THE next First Church Estates Commissioner of the Church of England is to be Alan Smith, Downing Street announced on Tuesday. Mr Smith has spent 35 years in risk-management, finance, investment banking, and advisory positions at HSBC and KMPG, and has been a Church Commissioner since 2018.
Mr Smith succeeds Loretta Minghella, who takes up her new post as Master of Clare College, Cambridge, in October (News, 13 November 2020).
The job of First Commissioner involves chairing the assets committee, the team responsible for investing assets of £9.2 billion. Mr Smith will become a familiar face in the Church, as he also represents the Commissioners on the Archbishops’ Council and the General Synod.
Until 2020, Mr Smith was global head of risk strategy and chief of staff to HSBC’s group chief risk officer. He is currently senior adviser at ESG (Environmental, Social and Governance) Risk and Inclusion, where he helps to shape HSBC’s global management approach to climate risk and its sustainability strategy. He helped to develop the bank’s pledge in 2020 to reduce financed emissions from its portfolio of customers to net zero by 2050 or sooner.
He also chairs the systemic resilience forum of the Coalition for Climate Resilient Investment, a flagship COP26 initiative to produce solutions to transform the global approach to building climate-resilient infrastructure investment. The Cabinet Office describes him as “passionate about environmental and social responsibility investment to produce strong financial returns in support of building flourishing and resilient communities”.
The Archbishop of Canterbury, who chairs the Commissioners’ board of governors, said: “I am delighted that Alan has chosen to use his skills and experience to serve the Church, and greatly look forward to working with him.
“Climate change is the most urgent challenge we face, and Alan’s knowledge of environmental issues and risk management will be critically important for the Commissioners’ work.” He went on to thank Ms Minghella for her “hard work and leadership”.
The Archbishop of York also expressed his pleasure at the appointment. “Alan’s experience as a Commissioner, and his role on the Commissioners’ audit and risk committee means he’s extremely well suited for this leadership role,” he said.
The appointment followed a rigorous recruitment process. Mr Smith said after the announcement that he was honoured to be appointed.
“Since I became a Commissioner in 2018, I have seen first hand the impactful work we do to support the mission and ministry of the Church, and I’m excited to bring my financial services, ESG and risk-management experience, and my faith, to this position.
“I’m looking forward to working with the talented team at the Church Commissioners to serve the Church, even as the Church seeks to serve all the people of our nation at this pivotal time. I intend to continue Loretta’s impactful work with the investment team to address climate change, explore opportunities to enhance the supply of affordable housing, and maintain the Church’s exceptional track record on responsible investment returns.”
At home in London, Mr Smith is assistant warden of his parish church. He was born in the Bahamas and educated at the University of the West Indies.
In an interview published on the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students (IFES) website in 2017, he noted with some amusement the “common response” of Christian friends when they learned that he “worked for a bank”: “They want to pray for my soul.”
He told the IFES: “Banking done properly helps the economy grow, which helps people get jobs and puts a roof over their heads. You have to be driven by these values of wanting growth to be equitable and done in a sustainable way. If you do it the other way round, that’s when we have all the problems we have.”
The words that cropped up when he was talking about banking were “straightforward Christian values”, the interviewer noted: “accountability, sustainability, and fairness”. Finance, Mr Smith observed on that occasion, “gives insight into the human condition. Money, or the lack thereof, can do a lot for better or for worse. And for better or for worse, money does make the world go round.”
In his spare time, Mr Smith coaches at his local cricket club. He played in the national junior team in Barbados, and his enthusiasm for cricket is manifested in his position as official adviser to the ACE programme: a national charity that seeks to increase cricket participation in under-served communities.
He has observed that Test cricket, in particular, “reminds me there is an eternity”.