Does wealth make you greedy?


We are financial planners and wealth managers.  For several years, I avoided the term "wealth manager" because I had an unease with what that implied.  I feared that it sounded exclusive and pretentious. I worried that it communicated that money was the most important thing.   I liked what I heard a colleague say at a conference, "Money isn't everything, but is one thing."  And we can agree that one thing is important, so it is necessary that we make good decisions with our money.  

I got into this business to help people make wise decisions about money.  What I have no interest in however, is one's pursuit of wealth being the most important thing.  There are advisors that are happy to work with those people, but for us, we prefer people to have a more balanced approach to wealth.  We especially like it when people want to create, build, or protect their wealth to have a sustainable lifestyle, provide for their loved ones and give back to the community at large.

So it was with interest that I came across this article from Scientific American, entitled "How Wealth Reduces Compassion."  It is worth contemplation but let me highlight a couple of points they mentioned:

  • Research indicates that upper class individuals are worse at recognizing the emotions of others. 
  • Because wealth often offers a sense of freedom and independence, we may care less about others feelings.
  • Wealthier people are more prone to agree with statements that greed is justifiable, beneficial and morally defensible.  

These are troubling and reflect the tension I feel both personally and professionally.  I want my life's work to mean something, I want to help people, but I do NOT want to be an accomplice in the elevation of greed. I think we do better when everyone does better, not just myself alone.  

Of course, these are just studies, not mandates.  Wealth can be used for good, not just for self interest.  What's your thoughts? How do you balance thoughtful reflection and proactive decision making about money, and the pull that those activities may have on self interest?  How do you use you wealth to help those around you?  

We'd love to hear your thoughts!