There’s an ancient saying among the Chinese that ‘Books like friends should be few and well chosen.’ The Richest Man in Babylon by George S. Clason is one such book that can easily be added to one’s personal collection, a claim reinstated by the fact that over the last 90 years (it was first published in 1926) the book’s popularity and readership has always been on the rise. There’s of course the endless banter and criticism from people who doubt its relevance in contemporary times, especially in the capitalist nations, but personally I have found the book and its parables most outstanding and definitely applicable to present times – even to the economy of Nigeria.
The book is regarded in general as a personal finance classic, with parables elucidated lucidly for both the expert and amateur. Though the language is somewhat archaic, (my belief that Clason was trying to replicate the language of olden days), it’s not challenging to comprehend its meaning or learn from it. The lessons come in the form of stories, making it easier to remember and reflect upon, and gradually imbibe and practice. What is particularly intriguing about the Babylonian parables is that anyone can implement them into their lives. In fact, the teachings should be tried as an effortless experiment to witness success or failure.
Every section of the book has a lesson to teach that will help people in dealing with their money and find a way to prosperity. For instance, in the section ‘Start thy purse to fattening’ Arkad, the richest man in Babylon starts sharing his money-making secrets with a basic premise – that you don’t have to be born into wealth to accumulate wealth. You will have to be disciplined, prudent and an opportunist to make your wealth grow. He also suggests that irrespective of the source of your earnings or its volume, it’s important to save almost 10% of your earnings relentlessly, avoid the frivolous expenditures, and make long-term investments with them. That’s a very valuable insight and lesson to take home, especially for the youth of Nigeria. Nigeria is a country where most are not born into prosperity, but that does not mean that one cannot get rich. At Diamond Bank we try to assist our countrymen in fulfilling their ambition by making arrangements for the right beginning – that is, to make substantial and recurring savings. We as such have different types of savings accounts for our diverse customers based on their income type, volume, demography and so on, so that they can make the right start.
Another important lesson that Arkad shares, and is worthwhile is that money should not be hoarded – it must be invested intelligently, so as to manifold it. The section ‘Make thy gold multiply’ emphasizes that even if earnings from investments are small, it must be continuous. This again is one suggestion we at Diamond Bank believe in. We value our customers, and believe that in their growth lies our banks future. We provide them with fixed income accounts and term deposits to help their wealth grow.
The section that is of particular interest to me is the narration of ‘Guard thy treasures from loss.’ It almost reads as if it is unwise to invest in stock markets and only make investments in areas that are safe. As a banker, I cannot completely agree with that. It’s true that recent incidents especially the recession that has hit the world since 2008 are real-time lesson, but I believe that there are times when risks must be taken. One should be prudent, frugal and cautious, and make financial decisions based on sound advice.
There are several other sections in the collection that speaks on similar lines and explains through stories how to accumulate more wealth, eliminate debt, take precautions for retirement, enjoy life and not dedicate all time to building wealth (something that I call balancing personal and professional life) and so on. There are times however that the tales seem predictable, but that doesn’t take the essence away from them. The work is almost comparable to Aesop’s Fables with each tale teaching a new lesson, making it all the more enjoyable, and probably a timeless piece of writing.
It’s certainly a work that I am glad I have spent time reading. It’s made me realize that financial realities don’t change with time. What was true a millennia ago, also holds true today, and will continue to do so.