Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious

“Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious”, meaning extraordinarily good or wonderful (Oxforddictionaries.com, 2018), that’s what came to my mind when I spent a day at the work with 9 to 12 years old kids, discussing how the world of investment, insurance and pension works.

The word ‘Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious ‘ word is from the famous film, Mary Poppins, the film is set in Edwardian London, 1910. In the film, at the suggestion of Mary Poppins (a magical nanny), Mr Banks takes his children to his workplace, the Dawes Tomes Mousley Grubbs Fidelity Fiduciary Bank. In an attempt to get Michael (his son) to put his tuppence in a savings account, all the staff (including the bank’s owner, Mr Dawes) sing about the benefits of saving, arguing that  “If you invest your tuppence wisely in the bank/Safe and sound/Soon that tuppence safely invested in the bank/Will compound”. An excellent way to explain the compound interest. Despite this advice, and to the disgust of his father, Michael decides to give his money to an elderly lady who feeds the birds. (Patridge, 2018). As Einstein said, those who understand compound interest earns it, he who doesn’t pays it. During the elaborate song-and-dance routine, bank staff explains about investment and risk management. I didn’t sing or dance (sadly) but I discussed about savings, investment, insurance and pension with primary school children.

HowtoSavings

I had two leadership challenges set for myself, the first challenge was to reach out to five primary schools and engage with them on financial education. The second challenge was to engage with three stakeholders groups at my new work place on sustainability. Regarding my first challenge, I found it hard to engage with the schools. Despite my initial plan to work through the charity I have been involved for last 4 years, I received more than dozen reasons why I should not engage with the schools on financial education. As Mary Poppins says, ‘ Anything can happen if you let it’. Through my current organisation I got the opportunity to engage with Guy Fox charity who creates innovative activities and publications that encourage children to explore the world.  My organisation works with them to create contents on, ‘How the world really works – Savings, Investment and Pensions’. Additionally, I managed to engage with two of the schools where my children go. They agreed with me to provide 1-2 sessions on financial education per year to the primary school. I had my first session at both the schools where I played the financial education game designed specifically to teach about borrowing and savings. It didn’t take a long for children to realise that spending on credit card may bring momentary happiness but it takes lot longer to pay while savings requires disciplined/firm approach but in long run it accumulates. I am now working towards second session where I could borrow from the behavioural science and prepare fun contents that resonate with them. In Mary Poppins words, ‘Every job that must be done, there is an element of fun, snap, job is a game.’

In regards to my second challenge, I have engaged with three different stakeholder groups on sustainability. As Dan Pink mentions in his book Drive, one of key motivator is sense of common purpose beyond the day to day tasks, through focus on the shared purpose. As shown in the end of the Mary Poppins as an uplifting scene, The Banks family, reunited and refocused, head out all together to fly Michael’s kite. The family sing together of rebuilding the kite and as they create with simple materials they are all focused on a shared purpose. I will end my blog on that final song, ‘Let’s go fly a kite’, (Mary Poppins, 1964)

 

 

 

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Frugal economy

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(Image : CNN.com)

Jaideep Prabhu, professor of Cambridge Judge Business school argues about bottom-up approach to value creation,large companies are already being challenged by new consumer-orchestrated value ecosystems, which allow consumers to design, build, market, distribute, and trade goods and services among themselves, eliminating the need for intermediaries. (WEF, 2015)

Out of the three leavers suggested in the CISL paper, I would focus on design and innovation. The rise of peer to peer economy, suggests strong trend in consumer attitudes and transition to frugal economy.  Reuters reported that in world’s third largest economy in Japan, millennials have shown a reluctance in spending money and desire to lead minimalist lifestyle. Japanese millennials throw around words like “cospa” — short for “cost performance,” or value for money — to rate anything from cosmetics to hotels.  They want to be viewed as being frugal rather than generous with money, according to a survey by Dentsu Innovation Institute, a marketing and consumer research company. (Reuters, 2016). This is the generation who has grown up in the economy that never seems to grow.

Two key factors are fuelling the frugal economy’s growth: a protracted financial crisis, which has weakened the purchasing power of middle-class consumers in the West, and these consumers’ increasing sense of environmental responsibility. (Project Syndicate, 2015).

It’s all about diching traditional pyramid model, moving away from large scale state level intervention to developing accessible and affordable innovations that meets the basic needs of large number of people while moving away from consumption based mind set to minimalistic mind set. According to the conversation, innovations in the frugal economy can also help reduce inequality. In India healthcare sector is bringing affordable services to large number of people through reduced rate in heart surgery, while in Africa solutions such as m-pesa are increasing financial inclusion.(Prabhu, 2018). Bike sharing, car sharing, home sharing schemes across the world are good examples of innovations in Frugal economy while reducing climate impact.

Some of the key challenges that works against frugal innovation are, measures – primary measure for growth GDP is based on consumption, means – current trend of the economy seems to be heading towards consolidation where large organisations are getting larger, that promotes pyramid structure, model – policy level solutions are encouraging increased regulations, again top down model that works against frugal model.

Economy is complex system but often solution can be most effective if interventions or solutions are not contradicting or counter productive but works in the same direction. Top down and bottom up approach could work together to promote ‘fugal economy’ in order to solve climate challenge.

Habits have help fight diseases, can it help fight poverty?

It’s nearly coming to 10th anniversary of last financial crisis and although on the outset economy has recovered but it’s just the tip of the iceberg.

In the recent study by Joseph Rowntree Foundation found that nearly half of all children in London, Birmingham and Manchester live in poverty. It’s not only children, 300k more pensioners livings in poverty than five years ago.

