Financial Porn

On financially transmitted diseases: Derivatives are like sex. It’s not who we’re sleeping with, it’s who they’re sleeping with that’s the problem. – Warren Buffett

In an age of round-the-clock news dispatches akin to heard it before it even happened, it’s any wonder that those affixed to their personal electronic BFF can appreciate what life was like before the realm of mobile devices, the internet and social media. It’s also any wonder that intimacy in relationships has a fighting chance. How could it when we as a collective population are being trained to consciously and unconsciously shy away from personal connection with eye to eye contact? Advances in technology have brought tremendous advantages to those who wish to connect but are geographically or physically separated. Sifting through the endless, inbound informational torrent to focus on what we need to know or want to remember becomes a waning personal skill. So, who’s minding the relationship while most of us are minding our phones, tablets, laptops, Twitter and Facebook? At greatest risk to our interpersonal connection is the ever increasing pull away from in vivo intimacy between individuals that creates and maintains affection and towards communicating via a virtual conduit.

SMThis shift toward hearing and away from active listening poses a greater risk to deeper emotional intimacy. A diminished willingness to hold attention is typical of what I witness in my therapy sessions with couples. “You never listen” is not just the complaint of a problematic relationship, it has also become an epidemic in a world that is exchanging convenience for content, speed for meaning. The richness of life doesn’t lie in the loudness and the beat, but in the timbres and the variations that you can discern if you simply pay attention.”1

This comes as no surprise to any clinician or treating therapist. I frequently find myself prompting clients during our session to silence their phone (or several) as it rings on muted vibration. If a one or two hour session cannot make it without interruption, what’s to become of a couple’s daily marital and relational routine?

“Where was that photo taken?” Rob was a 37 year old trader/banker who was calmly scanning my office for distraction. Although we were sitting far from Wall Street, Rob was dressed in a smart Dolce & Gabbana, Martini suit complete with black Italian leather apron wing, Prada shoes—nothing to scoff at. Finishing off his look were knit argyle socks peeking out from under his pleated trousers. He was the epitome of influence and finesse! However, Rob wasn’t trying to make a fashion statement so much as he was striving for a bid at power in this initial session. He didn’t need to say, “Back off.” His power attire would do this for him.

The richness of life doesn’t lie in the loudness and the beat, but in the timbres and the variations that you can discern if you simply pay attention.

This couple had been referred by a personal friend of theirs, whose name Rob was quick to toss out as a power play. Close beside him sat his wife, Chelsea, who, however, would not look or turn in his direction. This was rather telling. By Chelsea’s appearance she seemed far less interested than Rob in wrestling power from me in the session. “In Nepal, as were the others. Have you been there?” “No, but I will be retiring after I collect my bonus later this year. I’ll be doing a lot of traveling…well; we’ll be doing a lot of traveling.” “Retire?” “Yes—I’ve arrived. Chelsea and I want to take off and get away—isn’t that right?” I wondered if Chelsea had ever heard about this before now. “Perhaps, before you both do that we can start with why you’re…” My words were interrupted by Rob’s phone that was vibrating. I hadn’t yet asked them to silence their phones, but Chelsea was quick to remind Rob, a request which appeared to be a daily if not more frequent appeal. Chelsea began to talk about why they came to see me.

“I’m concerned about Ron’s recovery from sex addiction. He’s been looking at pornography which is a problem since he has supposedly been in recovery for sex addiction now 5 years.” Rob sat quiet. “And, frankly, I’m not happy about how Rob controls the money.” I wasn’t impressed or intimidated by Rob‘s vying for power although truthfully, I did enjoy his fashionable taste for expensive attire. What did concern me, however, was that he made every effort to discredit his wife’s concerns. Further, he ensured distance and disconnect between them by allowing his phones to ring incessantly. There is a fine line between passion and obsession, no doubt, but when a partner registers enough discontent and frustration, so as to schedule a therapy session to discuss the adverse effects of an unremitting interruption of information and technology, it is clear that the relationship needs help. For Rob and Chelsea, it remained to be seen where the line was drawn between requisite business and precarious disruption from intimacy.

If money is to Wall Street and sex is to porn—then where do the tools and tricks of their individual trades intersect?

