Quakers and Banking
Banking – a Quaker Ponders
“Well, Friend”, said the Quaker Banker, “Tell me the answers to these questions so that I may help you in your projects, for you have opportunities: 1. How much do you seek to borrow? 2. For how long? 3. And how will you repay the loan plus its interest? These are the issues all good bankers must explore.”
“Hmmm”, he pondered, having listened to my less than precise exposition of my needs and my over excited account of my dreams, “I think you and I need a longer chat.
A business plan showing the answers to my queries is a structured, disciplined thing, and completely essential to us both, and you have not written one yet. You see, to borrow money is a very serious thing to do. First, we must fully trust eachother and I must fully understand the nature of the use to which the funds are to be put. For they are not my funds, you see. I hold them on deposit for others, who have entrusted me with their life savings and their future security. Then, for me to lend on to you, I must feel fully confident that your venture will earn a sufficient return within an agreed period, for you to meet your needs, for me to be repaid well enough to run my business – and for my depositors to be remunerated too. And in case things go wrong, I must have some security for my depositor’s funds. Shall I meet that cost, or will you? All Bankers live by the trust depositors have in them. They trust me to invest their money wisely, return it to them when they demand it - and pay them a rate of interest in the meantime. Further, as a Quaker, I add some ethical tests too, the deeper spiritual roots of which we could discuss after Meeting, if you so wish.”
Here are some Queries about some of our Banker’s ethical concerns. What Advices might you write today?
a) Is it right to spend money on a posh holiday, a luxury car or a lounge suite? How do you convince yourself that spending your surplus on luxuries at your scale of things fits with our commitments to simplicity and helping the poor? Further, is it OK to actually borrow money to do such, er, frippery, fun, things? Shouldn't you save it first? Should a Quaker Banker encourage or permit you to spend first on fun etc, with the money entrusted to them?
b) Is it right to permit your customers so much credit that you are likely to go bust if they do not pay you? But if you refuse, they may be forced into bankruptcy.
c) How indirect does an investment in (or taking money from) something harmful have to be to make it ethically OK? Two steps away, maybe three? How are we to decide?
d) Is it right to lend money when maybe the borrower cannot repay it? Is it OK for the lender not to worry about that, because they intend to package it with better debts, sell on the whole to others, without fully disclosing the repayment risks? (Caveat emptor!) After all, creating more lendable money, ie credit, in this way makes it easier to lend more money to create more jobs! Surely, job creation is good?
e) There are more… do please suggest some, or read the Quakers & Business Group’s book: Good Business Ethics at Work, available from the Quaker Bookshop.
Oh, for the simplicities of a bygone age… Friends Lloyd, Pease, Barclay, where are you now? Were your times as ethically taxing?