© Dreamstime

A quiet revolution is gripping the City of London. Fast-paced financiers are turning to “mindfulness”, an ancient Buddhist concept that embraces meditation.

Banks, fund managers and professional services firms are adopting the form of stress relief that allows greater clarity of thought in a world dominated by technology. The combination of meditation and breathing techniques has also been taken up by the mental health sector.

Meditation cultivates the discipline of “selfless attention” and allows people to see the bigger picture, said Kok-Song Ng, chairman of global investments at GIC, Singapore’s sovereign wealth fund. This expanded awareness teaches them to respond rationally, rather than react emotionally.

The adoption of mindfulness by those who might traditionally dismiss it comes amid calls for capitalism to confront greed, materialism and income inequality. A series of deaths among finance workers has raised questions about stress levels and the way employees are treated.

Proponents believe that as little as 10 minutes a day of meditative breathing exercises for 10 days can bring benefits.

Companies are becoming more proactive at addressing wellbeing and ill health, which costs UK employers an estimated £26bn a year in sickness absence, reduced productivity and recruitment costs, according to the City Mental Health Alliance.

Science has legitimised meditation. Dr Tara Swart, a neuroscientist and business coach, said: “Meditation creates both a short-term state change and a longer-term trait change with sustained and regular practice.”

The CFA Institute for investment professionals is considering launching a meditation programme. KPMG, Goldman Sachs and Unilever – and the Bank of England – have presented mindfulness in wellbeing seminars and encourage staff to use meditation apps such as Headspace. The irony of using an iPhone to escape the tyranny of technology is not lost.

Sally Boyle, head of human capital management for Emea at Goldman Sachs, said: “In years to come we’ll be talking about mindfulness as we talk about exercise now.”

Not all firms are prepared to publicise these initiatives for fear of being perceived as “new age”. One financial group that declined to be interviewed said about 1,200 out of 10,000 staff tune in to regular updates about mindfulness.

Mindlab, a training programme, emphasises the science behind mindfulness to appeal to sceptical City workers, couching it in non-religious language and distancing the practice from eastern ascetic clichés of “chanting, lentils and loincloths”, according to co-founder Caroline Hopkins.

The trainers at Mindfulness at Work, another programme, “have experienced the pressure of the workplace themselves and have worked at senior levels”, so they can relate to corporate clients, says founder Louise Chester.


Letter in response to this article:

Watch out for the meditative banker / From Mr Hugo Anson

Get alerts on KPMG LLP when a new story is published

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2022. All rights reserved.
Reuse this content (opens in new window) CommentsJump to comments section

Follow the topics in this article