Do finance and spirituality mix?

Finance and spirituality do mix if blended with a sound value-system and a duty-based approach, notes Sathya Kalyana Sundaram, Director of Finance at Bally Technologies.

Successful CFOs embody a keen sense of purpose towards their core values, their organizations, the requirement of their stakeholders and the resulting actions that drive sustainable growth.

Possibly one of the most tested aspects of any person, especially a CFO, is a test of their moral fiber—as organizations that tend to focus on profitability and growth at any cost tend to compromise on their moral, ethical or legal responsibilities or sometimes on all of them. This article is an attempt to explore how spirituality relates to workplaces, and specifically to the role of the CFO, who is frequently referred to as the gatekeeper of the organization.  

Evolving from the Latin word ‘spiritualis’, referring to breath, soul, courage, or vigour, spirituality has taken many forms over the ages ranging from finding the existence of God, to discovering the strengths of one’s inner self, to personal well-being and development.

Spirituality, in my assessment, is not about being religious, but about an unwavering and unflinching discipline towards the value system that one stands for. The more important aspect is the development of a value system based on learning, experiences and mentoring. Once this is achieved, steadfast commitment to the same is required. Most spiritual leanings talk about teaching and inculcation of the values that an individual can choose to live by. A value system is ingrained, is practiced through the course of one’s life, and underpins the decisions that CFOs are regularly faced with and that continue to question and test their moral fiber on a regular basis. It is in these times that a greater and deeper introspection into the value system, the overall duty and the greater good need to be undertaken.

Facts & Trivia

Professional Qualification: Bachelor of Commerce, Loyola College, ChennaiMBA, University of HartfordCertified Public Accountant (CPA)Certified Information Systems Auditor(CISA)

First Job: Analyst at Reuters

In their 2008 paper titled ‘Spirituality—The Emerging Context for Business Leadership’, William C. Miller and Debra R. Miller contend that business leadership has evolved through the phases of being rationalist-, humanist-, holistic- and spiritual-based. They profile many businesses and leaders who indicate a deep sense of spirituality in their actions, organizations they drive and the resulting success that they have achieved. These business leaders are driven by a strong sense of values. In their organizations, their value system drives decision-making and has allowed the creation of a corporate culture that is fundamentally different from most other organizations.

For most corporations though, this is difficult to achieve in a world of quarterly reporting and maximization of shareholder value. The CFO, as an enabler and driver of the strategy of the organization, is a key fulcrum in the long-term success of the organization. Can CFOs, as business leaders, develop a spiritual outlook and execute the same towards driving their organizations’ growth and profitability in the short- and long-term?

Since spirituality involves deeper understanding, by extrapolation we can deduce that one is thus required to think long-term. Most CFOs are excellent at doing so and creating value for their customers, shareholders and other constituents over a sustainable period of time. Indeed, having a holistic and value-based approach requires the performance of one’s work with an almost selfless approach—the performance of duty with a larger purpose and goal in mind.

To successfully work toward the larger goal CFOs develop a slightly detached or a ‘third party view’—indeed a common phrase used in the financial world is to see the company “as an auditor would”, thus providing clarity and judgment that would otherwise be clouded. This can help both in driving sound decisions and more importantly, in preventing catastrophic errors.

A simple but perennial example is the unending effort of many CFOs and organizations to bet on the direction of foreign currency movements, and their continuing sequence of losses. The lure of attractive short-term gains in this area has wiped out cash reserves and balance sheets of many otherwise well-run organizations. And such ruin continues despite enough warning, unfortunately. CFOs adept at managing risk ensure that their treasury risk-management is centered around capital and reserve protection.

These draw parallels to the Bhagavad Gita’s teachings that it is in the performance of one’s duty in the best way possible, that one can achieve maximum success and enhance the greater good to society.

Performance of the duty also requires a maniacal focus—towards the said duty and the related actions that need to be accomplished. Successful CFOs embody a keen sense of purpose towards their core values, their organizations, the requirement of their stakeholders and the resulting actions that drive sustainable growth. To my mind this is an aspect of spirituality too.

I further define spirituality as being cognizant of the existence of a greater cosmic presence—both external and internal to each individual. ‘Maya tatum idam sarvum’, supposedly part of Lord Krishna’s timeless conversation with the warrior-prince Arjuna on the Kurukshetra battlefield, has a number of interpretations.

The most famous and literal translation of this statement is that all beings exist within the Lord but the Lord doesn’t exist in them, thus reiterating the notion that everything is part of a greater existence, be it small or big, living or non-living. I interpret this statement a little differently; that there is learning, inspiration or anything else that one seeks around each of us and around us at all times. Keeping a slightly detached view of our daily existence and viewing our surroundings from that perspective allows us to draw lessons from the transactional nature of our environment.

In keeping with the difficulty of being spiritual, the above is easy to state and even easier to hear, but extremely difficult to put into practice.

In conclusion, it is clearly not essential for a CFO to be driven by a spiritual leaning or goal. However, it is abundantly clear that the number of parallels that exist in the understanding of spirituality and its tenets can indeed go a long way in enabling positive results for organizations and their stakeholders for sustainable periods of time.

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