Joe Kesler, the CEO of First Montana Bank for the past decade, is well-aware of the common stereotypes of bankers, especially after the last financial crisis started in part because of the greed on Wall Street.
In his new book, “Smart Money with Purpose: Liberating the Goodness of Money in Your Life,” Kesler recalls how one of his Midwestern friends would good-naturedly greet him on the phone by saying, “It’s so cold out here that I saw a banker with his hands in his own pockets!”
Kesler knows his friend was joking, but it’s the manifestation of a wider sense of mistrust on the part of “common people” toward bankers. Kesler’s book aims to reconcile religious faith with the desire to accumulate wealth, or "synthesize God with mammon" as he calls it.
“The financial crisis that led to the Great Recession had provided an apt laboratory to investigate the spiritual decay behind our economic downfall,” he wrote. “If we are honest, we will see that we too are easily deceived by the allure of quick riches. Empirical research in recent years has confirmed what the Bible has taught for thousands of years: we do not find happiness in more and more money.”
Kesler’s solution to protecting people from that deceit is for people to consider themselves stewards of God’s wealth.
“This powerful and radical idea will transform our lives as we seek to multiply the value of the gifts we have been given, whether they are monetary or spiritual,” he wrote.
Kesler starts off with what he calls a metaphysical question: Is money good or bad?
“And it sounds philosophical, but that seems to connect with people,” he said. “People don’t know if money is good or bad don’t know if they should feel guilty about earning money. It’s got a good purpose, but it can be corrupted.”
Kesler’s point in the book is to convince people that money is good, as long as it’s gained and used in the right ways.
“I’ve had people say that it changed their whole life to just realize that it’s OK to make money and to live with it as something good rather than something that is unknown whether it is good or bad or evil,” he said.
Kesler said the book provides a way to look at money as something not to accumulate, but rather a way to allow them to think about their purpose in life.
His own career crisis came in the 1980s when he attended a Christian conference in Chicago. He realized that the vendors were promoting the position that all lending at interest was condemned by God and that the entire banking industry was morally wrong.
“Being a committed Christian, I had to take that challenge seriously and look for a new line of work if they were correct,” Kesler wrote.
The book deals with Kesler’s journey to go on a research mission to resolve that apparent conflict. He eventually discovers that religion and money can indeed be compatible, but it takes work.
Kesler spent three years writing the book, and finally published it in October.
“I’ve always had a passion for helping people successfully manage their money,” he said. “And of course being in the banking business I’ve had 37 years of opportunity. But working with churches, I’ve had many encounters with people who are getting married and didn’t know anything about money, or somebody’s ready to file bankruptcy or something. And I ended up doing counseling, and at some point, I just decided to teach a course.”
Kesler said all the material he read on financial literacy was formulaic.
“It was always, follow these six steps and you’ll be financially free,” he remembered. “But to me, money is a deep and rich topic that interacts with our lives. And I think there’s a lot more to dealing successfully with money in your life.”
Kesler said he got passionate feedback from people he counseled, telling him to put it all in a book to reach a broader audience.
"I didn’t see anything out there that went in that direction, from the internal sort of looking at your life purpose and understanding the concept of stewardship,” he said.
The concept of stewardship is a major theme throughout the book.
“We all get weird when we have the chance to make a lot of money very quickly,” he explained. “And it causes us to do things we wouldn’t normally do in our ethical framework. The concept of stewardship is that we don’t actually own it. It’s been given to us by God. And we’re here to make whatever we have been given in life multiply and be productive in life. It’s a whole different framework of looking at money if you are actually managing it for a higher purpose rather than just the raw accumulation of wealth. And those are some of the changes that I hope people that read this book grow through.”
The book is available on Amazon, and more information can be found at smartmoneywithpurpose.com.