At this time of year, at graduation ceremonies in America and elsewhere, those about to leave university often hear some final words of advice before receiving their diplomas. To those interested in pursuing careers in finance – or related careers in insurance, accounting, auditing, law, or corporate management – I submit the following address:
Best of luck to you as you leave the academy for your chosen professions in finance. Over the course of your careers, Wall Street and its kindred institutions will need you. Your training in financial theory, economics, mathematics, and statistics will serve you well. But your lessons in history, philosophy, and literature will be just as important, because it is vital not only that you have the right tools, but also that you never lose sight of the purposes and overriding social goals of finance.
Unless you have been studying at the bottom of the ocean, you know that the financial sector has come under severe criticism – much of it justified – for thrusting the world economy into its worst crisis since the Great Depression. And you need only check in with some of your classmates who have populated the Occupy movements around the world to sense the widespread resentment of financiers and the top 1% of income earners to whom they largely cater (and often belong).
While some of this criticism may be over-stated or misplaced, it nonetheless underscores the need to reform financial institutions and practices. Finance has long been central to thriving market democracies, which is why its current problems need to be addressed. With your improved sense of our interconnectedness and diverse needs, you can do that. Indeed, it is the real professional challenge ahead of you, and you should embrace it as an opportunity.