The Bank – A Place of Christian Service?
The Bank – A Place of Christian Service?
Last month we spoke to an artist about the relationship between his faith and his work. This time we ask William S. Wyllie a few questions about banking and the Christian faith. Mr. Wyllie is a retired banker, a Trustee of the Free Church and an elder in the Knockbain congregation.
I've a few awkward questions to ask but we'll begin with the easy bit. Where did your banking career begin?
My banking career started in Stonehaven in 1950 in the Commercial Bank of Scotland Ltd. (now the Royal Bank of Scotland). Following two years of National Service in the Royal Army Dental Corps from 1952 and a further two and a half years in Stonehaven, during which time I passed the exams of the Institute of Bankers in Scotland, I was transferred to Dingwall in 1957 and to Tongue in 1959.
By the time I left Tongue in late 1961, I had gained experience in all aspects of branch banking and some experience of lending in Tongue when I acted as Manager during holiday periods. There were only two staff there, the Manager and I.
What path up the ladder did you follow?
After being in Tongue, I spent just over eight years in Head Office, first of all in an administrative capacity in the Trustee and Investment Department and for the last two years in the Internal Audit Department.
From there I returned to Dingwall in 1970 in a Managerial capacity as assistant to the Manager and here I gained considerable experience of bank lending and branch administration, which the bank recognised by promoting me as Manager of the Wick Branch in 1976, the Stornoway Branch in 1980 and as Area Manager, based in Glasgow, in 1985. As Area Manager I had responsibility for 27 branches of the Bank stretching from Glasgow to the Western Isles. I retired from that position.
And could you say something about your spiritual experience?
I was born and brought up in Stonehaven in a Christian home — not Free Church. As a youngster I had a very retentive memory and with encouragement from my grandmother, coupled with a little financial reward, I memorized quite a few portions of Scripture in both the Old and New Testaments.
I was most impressed with Isaiah 53, which showed me so clearly how much Christ Jesus suffered because of his love for sinners. From my parents' instruction and through attending church, I learned quite early in life that I was a sinner but I was in my teens before I saw the need of seeking forgiveness for my sins and of knowing Christ Jesus as a personal saviour. I had no dramatic conversion experience but I do remember clearly the day when I asked Christ Jesus to save me from my sins.
In my late teens I became involved with Youth for Christ in Aberdeen and, from fellowship with Christians from other denominations, I grew in knowledge of God and in witnessing for the Lord through open-air meetings in the summer months.
What was your first contact with the Free Church of Scotland?
My first contact with the Free Church was in Dingwall in 1957. I was attracted into the church by a text on the notice board at the gate and, although I found the form of worship strange at first, I knew by the end of the first prayer that the preacher, Rev. Duncan Leitch, had a love for the Lord and a great desire to tell others the good news of the gospel.
Whilst the warm evangelicalism of the Free Church in Dingwall helped me in my spiritual life, it was in Tongue and in St Columba's, Edinburgh, that I learned more of Reformed doctrine and of the principles and practice of the church, which led me to become a communicant member in 1968. I became an elder in 1973 in Dingwall and I have been an elder in Wick, Stornoway, Partick (Crow Road), Glasgow, and in Knockbain since I came to live in North Kessock.
We accept without difficulty that the material resources of this world are ours to use and develop. But there are still certain areas in regard to the way that money is managed which appear to put Christian faith under a bit of strain. For example, what course of action is open to a Christian bank manager if he's asked to authorize a project which is legal but of which he doesn't approve. Can he, with a clear conscious, provide money to equip the local betting shop?
A bank manager, whether he is a Christian or not, is an employee of the Bank and his chief responsibility is to manage and develop the Bank's business in his branch and to provide an excellent service to all customers. The manager is lending the bank's money, not his own, and if the Bank's policy permits lending to betting shops the manager's duty is to implement that policy.
On being appointed to a Branch a manager might discover that the major borrowers are brewers, distillers, cigarette manufacturers and casino owners. It is quite obvious that he cannot call in these loans simply because of his Christian principles. That does not mean that he is sympathetic towards an application from a betting shop owner and if he has a clear Christian witness a betting shop owner may well decide that any application he makes should be directed to another branch or another Bank.
Another difficulty for some of us is the question of interest. What do you feel when you sing the words "whose coin puts not to usury" (Psalm 15)?