Financial Porn

Nowhere is this informational flow more prized than in the global financial arenas where information and timing is everything— timing of an (IPO) initial public offering, knowing when to bring a deal to market, being first to the bid* or at the ask**, what we know but more importantly when we knew it, and first action taken on that information. The corner office has given way to the corner cushion on the living room couch or at the local coffee shop. Keeping up isn’t necessarily just with The Joneses; it begins to take on an obsessional quality. As is the case with any behavior (in this case sex, work, money and financial issues) obsession suggests a preoccupation to the exclusion of other parts of your life without care or awareness of the consequences of that behavior. The endless torrent of financial reporting can be mind-numbing for those involved in the financial arenas as well as those standing in their seats on the sidelines; partners and spouses left wondering which financial verdict will do the greatest damage to their financial health.

Financial Porn is a savvy catch phrase for the ever expanding filler in media and financial coverage. The phrase refers to the “short-term focus by the media on a financial topic that can create excitement but does little to help investors make smart, long-term financial decisions, and in many cases clouds investors’ decision-making ability.”2 Financial porn exemplifies the constant advertisements for easy-access trading-strategy software, the hyped front page proclamations extolling funds’ large fortunes resulting from minimal investments, and never-before-seen sector trends and mutual funds of tomorrow. It’s what the advertising guys and gals have known all along: sell the sizzle; not the steak. For the uninitiated, knowing what to ignore and what to pay attention to (much less having the self-control to do so) amidst the blitzkrieg of newsworthy and not-so-worthy financial news can be easily forgotten in the haze of a mind-numbing trance. Compare the definition of financial porn to the Oxford Dictionary definition of pornography: “Printed or visual material containing the explicit description or display of sexual organs or activity, intended to stimulate sexual excitement.” 3 Amidst this deluge of financial, monetary and sexual distraction is a relationship most likely relegated to the proverbial back seat.

In The Headlines

If money is to Wall Street and sex is to porn—then where do the tools and tricks of their individual trades intersect? Wall Street has long been characterized by high risk, high stakes gambits. The mostly men and the fewer women who take their daily place in the money machine are undoubtedly not the same people who seek serenity for their daily payload. My years in finance and on Wall Street have taught me many things but of particular note, I’ve learned that money and sex not only make for addictive bedfellows but they also make for great headlines, titillating scandals (in and out of the office), and auctioned movie rights.

To most of us, the names and significance of Jordon Belfort or Howie Hubler are meaningless. Back in the 1990s, when Belfort scammed his brokerage clients out of $US100 million, it was marginally news worthy. That’s because the years of financial largesse, greed, sex, drugs, and junk bonds were still reaching their blinding zenith. Howie Hubler had yet to be blamed for deceiving his clients at Morgan Stanley out of almost $US9 billion in 2007 (yes, that’s a “b” as in billion folks!) and retreated to his financial man cave only to reorganize and restructure outside of the authority of the Security and Exchange Commission’s reach. For whatever reason, Mr. Hubler’s multi-billion dollar meteoric rise and fall didn’t garner enough attention to catch Hollywood’s eye. No matter because at the time of this writing (and perhaps prior to release) Mr. Belfort’s story is being told in a movie directed by Martin Scorsese with Leonardo Dicaprio playing Belfort himself. Belfort’s notorious drug addiction and high stakes money game was replete with sexual escapades. Escorts and prostitutes do make for great screen fodder. Unfortunately, they also make for real life disasters.

The tools of a financier’s trade include investment derivatives, models of risk and uncertainty, and financial instruments. The tools for many neuropsychologists and researchers now include fMRI and PET scans.

A Penny For Your Thoughts?

In a matter of speaking, if there was ever a time to be alive, now is it! The therapist in me says this from the perspective of evolving research into the undiscovered synapses and crevices of the brain and the current advances in understanding human behavior. The financial trader in me says this from the perspective of advances in economic science, commodity pricing and business cycles.

