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Interview: Kit Beazley, Kit Beazley, UK Head of Finance, Triodos Bank

08 August 2014

'It's the only place I've worked where "love" has been mentioned in a management meeting'

Triodos is one of the world's leading sustainable banks, making money work for positive social, environmental, and cultural change. 

I'm a chartered accountant, with more than 20 years' experience in financial services, from multinationals down to a UK building society. I'd been praying for months, feeling I should look for work where I felt no conflict with my faith rather than looking for the highest salary. 

At Triodos Bank, I do financial reporting and control, management reporting, budgets and forecasts, tax, and treasury management. I'm also part of the UK senior-management team, and oversee the various types of risk-management and reporting for the UK. We've about 110 co-workers in the UK, and a small finance team; so I jump from strategic issues down into the detail and back again. 

The biggest difference is that, in every decision, we have dual objectives of being a well-run commercial bank and making money work for positive change. When we lend, we don't just look at credit-worthiness, but also at what the money is going to be used for. 

We're transparent about where the money goes, and publish the full list on our website; we're open to scrutiny on all those decisions. 

In one day, I could move from deciding how to record a small transaction in our accounts, to making investment decisions on millions of pounds, to debating whether lending to a particular customer for a particular purpose is consistent with our mission, up to strategic planning for the next five years. 

I'm really proud of what Triodos Bank does, and find our customers inspiring: well-known names like Café Direct and Ecotricity, alongside community ventures and charities - all driven by a desire to make the world a better place. 

I'm annoyed by what some bankers have done over the past 30 or 40 years to what should be a socially useful system. Banks should just be putting people who need money in touch with people who have money to invest, and pooling the risks for sensible wealth-creation in the real economy. It shouldn't be about financial speculation: that's a different game. You don't have to do that to be a profitable bank. 

Sustainable banks like Triodos lend an average of 76 per cent of their balance sheets to the real economy, but the big banks only lend about 40 per cent; so the difference mostly goes into the speculative economy. That's the bit we don't do. 

The commercial world in general works with different values, and if you don't believe that money is the only arbiter, you may find yourself at odds with people. At Triodos, people challenge me rather than the other way round. We're rooted in the balance between financial, environmental, and social goals, and it would be a difficult place to work, especially at senior level, if you didn't share that desire. 

I'm as bad as anyone, but we consume three-planets'-worth of resources in the UK currently, and the United States uses seven-planets'-worth. To change that needs a sacrifice, it's true, but, living as we do, we're sacrificing our children and grandchildren's resources, and other people around the world - and they have no choice. 

How do you incentivise people to find better ways of living? We throw away seven million tons of food in a year in this country; so it's not so much about sacrificing living standards as a sacrifice of effort. 

What's surprised me most is the role of the heart in Triodos Bank. We talk about "the head, the heart, and the hands". It's about understanding your intentions. I feel freer to be open about my religion, because the culture is one wherethe spiritual dimension is recognised and valued. It's the only place I've worked where "love" has been mentioned in a management meeting.

I haven't been to Greenbelt before, but a faith-based arts festival with lots of good music ticks all the boxes. And Sinéad O'Connor is an added bonus. 

I'm speaking there about why transparency in banking is so important. If we are conscious of how our money's being used, we'll take back our power, and use it as a power for good. Fair trade got people to think about the power of their purchasing decisions over the past 25 years. We need the same to happen with savings and investments. 

We get caught up in the hostility to bankers. I'm ready for that. We come across it quite often. OK, I'm a banker: what are you going to jail me for? I don't want to defend the banking industry as it stands. We're trying to demonstrate that banking can be profitable and benefit people, and there's evidence to back thatup. 

Christians aren't any better - or worse - informed than the rest of the population. They're as hampered as anyone else by the complexity wrapped around financial services products, not all of it necessary, which hides the basic social interaction between lender and borrower, or investor and company.

But the Bible talks about justice, about stewardship, and about putting one's resources to good use; so Christians might be more vocal in asking questions about how money is actually used, and by whom. 

I like spending time with my family: Clare, Kate, and Bethan. Meals together, and clearing up afterwards, are special. I also love sailing, and playing the guitar and singing. I lead family worship at church - more New Wine than Westminster Abbey.

I don't remember a first experience of God. Usually, I find I've prayed, then stuff happened, and I've thought: "That all turned out all right, then." Then I discover that there were too many "coincidences", and realise that God was in charge all along. It happened when we found a church when we lived in Chepstow, or when we moved to North Wiltshire, or with my move to Triodos. Recently, I woke up in the night and sensed that I should pray for a friend in Uganda, and discovered afterwards that she had been really ill that night, and needed prayer.

I was brought up in Surrey, in a stable Christian family. I've two sisters, both married; two nieces;25 first cousins dotted aroundthe globe; and numerous distant cousins in the US, which is probably why I take quite a global view, and dislike nationalism. I'm married to Clare, who's an accountant, and have two daughters: Kate's at university, and Bethan is halfway through sixth form. 

I love places where people are friendly, food is interesting, and where I can see the beauty and awesomeness of nature. I'd love to go back to Brazil. I always feel a sense of release if I stand on a Cornish beach or cliff top, or ontop of any of the UK's moun-tains.

I'd like to find more time to think: I've come to realise in the past year how important that is. I'd like to persuade people that love is contagious; and that its enemy is indifference. 

My grandparents and parents for the values they instilled and exemplified, especially the sense of duty and justice. And my wife, Clare, a constant source of loving challenge, with whom I've made all the big decisions. 

Must Success Cost So Much? by Paul Evans and Fernando Bartolomé made me realise that society tends to recognise and value success in professional careers; but, typically, we all have other careers as well: as a spouse, as a parent, as a friend. Society's bad at recognising success in other careers; so they don't get the priority they deserve. We have tried. 

A Walk Across the Sun by Corban Addison woke me up to the injustice and horror of human trafficking.

I find most of my prayers end up being for guidance: "Please show me what you want me to do." I think we're often the answer to our own prayers: we just don't know what to do, or we lack thestrength or confidence to do it on our own. 

My first choice of a companion in a locked church would be Clare, but, if she was too busy gardening, I'd settle for Justin Welby. I'd welcome a few hours honing ideas about conscious use of money, and how financial services could be more of a force for good. I'd also like to know what he thinks of Triodos.

Kit Beazley was talking to Terence Handley MacMath.

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