Personality Plays a Bigger Part Than IQ in Financial Success

Personality Plays a Bigger Part Than IQ in Financial Success

"The higher your IQ, the greater the probability you will earn more than average." 

Like many people, I have believed this common money script to be true. It seems to make sense that the smarter you are, the more likely you are to succeed financially. Many of us assume there must be a correlation between higher incomes and high cognitive abilities as measured by IQ tests. 

I was surprised, however, to learn that this is not the case. A study published in November 2016 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences showed that a high level of innate intelligence is no indicator of financial success.

A December 2016 article in Bloomberg cited one of the co-authors of the study, economist James Heckman. When he asks how much of the difference between people's incomes can be tied to their IQ's, most people guess between 25% and 50%. The actual number is about one or two percent. 

The study found that personality plays a much bigger part than IQ in financial success. The personality trait that was most strongly associated with earning a high income was conscientiousness. 

What, then is conscientiousness? One definition from the English Oxford Dictionary is "wishing to do one's work or duty well and thoroughly." A conscientious person is described as diligent, dedicated, perseverant, self-disciplined, meticulous, attentive, careful, studious, rigorous, and hard-working. 

The article also warned to be careful not to confuse a high IQ with good grades. They are two very different things. It found that grades and the results of achievement tests were better than raw IQ scores at predicting success. Cognitive ability is only one factor in getting good grades. There are several non-cognitive factors that heavily influence grades, such as perseverance, good study habits, and the ability to collaborate. All of these, of course, are qualities of being conscientious. 

The study also found that a secondary trait influencing financial success was curiosity. This is one of the nine traits commonly found in people with high emotional intelligence, according to Dr. Travis Bradberry, author of Emotional Intelligence 2.0. In a November 2016 article titled "9 Habits Of Highly Emotionally Intelligent People", Bradberry says that emotionally intelligent people are curious about everyone around them. "Curiosity is the product of empathy, one of the most significant gateways to a high EQ." Bradberry says the more a person cares about other people and what they're going through, the more curiosity they will have about them. 

The bottom line in financial success is that personality counts, a lot.

This is good news for parents of young children. While you can't do much to influence a child's IQ, you can influence conscientiousness and curiosity. 

One way to do this is through direct teaching. For example: Give them some responsibility for household chores. Provide work spaces and schedules to foster good study habits. Help them explore and learn about things they show interest in. Show them that you appreciate emotional intelligence and relationships. Encourage them to finish what they start, and celebrate and appreciate their successes when they persevere. 

To teach financial conscientiousness, encourage kids to save for things they want. Allow them to experience the consequences of financial misjudgments like spending all their allowance the minute they get it. Involve them in family projects like planning and saving for a vacation. 

Of course, just as with most behaviors and personality traits we would like our children to develop, the most effective form of teaching is by example. The best way to raise conscientious and curious kids is to let them see us being conscientious and curious ourselves. 

Rick Kahler
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Rick Kahler, MSFP, ChFC, CFP is a fee-only financial planner, speaker, educator, author, and columnist.  Rick is a pioneer in integrating financial planning and psycholog ... Click for full bio

The Lies Spread by Bankers About Cryptocurrencies

The Lies Spread by Bankers About Cryptocurrencies

I had a chat with The Financial Times the other day, and provided lots of background as to why I don’t think cryptocurrencies are the choice of criminals. The comment that was reported was the following:

Chris Skinner, a financial technology author, said it was “complete rubbish” to suggest the main use of cryptocurrencies was criminal. “There is some criminal activity associated with some cryptocurrencies but it is quite minimal,” he said. “It’s a myth that the financial community want to promote.”

I feel I need to explain this further, so here goes.

My response was in answer to Vasant Prabhu, Chief Financial Officer of Visa (the card network) who made two claims:

1) Most people have no idea what they’re doing with cryptocurrency investments; and

2) Cryptocurrencies are mainly being used by criminals.

With the first point, I agree. In fact, I loved the John Oliver Show that discussed crypto and started with the line that cryptocurrencies are “everything you don’t understand about money combined with everything you don’t understand about computers”. A perfect combination for idiots to invest in. I agree with both Vasant and John, as many people are buying cryptocurrencies for no other reason than other people are buying them.

The second point I completely disagree with. Mr Prabhu said cryptocurrencies were a “favourite” for criminals.

