As a fan of the HBO show Game of Thrones, I often think about some of the business decisions, money management and financial planning that underpins the storyline and the lessons we can learn from the characters’ mistakes and smart thinking about money. Very few TV shows, even one called Billions (which is supposed to be about big money), deal with the realities of money management. But in Game of Thrones, the Iron Bank of Braavos factors into the background of all the major plotlines, adding a realistic twist to the fantastical stories.
Here are a few key learnings we can also use in our daily lives from the Game of Thrones about financial planning and money management:
- There are repercussions to our financial decisions. In the show, we see how characters and families deal with a bank and the outcomes of their decisions. Uncertainty, poor planning, death and war impact the microeconomic situations of all the GoT characters. One could also draw a parallel to our world today, given political platforms in the U.S. as well as market volatility in China and the recent Brexit decision. All of our current global events play a role in the money and investing decisions we make today and how we plan for the future.
- Risk and return on investment. Whatever you’re current financial resources, change can occur. The Lannisters are always known to pay their debts. They assume risk and more risk, but at some point they can become overleveraged. In financial planning, we need to measure and assess risk with reward and plan for contingencies.
- Making emotional financial decisions. If you are in financial trouble, you may be forced to make deals you don’t want. Even though Cersei doesn’t like the Tyrells, she was forced to align with them because she needed their army. Family factors can play a role, too. Insightfully, Tywin saw that too which is why he wanted Cerseri to marry Loras and for Tommen to marry Majorie. Lesson: without a proper long term plan for your money, including decisions about your spouse and family, you can be forced into decisions that are less than optimal.
- Live within your means. Tywin Lannister is a brilliant military war hero, but he just can’t live within his means, given his upbringing on Casterly Rock. Tywin sees the opportunity to take over the throne at the start of the War of the Five Kings, yet is forced to take a loan from the Iron Bank to have enough to lead an army to seize power. Much like in today’s markets, if you overreach your monetary wherewithal, such as in margin calls, for example, you may be sabotaging your long-term goals. Lesson: stabilize your realm before you take on big financial risks.
So who would be a good character from GoT to emulate? I think Littlefinger. He’s not very popular but his cunning, guile and ability to work around the obstacles before him – both people and events – have brought him vast wealth and power.
Sean Cartin is a vice-president of EP Wealth Advisors, a fee-only registered investment advisory and financial planning firm.