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Goodness has a cost, Welby tells bankers, but also a value

23 January 2015

iSTOCK

Profits; Canary Wharf, in London 

Profits; Canary Wharf, in London 

THE Archbishop of Canterbury has challenged bankers to focus their attention on serving people, not just maximising their profit margins.

Speaking at a conference in the City of London on Monday, Archbishop Welby said that banking must have a "moral compass" at its centre which give priority to the needs of ordinary people rather than the bottom line.

He told the audience at the "Financial Inclusion: The Next Move Forward" conference that pursuing moral banking would not always be profitable, but it was always the right thing to do. "All good moral choices have a cost," he said. "There is a myth that good morality is profitable. It may be, but that is purely coincidental. It is always worth it, even when it costs."

Archbishop Welby, who was a member of the parliamentary commission on banking standards, argued that large banks received a huge amount of implicit support in the shape of government guarantees worth tens of billions of pounds every year.

Given this, he said that they had a duty to look after the most excluded parts of society by expanding free-to-use cash machines, loans to small businesses, and alternatives to payday lenders.

There had been significant progress since the so-called War on Wonga began (News, 25 July 2013). The financial regulator had taken action against "usurious interest charges" levied by payday lenders, Archbishop Welby said. Much more could be done, however.

"First, we must recognise the place of financial inclusion as a piece of the fundamental infrastructure of a good society. Secondly, it is essential to ensure that financial services are people-centred. They are called financial services for a reason - they need to serve.

"Without good access to normal banking services, economic life in a local area will diminish and almost disappear. It is as bad as if there were no local roads, or local electricity."

Including the poor in the banking system could not be left to charities or to Government, Archbishop Welby said. Instead, it should be the responsibility of the big banks, two of which (RBS and Lloyds) were still mostly or partly owned by the taxpayer after government bailouts in 2008.

He went on: "Of course profits have to be made, but they need to be measured not only in terms of their absolute return on capital employed, but also in terms of the human cost of achieving that return."

He also hailed the contribution from churches to building a more inclusive financial system, and in particular a primary-school programme, LifeSavers, which teaches children how to manage money through running saving clubs at school.

The scheme, which is being funded by the Treasury, is now being piloted across England.

In Bradford, the diocesan director of education, Richard Noake, described LifeSavers as "transformational".

"The LifeSavers project is a fantastically conceived programme," Mr Noake said. "I am genuinely excited by the approach as it firmly roots children's learning in practical experience."

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