROFIT

The issue today is that it is accepted in commerce and in governance among the top three rungs that manage them of boards, CEOs, and the CEO’s other C level direct reports that the focus above all else must be PV and IRR to keep the movement of capital from bringing the axe down. There is a culture of do whatever you can to preserve the numbers. It has swung too far and the things the companies will do for profit too often lack integrity and are not the way you would conduct a transaction if you were a sole trader shop keeper dealing with a customer from his village who came in every day and who he had to look in the eye and justify his position. Somehow the corporate veil has made it more acceptable to extort a bit more than you do when you have to look them in the eye.

Sacred Commerce is going to show that more profit can be made by being genuine, acting with reverence, and winning customer loyalty from a generation of more discerning customers.

Whats more, customers will realise that they too can move money like capital moves money. They can move their savings to Ethical Capital, and they can move their consumer spending to companies worthy of their support.

I can feel the change coming. I see lots of communication with ethical funds in my future.

If you made it to the end of this blog I congratulate you! Investment and financial calculations are dry topics, but this topic is one that is at the heart of driving change in commerce. Thanks for sticking with it and I hope it inspires you in some way to take action to advocate for or support Sacred Commerce and Sacred Governance in your community.

Ura P Auckland
Sacred Commerce & Sacred Governance Advocate & Adviser
Managing Director
Authegrity Pty Ltd
www.authegrity.com

 

 

 

Image Attributions:

  1. ‘Investment Growth’ by ‘Pictures of Money’ on FLIKR licensed by CC BY 2.0

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