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Minute of the Quaker Business Conference 2013: Towards a Quaker bank

Annual Conference - "Towards a Quaker bank" - Friends House, London, 13th November 2013.

‘Visioning within today's realities to create a better tomorrow - How can we best create a new Quaker presence in the finance space - for the next 100+ years?’

60 Friends, which included many new faces to the Quakers and Business Group (Q&B) and to the Society of Friends, gathered to consider the issues around creating and running a new Quaker bank, focusing on what it could do, what its products could be, how it would manage its risks both financial and reputational, how all stakeholder groups could measure its success, and how it could start trading.

We were welcomed by our Clerk for the Day and Q&B Elder Tim Phillips, who reminded us that we were there to develop a new, and a new type of, financial institution.

To start us on our way we then listened to four presentations, which all highlighted that we need to pick the correct legal form for the job we want to do.

Luke Fletcher from Bates Wells Braithwaite told us about the legal structures available and the law surrounding the different forms of financial institution, and how what you want to do influences the legal structure chosen. Luke covered a variety of structures from simple non-regulated activity, such as crowd-funding, to those that are most heavily regulated, such as deposit taking banks and credit unions. Luke finished by wondering how a Quaker financial organisation would balance control with influence.

Jonathan McMahon, Head of Banking Compliance and Regulation at Mazars, covered aspects of regulation that a new Quaker bank would need to operate within. He started with the question; 'What is a bank?' and answered by saying that it is simply a way of transferring rights between people, with barter being its earliest form. He reminded us that banking is a simple process based on trust, or at least it should be. For a Quaker bank, we need to know what we want to achieve and this will then tell us the structure we need, including our principles and purpose. He highlighted the need for trust, capital and experienced people, along with the ability to deal with regulation. We should be reassured that there is a real demand for new banks to lend money, and there are a lot of skilled people out there who can help us.

Colin Kinloch from Quaker Social Action described the issues around safeguarding the Quaker name. QSA has spent the last 2 years going through their ‘Q-bit’ exercise to understand what Quaker means to them. QSA’s main work involves the alleviation of poverty in East London, and it has a view of how banks serve low income customers, where many are excluded from receiving mainstream banking services. QSA is Quaker lead and Quaker run, and uses the Quaker Business Method. It realised that even though it had been around for a long time it needed to know what being Quaker meant to it now. Colin emphasised how your Quaker values, including openness and listening, influence your governance structure, your identity and how projects are defined and carried out. Communicating this ethos is hard work, and it can only be done if you truly understand it.

John Lovatt, the Convenor of the Quaker Bank Project Working Group, explained that the Quaker Bank Project started two years ago from an idea germinated at a previous Quakers and Business Group conference. He pointed out that this type of project has been tried twice before within the Quaker community and we must learn from those experiences as they were laid down without a bank being formed. A fundamental difference this time is that we want to create a bank with Quaker values rather than a conventional bank for Quaker money. A Community Interest Company (CIC), the Quaker Finance Trust, has been incorporated and highlights of its articles are available on the Q&B website. Its legal form means the Trust is not pressured to make money for shareholders. John said that ‘we don’t want to fail this time so we are starting small and carefully’. The Trusts relationship with Britain Yearly Meeting (BYM) is guided by not wishing to risk the Quaker reputation and certainly not to leave it to pick up the pieces if it doesn’t work. We would like the Trust to be a BYM Listed Informal Group. John explained that the CIC’s constitution includes references to equality and transparency, and will not oppress those it lends to. It would never force borrowers into bankruptcy, and will donate any profits to charity. Ethically it must be responsible to God, and lend money to do good.

After refreshments, and an opportunity to chat and look at the Q&B Marketplace, we started, under the facilitation of Q&B Trustee Nick Pyatt, the first of the group sessions, drawing on the wisdom in the room to form ideas on nine topics; Customer, Regulation, Business Ethics, Products, Out of the box creativity, Legal, the Q-bit, Vision and Evolving the Portfolio.

We started the afternoon after lunch with a period of Worship. We then divided into groups to distil our ideas into a form to be shared verbally with the conference and to be the basis of written reports to be distributed after the conference.

Before afternoon refreshments we came together again to hear some inspiring verbal reports from each of the nine groups.

After refreshments and a final opportunity to network, the day was closed with Worship Sharing and Discernment.

We thank our speakers, group leaders and organisers for structuring a vibrant day. And we thank all the attenders for contributing to what has proven to be a far more valuable day than we had anticipated, and we had high expectations.

Finally, we thank Friends House Hospitality Limited for their superb accommodation, refreshments and food, including the provision for those on special diets.

We look forward to receiving and distributing the written reports in due course and continuing with this very inspiring ‘high profile’ project.

Q&B’s next event will be its Spring Gathering on Saturday 5th April 2014 at the Priory Rooms, Bull Street Quaker Meeting House in central Birmingham, where our focus will be Cooperatives.

Elizabeth Redfern
Co-Clerk, Quakers and Business Group