In fintech, it’s meditation that is disrupting the status quo.
For the past 20 years, Peter Ng, the executive charged with investing tens of billions of dollars for Singapore’s sovereign wealth fund sits quietly. He does this by sitting and saying a word (or mantra) inside himself. The chief investment officer of the Government of Singapore Investment Corporation, does a total of 40-minutes of meditation a day, split in two 20-minute sessions.
Over the past ten years, meditation has spread from a niche practice into something akin to jogging or yoga. And now, it has been incorporated into corporate life. Google and General Mills encourage the practice of mindfulness to help make employees more productive by offering it within their company walls.
Ray Dalio, founder of Bridgewater, the world’s largest hedge fund with $150bn of assets under management, is a stalwart defender of the activity. “Meditation, more than anything else, is responsible for whatever success I have had,” Dalio said. “When I meditate, I acquire an equanimity that allows me to see things from a higher-level perspective and that allows me to make sensible decisions.”
Backed by clinical trials on the neuroscience of the effects of meditation, the idea that meditation can help anyone find a greater sense of equanimity is well established. Next year, as part of its MBA program, Georgetown University will offer accredited course led by Laurence Freeman, a Benedictine monk who heads the World Community for Christian Meditation.
As a long-time proponent, practicer and instructor of daily mediation, Mr Freeman is also aware that its spiritual component can steer people away. “Meditation is an aspect of both a universal and very old Christian tradition that can be shared with anyone and understood in a secular way,” he says. “For some people, its distance from formal religion provides a comfort zone.”
Of course, there are skeptics: that high-powered Type A financiers could possibly set aside their egos while meditating, produces some scoffs from cynics. It’s true that some finance executives financiers still see the “New Age” activity as too bohemian. Lord Leitch, chairman of Bupa, the private health provider, and a former insurance executive, says meditation can be slightly polarizing. “Sometimes I get weird looks when I mention it in passing. Clearly it’s not for all. Still, I think we should be open to techniques that can help in life, and this is one of them.”
More importantly: how do these high stress jobs leave time for the daily practice?
For Sean Hagan, who began meditating 30 years ago while at JPMorgan, the answer is easy: it comes down to priorities. “[…] meditation helps you focus, which is a good skill, and it encourages a one-thing-at-a-time approach, which helps slow things down,” says Hagan, “Therefore, it’s really straightforward for me. It gives me a lot of benefits, so I prioritise it.”
Others, such as Philipp Hildebrand, vice-chairman of BlackRock and a former head of the Swiss National Bank, who has meditated for seven years has said about meditation, “It’s a pause that refreshes. In some ways in the financial world, it is a must.”
As irregular as it may seem, financial executives are looking to yoga, meditation and other mindful ways to ‘get clear’. In preparation for high intensity financial pressures, it may be precisely because of the potential for crises that more are turning to meditation.