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08 March 2016

Chris Sheldon: chief executive of Kingdom Bank

Chris Sheldon: chief executive of Kingdom Bank

Chris Sheldon is chief executive of Kingdom Bank, a Christian bank using savings to build God's kingdom.

Tell us about Kingdom Bank and how you got involved.

Kingdom Bank is one of the best kept secrets in the Christian community. I found Kingdom Bank about 14 years ago when I was looking for a way to use my skills in banking to do something to grow God's kingdom. I'd been working in banking for 25 years at the time and thought there must be a better way to use money than simply to use profits.

The bank was started in the 1950s by an Assemblies of God church leader who was planting new congregations, travelling around the country, and realised that he needed to get hold of some money to buy buildings for these new congregations to meet in. At that time he couldn't arrange to fund that from donations and borrowing from a bank so he decided to set up a fund that he put some money in and got some other churches to put some money in. He used that to lend to these new congregations.

That organisation became a registered charity; it then got authorised to become a bank, to formally accept deposits from people to lend for that purpose. Later on down the line in the early 2000s the charity set up Kingdom Bank as a trading subsidiary to run the whole operation through in a more professional manner.

How does your faith impact the way you work in the finance sector?

My work in the banking industry had been lending money to people who were simply using it to make a profit for themselves. I'm not saying there's anything wrong with that, but it seems to me that the Bible says more than that about how we should use money and possessions and the assets that are available to us. If we believe the important point that everything comes from God and that 100 per cent of what we have comes from God, or belongs to God and He's allowed us to use some of it, then surely there must be a way to use that to expand the kingdom.

That's what I was looking for – a way to do that, bring about some positive change. Kingdom Bank was a unique opportunity to do that and I try to keep that at the centre of what we do all the time: that we do use finance that's available to us, put into our care by customers, to change people's lives and to build the kingdom.

What does Kingdom Bank offer customers?

We provide three broad services: a range of savings accounts; lending to churches and charities, and anyone who wants to use the money to change lives for good, including church ministers and missionaries; and insurance brokerage, providing insurance for churches and charities to protect what they do and their properties and assets that they own.

Our ethical investment policy means that all the money that we take in from customers is used to make loans to churches, charities and other organisations. The investment is the loan we make – we don't buy stocks and shares. We're lending money for purposes that will bring about positive change to the community, the churches and the people that attend the churches. We're not interested in loans to fill holes in roofs, we're interested in loans to develop and build properties that can reach out to the community.

How do Kingdom Bank practises differ from secular banking?

Our purpose is very clear: to build God's kingdom and to change lives for good. We've set out some very clear values as to how we go about that: keeping God at the centre, valuing people properly, handling finance responsibly, and changing lives for God. That impacts the way we do everything, from our weekly staff prayer meeting through to setting interest rates.

We base all of our business around what's best for our customers, whether those are individuals or churches and charities that are a large part of our customer base.

Handling finance responsibly means actually looking after the money that we have under our control, looking after it in terms of what we do with the money, so it's kept safe but it's also used for purposes that help to grow the kingdom or change lives.

Should Christians be involved in secular banking?

Christians should definitely be working in the secular finance world, and as someone who worked in the secular finance industry for years, I'd say we should be praying for those that lead it to sort it out. I do think the broader finance industry can do huge amounts of good for people in society, and there's no reason why people shouldn't be participating in that and adding to that.

I think it's also fair to say that we as an organisation are working within the secular finance world because we have to – we're part of the economy of the UK so we have to deal with other financial institutions and we're regulated by the Bank of England. I have meetings with the Bank of England because they need to know what's going on here, and actually that's a good opportunity to witness to them about what's going on here, the good things that go on within church life.

What are the specific ways that Christians can pray for people within the finance sector?

I think all people who are in decision-making roles need to be clear thinking and make wise and careful decisions. That applies to us at Kingdom Bank, but it also applies to anyone working in the banking industry. I also think that we need compassion to deal with difficult situations because you do come across people with problems and issues, and you need to be able to handle those and look after people.

And you need to be fair and firm sometimes – there have been occasions while I've worked here that I've had to say to a church that I'm not prepared to lend them the money for the thing that they think God is calling them to do, because my professional experience would say that actually it doesn't look the right thing to do. Obviously in the banking industry that happens all the time, and it's how you do it that's important.

For more on ethical investment, read an exclusive online idea article here.

The latest idea magazine looks at evangelicals' relationship with consuming, and you can read the edition here.