Back when I was actively trading commodity options I often wondered (although similar thoughts still cross my mind) what those traders were thinking as they go about their trading day, in between their wielding of hands in an array of chaotic yet carefully choreographed signals? Aside from the cacophony of noise and undulating intensity on the commodity trading floor, I wondered; what lurked deeper within their brain mass? Are they driven by primal emotions of the market or was there more to it? After all, if the conversation on the floor wasn’t about money, it tended to be about sex. And, if it wasn’t about sex, then the trading day must have been over. Between the forty or so male traders and myself in the sugar pit there wasn’t much more conversation beyond this range of discussion. So what does sex, you may ask, have to do with any of this? Well, as far as my male trading counterparts were concerned and what science now has to disclose—it appears, a lot! But we’ll get there in a minute.

If the tools of a financier’s trade include investment derivatives, models of risk and uncertainty, and financial instruments then the tools for many neuropsychologists and researchers now include fMRI and PET scans. Gone are the days of hypotheticals and theories. Brain scans today are replete with the ability to observe real-time activation of our pleasure and reward centers in our brains. Many authors who have written on the subject of pornography addiction have emphasized the rise in compulsivity and addiction due to the internet’s relative ease of access, affordability, and anonymity—that Triple A engine as it is known. So it makes perfect sense that the two worlds of financial risk and sex could be brought together. Those fMRIs can watch us watching porn and suffice it to say that the area of our body’s activation is no longer just detected between our legs!

Financial and Sexual Superconductors

When the likes of sexual and financial pornography collide, the fundamentals fuse to convert into a superconductor of pleasure and escape. How does this happen and what are the components of brain and behavior that drive this engine? What affects our decision making process under an onslaught of continual doses of sexual and financial porn? A new and growing field called Neuroeconomics is attempting to bring the science of brain biology together with psychology and economics to explore exactly why and how we make the decisions we make certainly.

Let’s revisit my male counterparts in the sugar pit. A recent study has helped determine what exactly is going on in the minds of financiers (and I suppose male sugar traders, too) when they take risky monetary gambles—it’s sex. A group of researchers at Stanford University conducted a study that involved 15 heterosexual young men. “It focused on the sex and money hub, the V-shaped nucleus accumbens, which sits near the base of the brain that plays a central role in what you experience as pleasure. What they found was when these young men were shown erotic pictures they were more likely to make a larger financial gamble than if they were shown an image of something scary or neutral. The brain’s reward area lit up at about the same time as risky decision-making.”4 In a matter of speaking the increased activation in the reward area induced a feedback loop of higher risk-taking. Higher activation fed higher risk-taking which tended to act much like a self-perpetuating feedback loop.

Back in my office with Rob and Chelsea, their relational shift away from active listening and toward disengagement clearly posed a significant risk to their intimacy. Rob’s unwillingness to relinquish his attachment to an endless torrent of financial information (and apparently to pornography as well) was just the tip of the iceberg for this couple. Shortly into the session, Chelsea risked Rob’s silent rage by admitting her disdain of his addiction to pornography. She also voiced her discontent for how Rob used money to control vulnerable family members. I allowed Chelsea to talk freely while keeping an eye on Rob’s posturing. It takes a sex addict to know one and I was aware that Rob’s wry affect served as a brazen attempt to deter Chelsea from confronting his sex addiction. For that day in my office I cannot say that Rob and Chelsea made any successful inroads toward emotional reconnection and resolution. In fact, I never saw them again, but I can only hope that they chose to address their issues with another therapist. Sometimes, that’s just the way it is.

Excerpt from Debra’s forthcoming book due in 2013

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* Bid—an offer made by an investor, a trader or a dealer to buy a security. The bid will stipulate both the price at which the buyer is willing to purchase the security and the quantity to be purchased.

**Ask— the price a seller is willing to accept for a security, also known as the offer price. Along with the price, the ask quote will generally also stipulate the amount of the security willing to be sold at that price. This is sometimes called “the ask.” www.investopedia.com

1 Seth S. Horowitz is an auditory neuroscientist at Brown University and the author of “The Universal Sense: How Hearing Shapes the Mind.” NY Times, September 9, 2012

2 Jane Bryant Quinn an American personal-finance writer who has been teaching and writing on financial wellbeing and disseminating personal finance advice in person, columns, and book.

http://janebryantquinn.com/

3 http://oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/pornography

4 http://v2.moneyscience.com/Finance_Focus/article495

 

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