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Could we revolutionise banking as if people and relationships mattered?

Could we revolutionise banking as if people and relationships mattered?

Sarah Pierce makes the case for a Christian model of banking which is deeply relational. The seventh in our debt series. 13/05/2019

As a Christian banker I lapped up “Forgive Us Our Debts”. Despite Jesus talking about money roughly 15% of the time, churches seem to rarely talk about it, never mind the financial services sector. For those that work in this sector, this means we miss the opportunity to hear a spiritual input on our working practices and cultures.

We already have a Christian bank in the UK. Kingdom Bank was launched to serve the church and now also serves the charity and social impact market as well as missionaries, church and charity workers. For the last two years I have served as a non–executive director, having previously worked for one of the largest UK banks.

What difference does our Christian basis make?

THE POWER BALANCE – Forgive Us Our Debts discusses the “disproportionate power institutional lenders have over [the] individual” and states “new ways of ensuring risk is equitably shared must be found”.

Kingdom Bank began as a community response to a community problem. In the 1950s a group of churches were growing fast and needed to borrow money to buy or build premises. High street banks struggled to provide mortgages due to their reliance on congregational donations as their key repayment source. Kingdom Bank was launched as a vehicle to enable churches with surplus cash to deposit savings to fund the buildings of those churches that didn’t have access to the cash they needed, in a model similar to that of the original UK building societies.

Most individuals and organisations place savings or reserves with their high street bank and have little idea how their money is being used. Most of Kingdom Bank’s depositors have chosen the bank in order to consciously support its mission. Having broadened our mission, our deposits now enable us to provide mortgages for church buildings, charity premises, housing for those living with a disability, for the homeless or those rehabilitating from addictions, or for those working overseas as missionaries seeking to buy a property for later in life.

Our licence to operate is granted by our depositors placing their funds and their faith in us. This means we need to consistently and responsibly fulfil our aims and lend responsibly and sustainably. This emphasis on stewardship impacts on the power balance at play; we do not hold disproportionate power over customers, in fact, we need them! It is too challenging and expensive for a bank of our scale (£54m balance sheet) to fund ourselves through the money markets, or from unengaged retail depositors, so we need depositors who buy into our mission. Instead of seeing ourselves as at the top of the food chain (as many perceive the banking sector), we see ourselves as a service provider. We make a modest profit which is, in turn, reinvested in the bank’s growth or is distributed to the charity that owns Kingdom Bank.

RELATIONSHIPS MATTER – “lending and borrowing as if relationships matter”.

We are deeply relational. We believe in our customers’ missions. A customer of ours recently articulated this as: “In business it’s a dog eat dog world, where nobody’s bothered as long as the money’s coming in, but it’s totally the opposite with Kingdom Bank. They care about the people that they are investing in and giving mortgages to. They care about whether people can afford the repayments.”[1]

We get to know our customers. We visit nearly all our customers on their premises. For a Nottingham–based specialist bank that certainly comes at a cost when you’re lending £200k to a charity in Plymouth! One customer commented, “I went with Kingdom Bank because they actually came to visit and sat down and had a sandwich and talked to us.”[2] Whilst we clearly need to operate efficiently, we don’t do so at the expense of relationships.

We have another less visible relationship at play, between our depositors and borrowers. They have subscribed to the same mission and values by banking with us and, whilst they don’t generally know each other, the relationship of support and co–dependence between them is part of the foundation of strong relationships for Kingdom Bank. We are lending and borrowing through relationships, because relationships matter.

PRODUCT DESIGN – We’ve designed our products through a deep knowledge of our particular customer base and their needs.

Having worked in start–ups for the last five years I’m familiar with the thorough approach to listening and questioning that good start–ups go through in order to ensure that they design products around customers’ true needs. Banking products have historically been too often designed by credit policy teams rather than through consultation and deep understanding of individual customers and their needs. Banks tend to source customers that are a good fit for their product suite, rather than creating products that fit for a specific customer group.

We have built up deep knowledge of our customer base, and their risk profiles, and we want to find ways to serve them and meet their needs. As a result, we recognise unusual and combined income sources such as gaining income from the letting of church premises for community use, grant funding or from individual missionary supporters. We also allow for increased flexibility in our residential mortgages for missionaries or other charity workers who want to rent out their property whilst they are working away for extended periods.

POINTS OF TENSION – “God’s transforming economy of grace”

Are there points of tension? Yes. As a UK regulated bank, we have to balance ‘God’s economy of grace’, which is mentioned in the report, with the FCA’s principle of treating customers fairly. That means we can’t be outlandishly generous and gracious to one customer and not another. We hear countless stories of generous gifts and legacies from church members which churches then use to pay down some or all of their mortgages. We ensure that our mortgages are structured to allow for that generosity, and guide our customers to mortgages that will allow repayment without excessive penalty.

There are some immediately obvious ways in which we operate as a Christian bank – our website states that we are a Christian bank on our homepage, we serve the church and charity market, and we are prayerful in our business decisions. But it is the stories we hear that remind me of how our service as a Christian bank is impacting people’s lives. Stories like Ryan’s, who, as he left prison, moved into a property owned by members of the local church and financed by one of our social impact mortgages. His story is a reminder of why we do what we do.

The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of Theos and St Paul’s Institute. For our views, read our report on debt.


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[1]

Kingdom Bank qualitative customer research undertaken by Oulton–Lee Q1 2019.

[2]

Kingdom Bank qualitative customer research undertaken by Oulton–Lee Q1 2019.

 

Image: beeboys/Shutterstock.com

 

Sarah Pierce

Sarah Pierce

Sarah Pierce is a Non–Executive Director on the board of both Kingdom Bank and Home Instead. She is soon to launch Dynamic Boards to inspire a new wave of talent to consider non–exec work.

Posted 13 May 2019

Christianity, Churches, Forgive Us Our Debts

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