Churches, charities and individuals are experiencing a squeeze on their finances as the coronavirus crisis disrupts, and in some cases wipes out, their income.

Having recently been taken over by Christian finance charity Stewardship and a small group of Christian philanthropists, Kingdom Bank says it is now in an even better position to meet the needs of new and existing customers, undoubtedly creating a welcome sense of relief in these challenging times. 

The Evangelical Alliance spoke with shareholder Jeremy Marshall, who has 35 years of banking experience, to find out what churches, organisations and individuals are up against and how the 60-year-old bank, which says its goal is the glorification of the Lord Jesus Christ”, can support them during this difficult time.

News of Christian investors’ acquisition of Kingdom Bank comes just days after the Government announced three new measures to curb the spread of coronavirus, which resulted in churches and Christian organisations closing their buildings and taking steps to cut their costs.

Sponsored

The lockdown will save lives and protect the NHS but will temporarily reduce church income. Most churches carry prudent reserves and will be able to navigate the present difficulty. Kingdom Bank, Stewardship and the evangelical philanthropists acquiring the bank take a long-term view of the acquisition, which has been in discussion for nearly two years. 

We are very aware of the extreme pressure that churches and Christian organisations are currently facing. Our customers will need extra help and support just at this time, which the new investors are committed to providing. The acquisition could not, therefore, have come at a more opportune moment, and we are focusing all our efforts on helping our customers. 

Stewardship has produced a number of helpful coronavirus updates.

The acquisition of Kingdom Bank by a group of Christian philanthropists and Stewardship will see significant expansion of the bank’s activities. What can customers look forward to and how do these changes enhance the current offering?

We are excited that one of the first things we are investing in will be an online banking service, enabling existing customers to manage their accounts and new customers to apply and save with us online. We believe this is essential for today’s financial services providers. We are also investing in new staff to enable more churches to borrow money to fund church growth, supported by the top quality advice and support they need.

But Kingdom Bank doesn’t yet have an online service. In this day and age – and particularly at this time, when major high street banks have reduced their opening hours and are encouraging people to bank online – how is the bank able to adequately serve customers?

The introduction of an online service is one of the first areas that we are investing in. We plan to roll it out in the next few months. Meanwhile, we continue to provide an excellent personal service over the phone. We have enabled nearly all our staff to work from home with a small team providing essential services in the office, dealing with post and redirecting calls to those working remotely. One aspect we introduced some years ago allows customers to open new accounts without the need for paper-based identification, saving them the painstaking task of certify documents in a branch.

Stewardship is the largest new investor, at 35 per cent. How will the Christian finance charity’s experience, expertise and specialism help to shape Kingdom Bank and what it does?

The two organisations have worked together for many years and the new formal partnership brings together two organisations dedicated to serve Christians in the UK. The potential synergies from working together are significant. 

Kingdom Bank brings deposit, insurance and lending options to Stewardship’s customers; as a regulated business it can provide personal mortgages for church pastors, ministers, youth workers and missionaries. 

Stewardship brings access to new customers, new sources of capital and deposits, and deep expertise in church finance to Kingdom Bank. It already supports many church workers who receive personal support from friends and family. Together we will enhance a range of ministries by supporting individuals and giving them a more certain financial future.

I recently spoke with the director of one of our member organisations – a small charity with projects overseas and in the UK. He said COVID-19 has hit donations and forced them to pause most activities. The charity has only a small financial reserve. What would you say to charities and churches in this situation?

We need to use all the wisdom God has given us at this difficult time, sometimes making bold and tough decisions. We are trying our hardest to support all our customers, providing advice and space for them to manage their own mission. A charity in that position with borrowing should speak to their lender as soon as possible to get whatever help it needs. Both Kingdom Bank and Stewardship are helping churches and charities through these challenging situations. In addition, Stewardship has set up a COVID-19 webpage and is currently running webinars full of sound, practical advice.

Kingdom Bank’s goal is the glorification of the Lord Jesus Christ and it reinvests its profits to fund future growth.

COVID-19 may push churches, charities and Christian workers into financial difficulty and some may consider taking out a loan to tide themselves over. But borrowing would leave them with burdensome debt that may take time to repay owing to uncertainties around the current epidemic and when normality will resume. What’s your view on this?

We firmly believe that borrowing should always be carefully and prayerfully considered beforehand. It’s not right for everyone. Kingdom Bank and Stewardship do not provide personal credit or short-term loans. All our business is long-term loans secured by property, which is carefully assessed and stress-tested for long-term affordability. 

That means that we always work with churches to ensure they can pay back any loan they may take out. For other types of borrowing, Stewardship can help with expert advice on financial planning. Our teams are happy to discuss – without charge – the possible requirements of churches thinking of borrowing. 

Kingdom Bank makes loans to churches, charities and Christian workers secured on property. Is it reasonable to assume that those who borrow during this epidemic and default on their loan repayments can lose their home, church or other building?

Borrowers always run the risk that they may be unable to repay their loan. Kingdom Bank and Stewardship have both for many years made property loans, and defaults are very rare. We always work constructively with our borrowers to help them through their issues where they run into challenges. 

Our experience, therefore, is that most people who find it difficult to meet their payments and discuss their situation with their lender should together be able to devise suitable solutions. This could mean in extremis that a church decides it can no longer keep its property, but even in that exceptionally rare case, we would work with the borrower to make that process much less traumatic. 

Kingdom Bank distinguishes itself from other financial services providers, saying it has a unique business model that helps churches grow and offers a level of personal service that is seldom offered by other institutions. Tell me more about this.

Kingdom Bank’s goal is the glorification of the Lord Jesus Christ and it reinvests its profits to fund future growth. When it considers a mortgage proposal, a key area is the ministry of the potential customer. We are excited by the outcomes of their work and will want to help them find a way to achieve more. 

The bank needs to be profitable to ensure it meets all its regulatory requirements and to invest in the future. However, that is not the main purpose, which is supporting the growth of Christian ministry. Our faith permeates all aspects of our business: for example, when meeting customers it is our normal practise to pray together. Our long-standing and dedicated staff provide continuity and support and know their customers very well. 

Simon Blake, Stewardship’s chair of trustees, says, We are confident the bank’s personal, individual approach to all its customers will enable it to support themduring the current difficult time.” Can you specify how the bank will support customers during this difficult time?

We are responding to a number of calls from churches and Christian organisations with concerns. Some, for example, arrange their insurance through us and we are guiding them through the issues of empty buildings and reduced activities. Others are borrowers, whom we are offering a range of support to help them reduce their expenditure temporarily. Others need to access their savings reserves held with us to tide them over.

Importantly, as with all other UK banks, Kingdom Bank’s depositors are fully protected by the Government’s Financial Services Compensation Scheme, which guarantees all deposits up to £85,000.

How would you advise churches, Christian organisations and Christian individuals to find out more about your products, services and values? Could they speak with someone over the phone?

We would love to talk to you. Our website carries a lot of information and provides direct line phone numbers for our different teams. Alternatively, you can call us direct on 0115921 7250.