In January 2018, Office of National Statistics suggested that unsecured borrowing has been rising by nearly 10% a year in UK. The report found Young adults aged in their 20s were more likely to be in households with problem debt than older people, particularly low educated young adults were struggling. Debt problems tended to be more persistent for low-income households.

Financial education in low income household could be one of the leavers bring the positive change. According to research by money advice nearly eight in ten 15–17 year olds keep track of their income and spending. What if trend could be translated into a ‘habit’?

According to psychological theory, a habit is only a habit if it as an action that happens automatically when we encounter a certain setting or situation in which that action has been performed in the past.  Important part here is ‘automatic’, they override intentional behaviour. It becomes stronger and harder and harder to act differently even if there is an intention. Habits do not rely on memory or willpower. (Lally, et el, 2010, 2011). A good financial management habit could be the key.

As Charles Jaffe said, ‘it’s not your salary that matters it’s your spending habit. ‘ or in Warren Buffet words ‘Do not save what is left after spending but spend what is left after saving.’

As part of my first leadership challenge over next year, I have taken up the task to campaign in five primary schools about building good money management habits where there are high number of pupils from low-income and low education families.

A study found that habits in Children take root by the age of 9. (Pressman et al., 2014). Hence, I choose primary school as part of my leadership challenge.  With the help of Young Money Charity who have created resources and are already connected with many schools in London, I intend to apply behavioural habit framework to campaign about money management. According to behavioural studies, repetition creates a mental association between context (cue) and the action (behaviour) which means that when the cue is encountered the behaviour is performed automatically.(Gardner, 2012). For example each time, income is received a part of it goes into saving or each time we spend part of it is invested, a mental link could be formed between income and savings or investing and spending money irrespective of when money is available.

My background in working in Investment Management could help incorporate some of the investment strategies and translate into simple money management messages for primary school children.

My second leadership challenge is to build the stakeholder awareness that would enable our organisation to carry out an analysis about understanding key sustainability issues for the organisation. I have narrowed down 3 stakeholder groups whom I will be targeting this year. My approach for creating awareness would involve three channels, Bring in external SMEs, Show case from other organisations, and share industry insights. Being part of the central change team, I am well positioned to execute this challenge.

Do I really need it ?

 

“Simplicity is the essence of universality.”, Gandhi. In this age of consumerism and creature comforts, austerity is a concept that is often not even comprehended. Gandhi proved that Living a simple life has it benefits because it keeps you focused on your purpose.

As a child growing up in small town in India, I remember my mother sending me a shop to buy loose grocery from the local shop. We will have to go carry our containers to carry it back. We have a milk delivered every twice in a day by a milk man on a bicycle. He would have two large containers on each side and he will deliver the milk in our containers. We will have recyclable items such as papers, clothes collected from our house and in return my mother will receive a small utensil or a pan while person collecting will be able to sell this to local recycling shop in exchange for money.  Left over food would be either collected in the evening or my mother would send us to nearby farm to feed it to cows or dogs. Size of the bin in our house of four was less than 5 litters and that would go to the nearby farm which will use it as a compost.  Plastic bags were considered precious and would never make it to the bin and there was hardly any packaging for the items bought from the shop.

Fast forward this today, my basic need for family of four in London has not changed much, compared to the needs my parents.  I could walk out of the supermarket with the handful of bags with lots of things (many I could have managed without). In the Friedman fuelled economy, where organisation’s sole purpose is to increase it’s profits, consumption is good indicator for growth.   Even before Friedman, economics was driven by Homo Economics and ‘Utility function” that can mathematically express the preference of the invisible Economic Man what he wants.

In the book Nudge, Thaler and Sunstein claims that our brains are dichotomous. Too often, our impulsive, myopic, unreflective reptile half seizes the levers of choice from our resolute, farsighted, thoughtful human half. The upshot: we are more Homer Economicus than Homo Economicus. And, since Homer Economicus fails systematically, can be manipulated. Movie houses, for example, could insert a fleeting ‘‘Eat popcorn’’ message and boost popcorn sales without moviegoers even knowing they were being manipulated. Except now, the science of manipulation is more sophisticated.

Kahneman and Tversky explained dichotomy between two modes of thought which they called System 1 – fast, automatic, intuitive and System 2 – slow and analytical where reasons dominates the thinking. Due to these differences and conflicts between these systems, people are often subject to making mistakes that are the result of widely occurring biases, heuristics, and fallacies such as Anchoring – putting too much emphasis on one piece of information, Availability Heuristic – tendency of relying on recent and readily available information, Representative Heuristic – underestimating or overestimating random processes or as Nicols Taleb refers it as fooled by randomness, Unrealistic Optimism – could be good and bad, Loss Aversion – people feel bad about the loss than they feel good about the win, State of Arousal(mood) – when feeling very hungry food could taste better than feeling less hungry, Peer Pressure – This could be negative or positive.

Being aware and setting up a ‘nudge’ has made positive difference in many scenarios. One of the data suggests that in England plastic bag usage dropped 85% since introduction of 5p charge.  As a result of various ‘nudges’ on recycling,  over last twenty years in the UK, recycling rates have gone up from 12% in 2001 to 39% in 2013.

So, why should I care ? Well, for me answer is summed up in one formula. According to WWF, in 2017 we have used 1.7 planets equivalent of resources bringing forward overshoot day to 2nd August meaning rest of the year would be on credit. (overshootday.org)

Personally, I have started the journey (to focus on my purpose) and go back to the same level as my parents if not exceed by a applying ‘nudge’.  my expense bank account which asks the question every time I make a transaction, ‘ Do I really need it ?’

May be Gandhi’s  “simple living and high thinking” philosophy is what sustainability is all about and I need to continue my journey on that path.