Casting Light at Christmas

Yesterday evening I was listening to the story of a young family man, working in the financial services industry who, on Christmas Eve was on the brink of taking his own life. The financial services company he was running had lost money, investors’ finances were threatened, and criminal charges were looking unavoidable.

This is a story that would not be unfamiliar to charities like the Samaritans and Mind, particularly in the dark days of the 2007 financial tsunami.

But happily, and rather unusually, this young banker was saved at the last minute … by his guardian angel.

It’s a Wonderful Life

The guardian angel was Clarence, the young financier was George Bailey and the story, It’s a Wonderful Life, is watched by millions of us every Christmas.

It’s fiction of course, but like some of the best stories, it is shot through with the starkest of truths. And in this instance, the darkest of truths. This was a guy under intense financial pressure, whose financial distress had seeped out to affect his whole life and distort his sense of his own worth.

It got me thinking….

At Castlight, we strive, above everything else to deliver ‘a safer financial world’ and I’d like to think we could have helped George Bailey, long before he stood on the edge of the bridge on Christmas Eve.

Christmas Pressure

For anyone unfamiliar with the plot, here’s a quick summary. When George Bailey’s father died, leaving the Building and Loan company without a director, George gave his college tuition money to his brother Harry and unwillingly took up the reins, on the condition that Harry took over the Building and Loan when he finished uni. Four years later, Harry returned with a job offer from his father in law and George resigned himself to keep running the family firm. Sometime later, there’s a run on the bank, misplaced funds and potential arrest for George. George feels he’s let his whole family down and wishes he had never been born.

Sadly, there are a lot of people like George. So, each year, as we look forward to Christmas, it is good to be reminded by charities like Mind and the Samaritans, that for people with mental health or financial problems, Christmas can ratchet up the pressure to sometimes, catastrophic levels.

There are all sorts of reasons why people get into debt. That’s why Castlight Financial recently launched the Big View at the House of Parliament with the Big Issue’s Lord Bird. The Big View helps people in debt, often people who have been brought to the brink of despair, to get back on track, using affordability technology to understand and resolve their financial problems.

If we’d been around at the time, I believe the Big View could have helped George Bailey. We could have been his guardian angel and he would never have walked onto that bridge.

There are lots of people out there needing guardian angels and I’m glad that the Big View is doing its bit to cast light into the finances of more and more people with debt crises.

These are important, pressing issues and ones we need to think about amidst the bright lights, ringing tills and chinking glasses.

Plot Rewrite

But I’m not quite done with Its a Wonderful Life! And, with a lighter touch I’d like to leave you with some small plot re-writes which, had I been around in 1946 I would have suggested to director Frank Capra.

I think George could have gone off to university with his brother Harry, as his CastScore would have shown sound financial behaviours merged with a strong credit score and he would have got an affordable loan for Harry’s tuition fees. Uncle Billy would simply have had to step up and hold the fort until the brothers both finished university. Working at the coal face of the business Uncle Billy would have learned a thing or two about management and would never have been daft enough to misplace the $8,000 that caused all the trouble.

Four years later George and Harry, with their MScs in Fintech would return to Bedford Falls and invent the Affordability Passport. There wouldn’t have been a run on the bank, because the Building and Loan would be thriving, underpinned by the Affordability Passport and CastScore which would ensure that only people who could safely afford to repay loans would be able to take them out. George and Mary wouldn’t have to prop up the bank with their honeymoon savings and would have enjoyed a week in Paris, sipping fine wine at a pavement café.

Fortunately for all lovers of Its a Wonderful Life, Frank Capra told his story his own way. And I for one, will love it once again this Christmas.