Author Kabir Sehgal talks money, drugs and religion

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Wall Street was not the world Kabir Sehgal envisioned for himself. The former Atlantan had much grander plans when he headed to Mangalore, India, with a friend to start an online education company. He wanted to build a company that would create change in the world, but when the money ran out, investment banking offered a financial cushion. Sehgal, 32, would quickly learn that money makes the world — and everyone in it — go around.

On Thursday, Sehgal, now a vice president in emerging market equities at JPMorgan, returns to Atlanta to discuss his newest book on just how intricately tied we are to our money. “Coined: The Rich Life of Money and How Its History Has Shaped Us” (Grand Central Publishing, $28) examines everything from the psychological aspects of money to the currency of the future.

“Writing this book left me realizing how omnipresent money is,” Sehgal says. “Money is activating you in a way that maybe you don’t want to be activated.”

Here is what he had to say about some of his findings:

Q: It’s fascinating that money stimulates the brain in much the same way as cocaine. How can the field of neuroeconomics help change our understanding of or relationship with money?

A: Understanding how the mind processes money will help us better with forecasting decisions and financial analysis. Depending on what you do, there are different parts of the brain that activate.

Q: In one chapter, you discuss the relationship between money and religion — prosperity gospel vs. less is more. Why are there such radically different beliefs about God and money?

A: We are torn. From a biological reasoning, we are wired to want more and acquire more and provide for our families. Genetic logic says we are to perpetuate our gene pool and how does that happen if you don’t have more resources? But across all religions, there is the universal logic of less is more. All organisms try to acquire more and more. (Humans) are able to reflect and think deliberately before we make a decision. To be human is to go from “more, more, more” to realizing maybe I can get by with less.

Q: What does the most likely future of money look like?

A: Most likely it will be digital. Eighty-five percent of transactions in the world are still cash. Not just in the developing world. In Germany or Japan, there is not extensive use of credit cards. Part of that is cultural. There is a dearth of credit cards but a plethora of mobile phones. How do you get people to see their mobile phones as a payment device? I think throughout the world, cellphone operators will be well positioned to monetize and get people to use their phones as payment devices.

Q: How can the findings in your book help the average American improve his or her financial literacy?

A: Most of all, it is being aware of what influences our financial decisions. I write about how when you sit outside at a restaurant on a sunny day, you may tip more because the weather puts you in a better mood. No professional money manager is asking, “How does the weather make me feel?” It goes to show, even when you are not thinking about money, you really are. Instead of thinking about money as a dispassionate instrument, you have to think about it as an emotional symbol.

Learn more about Sehgal and his book on Thursday at the following event:

Reading/book signing with Kabir Sehgal, author of “Coined: The Rich Life of Money and How Its History Has Shaped Us”

7 p.m. March 12. Free and open to the public. The event will be moderated by Kevin Riley, editor of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and there will be an introduction by former Atlanta Mayor and U.N. Ambassador Andrew Young. Carter Presidential Library and Museum Theater, 441 Freedom Parkway, Atlanta. 404-865-7100, www.jimmycarterlibrary.gov/events.


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