Bird Lovegod: Finance in the Christian way does exist

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Last week I wrote about Sharia compliant Islamic Finance.

This week I’m exploring the Christian equivalent, if indeed there is one. The reason Islamic finance is structured differently is there are clear rules regarding what may and may not be done. With Christianity, and Christian finance, it’s less about rules and more about adherence to principles.

These include treating others as we would wish to be treated, forgiveness, including the forgiveness of debts, looking after the poor and needy, sharing resources, avoiding doing wrong, even loving one’s enemy. These principles translate as moral and ethical guidelines for all aspects of life, including finance and business, all rising from one of the two commandments of Jesus, an instruction to love one another.

So what does it look like when these principles are applied to financial services, and financial technology companies? I myself want to know. Searching ‘Christian Fintech Companies’ brings no such enterprises to light. Perhaps there are none. The phrase ‘Christian Banks’ finds me two, and here they are.

Kingdom Bank grew from a Church Trust founded by Pastor George Oldershaw back in the 1950s. The initial aim was to provide means for new Pentecostal Churches to buy their buildings. By 2005 the fund had evolved into a fully FCA authorised bank. They primarily provide banking services for churches and ministers, and now also groups, businesses, and individuals.

These include savings accounts, ISAs, and also some specifically Christian services. One of these products they call ‘Social Return Mortgages’. These mortgages enable groups and individuals to buy properties to help the disadvantaged, “for ex-offenders, people who are vulnerably housed, people seeking refuge, asylum seekers, people battling addictions/other life controlling situations, people with special needs and people in need of care as they reach end of their lives”.

The purpose of a ‘Social Return Mortgage’ is to serve and love the poor, needy, homeless, and elderly. The difference isn’t in how the mortgage is structured, the difference is why. It’s the practical application of a principle of faith. A ’love one another’ mortgage if you like. The primary aim isn’t to make money. “We aim to place the Lord Jesus Christ at the centre of our business with the goal of seeing lives changed.” That’s definitely a very different approach to conventional banks.

I could write a lot more on this, and probably will at some point, but I want to move onto the next of the two Christian Banks in the UK, Reliance Bank. This one started in 1890, as the Salvation Army Bank, founded by William Booth and his wife Catherine. Again, initially for the purpose of attracting funds to finance mortgages for Salvation Army properties, including homeless shelters and churches.

In 2018, The Reliance Bank, as it is now known, provides the full stack of financial products and services, business and personal accounts. With the notable exception of credit cards, which they consider to be ‘part of the problem’, according to a Guardian article from 2013, which is the last time they were in the press from what I can see. At that point they had 5,000 customers and paid their top five managers bonuses of £489.20p each. I like this bank!

So to summarise, Christian Finance and Banking does exist, in a specialist and niche way, in both instances these financial institutions were created by ministers with impressive entrepreneurial spirit. If William and Catherine Booth were here today they’d probably be working on a fintech company for the Lord. Perhaps it would serve everyone, especially the unbanked and poor.

It would lend money, and if the borrower were truly unable to meet their debts, rather than selling them on to a collection agency the debt would be forgiven. Perhaps the borrower would be asked to do some ‘documented good deeds’ as a social good. Perhaps the no interest would be charged on loans, as with Islamic Finance, and a small management fee would be applied instead.

Perhaps wealthier customers could lend to the needier, interest free, and customers could love one another that way. Perhaps one day they will. It’s certainly got me thinking.