“It’s very hard to get dirty money through a banking system. Cryptocurrency is phenomenal for all that stuff . . . Every crook and every dirty politician in the world, I bet, is in cryptocurrency.”

This is complete baloney and is a smokescreen being created by financial people to deflect the real purpose of cryptocurrencies, which is to use software and servers to manage value rather than buildings and humans. In other words, cryptocurrencies have the opportunity to reduce or even replace banks, which is why I find it interesting how often I hear a financial person say that bitcoin and cryptocurrencies are just for criminals when it’s blatantly not true. Unfortunately because they are in a position of authority, politicians believe them; and unfortunately, because they are also in a position of authority, the media believes them; and unfortunately, because they are in a position of authority, the public sometimes believes them too.

Most law enforcement authorities however, state that the levels of criminal activity with cryptocurrencies is so tiny today that it doesn’t matter and, specifically, does not warrant deflecting their time and energy to investigate them. Just to illustrate this, the total worldwide investment in all cryptocurrencies is around $300 billion today. Even if criminals were running 10% of that, it’s still just $30 billion. That is an insignificant amount compared to the trillions being laundered through the traditional financial system, mainly through offshore companies buying up properties.

From The TelegraphNovember 2017:

Organised crime generates income equivalent to around 2.7pc of global GDP. Around $1.6 trillion of this is laundered to disguise its criminal origins: financial crime is undoubtedly a worldwide problem.

From What Mortgage, February 2018:

Julian Dixon, CEO of Fortytwo Data, whose research found that more than a third (37%) of all suspicious activity reports (SAR) across the entire legal sector were related to property: “For criminals, the vast amount of cash involved in property purchases provides the perfect cover for laundering the proceeds of drugs, terrorism and firearms offences.

From The TimesFebruary 2018:

Rob Wainwright, director of [Europol], revealed that 3 to 4 per cent of the £100 billion of illicit cash circulating in Europe is laundered through anonymous digital currencies such as bitcoin.

So that’s around £4 billion max right now. That’s less than a particle of a drop in the ocean of crime globally.

Now, the concern may be that cryptocurrencies offers the opportunity to launder funds. This is possibly true and is why I said there is some criminal activity with some cryptocurrencies which is tiny today, but might grow over time. Even then, it is speculative and too early to call. For example, that paragraph from The Times is factually incorrect, as bitcoin is not anonymous. In fact, nearly all digital transactions can be tracked and traced online, and therefore offer the worst use case for money laundering.

This is why the only currency that criminals currently use in any volume for illicit activity is Monero, because it is nearly an equivalent of digital cash. Nevertheless, the total market cap of Monero is $3 billion, and even if half of that is criminal activity, it’s totally insignificant on a global scale.

All in all, it is obvious that most financial people have created this myth of criminals opting for cryptocurrencies for two reasons:

1) it is to protect their turf, as they don’t want to lose their role as intermediators of finance; and

2) it is to deflect the authorities from looking at the true perpetrators of illicit monetary activity, namely the banking system.

Bear these two points in mind when I say that banks were built for the physical distribution of paper, which is why cash and property are the physical assets that are the preference of criminal choice. If you didn’t know it, London is actually the money laundering capital of the world:

  • British registered companies and British-based banks helped move at least $20 billion of the proceeds of criminal activities out of Russia between 2010 and 2014.
  • Transparency International’s research found 766 UK corporate vehicles involved in 52 large scale corruption and money laundering cases approaching valuations of £80 billion.
  • Around half of the 766 companies alleged to have been involved in high-end money laundering were based at just eight UK addresses.
  • The Home Affairs Select Committee hearings found that the London property market is the primary avenue for the laundering of £100 billion of illicit money a year. No wonder first time buyers cannot get on the property ladder.

If anything is the preferred market for money launderers then it is banks, not cryptocurrencies. No wonder financial people are trying to deflect the media elsewhere.

Bottom-line: as all things move to digital distribution of data, the trail to audit such movements get easier because they can be sniffed out and monitored; as a result, most criminal activity will continue to leverage the weak links in the chain, which is the physical distribution of paper through cash and property assets in the traditional financial system.

I’ve written a lot on this in the past and would point to these two blog entries for more:

And there’s also a lengthy but worthwhile read about why bitcoin cannot be regulated, as it is protected by America’s first amendment and the right to free speech.

Chris Skinner
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Chris Skinner is one of the most influential and prolific thought leaders on the future of banking, finance and technology. The Financial Brand awarded him best blog and ... Click for full bio