I’ve been reading a lot about souls in business lately. Doc Searls has a thread of posts going with other bloggers about the souls of businesses, and my last post highlights a speech by John Bogle about the soul of capitalism. So, that begs to ask, what or where is the soul of personal finance, and do the companies who handle our finances – the banks, fund companies, brokerages, etc – have a definable, desirable soul?

I definitely believe that soul is missing from personal finance. It’s too much about the money, and not enough about the people and the things people do with their money. As the Chief Happiness Officer, Alex, writes, money does not make you happier, always thinking about money is bad, fairness is what really counts, and more great and true points. That’s what I consider your money mentality, and companies have that too.

A company’s money mentality is derived from its soul, and that shines through (we hope) in how they treat customers and what services they offer. So, what makes up the soul of companies that handle our money? You get poor customer service, long holds on the phone with annoying music and ads that you don’t care about, high interest and credit card rates and companies ready to raise them on the drop of a hat. You get companies that profit their managers more than they profit their investors, and you get a general picture of a bad soul. Excluding a few special companies, I doubt many people would argue with me on this point.

I believe the problem begin with money. These companies see their job as money mangers, people who take money, move it around, and make more money. Banks have become so large that they number their customers just like they number their employees. These companies need to define themselves by more than the dollars they’ve been given. John Bogle defines this as returning to a “trusting and being trusted” environment, but that trust is built on top of action, and that begins by engaging customers and being concerned with their values and goals. Focusing on the easy bottom denominator of big numbers doesn’t provide any added value to the retiring couple or the college graduate.

It might feel strange talking about the soul of business, but if you think about it, then it’s hard to deny that it’s there. Companies are run and owned by people who have their own soul, and this feeds the soul of their companies. Companies have to do more than service a basic need, and I think we can all list off a number of annoyances or grievances, but both companies and customers need to understand their needs, values, and goals before either can help the other.