The word "usury" has a meaning associated with extortion, exacting an exceedingly high profit from a transaction. The references in the Old Testament are to lending money to a fellow Israelite who is poor and in need and invariably refer to a personal relationship. The law as stated in Leviticus 25:35 and 36 was made so that a man would not oppress his poor neighbour. In Deuteronomy 23:19 and 20, it is interesting to note that the Israelites were permitted to charge interest on a loan to a stranger.
In the complex commercial world in which we live, which is vastly different from the simple lifestyle of the Israelites of old, a banker is not lending to the poor and needy. The vast majority of lending is either for a business purpose, where the borrower hopes to increase his or her profits by investing the money lent in expanding the business, or to private individuals who have income, surplus to their basic needs, and wish to use it to acquire something now, for example, a house or a car, and pay for it over a period rather than have to wait many years to save the money first.
There is nothing unjust in a lender sharing with the borrower in gains made by the money lent. It is similar to a property owner charging rent for the use of his property. The main principle to observe is that the interest charged should not be excessive.
I have a friend who lives "on benefit". One year she borrowed £150 to give her children a good Christmas and was obliged to pay it back in 52 weekly installments of £5 each. Is this rate of interest wrong?
To charge even £32 interest on a loan of £150 repayable at £3.50 per week for 52 weeks could well be regarded as immoral (Interest of £15 or £20 would be high at the present time). It might even be regarded as immoral even to lend money to a lady who lives "on benefit".
Certainly as a banker I would make very close enquiry into her income and expenditure and I would seek to discourage her from borrowing but rather encourage her to save £3.50 a week for her benefit so that her children could have a good Christmas next year.
Since you think this immoral, is it not something similar that Banks are doing to poor Third World countries?
The lady living "on benefit" cannot be compared with the Chancellors of the Exchequer of Third World countries. Money was not being lent at an extortionate rate and presumably both the borrower and the lender were satisfied at the time the money was lent that the investment of it within the Third World countries would produce a profit sufficient to enable both capital and interest to be repaid. There was nothing immoral in granting the loans.
In order to appreciate why the present situation exists we would need to examine the background to each situation. Was the cause something beyond the control of the borrowing country? Was the economy badly managed? Was there runaway inflation which resulted in adverse exchange rates making repayment impossible? Was the money invested in businesses which failed to produce the expected profit or became bankrupt? Was the money used for the purposes for which it was granted or was it diverted to control terrorism or finance a war?
We should remember that the Directors of the Banks are stewards of the assets of the shareholders who may be you and I and they have a responsibility to recover the amount lent.
With the benefit of hindsight perhaps some of these loans ought not to have been granted.
You must work alongside many that are very materialistically-minded. Is working in this environment not a severe test of spirituality?
Working alongside people who are materialistically minded has not posed any problems for me and I have not felt that it presented a severe test of my spirituality. Perhaps I was fortunate in that as a young person in the Bank I worked in areas where there was a strong Christian base and I found there was a fairly ready acceptance of my Christian witness.
When I became manager, the working environment of course was different because my status was different. As a Christian banker I had to work within the circle of the business community. But here again I was fortunate in the areas of the country where I worked.
Although I did not have to compromise my Christian principles in any way there were occasions when I was not happy at finding myself in situations where, in the eyes of others, I might have been seen to be a poor witness for Jesus Christ. I feel it was important, however, for both staff and customers to know that I was a Christian and to know what my principles were. It avoided potential problems.
No customer ever asked me to engage in any sport or leisure activity on a Sunday or to discuss some business venture on that day. I have had involvement with quite a few charities but I have not been asked to take part in any fund raising activity on a Sunday and if such activity was suggested I opposed it.
How different will a Christian banker be in his business life from a non-Christian banker?
There are many non-Christian bankers who maintain high moral standards and with a few exceptions they are honest and trustworthy. It is not easy therefore to distinguish a Christian from a non-Christian banker. It is what motivates a Christian in his business life which makes the difference. His desire is to please God in all aspects of his work. He should have a greater concern for the welfare of his staff and be more willing to listen to their problems and those of the customers.
To what extent is the world of banking a fruitful field of Christian service and testimony?
Banking is a service industry and all who work in it aim to provide a first-class service to the whole community. There are many opportunities for bankers to serve the Lord. It often surprised me, even as a young person serving at the counter, how customers opened their hearts and were willing to discuss their concerns and hopes for the future.
As a manager I was often asked for counsel and advice and there were many opportunities for a personal witness and testimony. It is a matter for regret that these opportunities were not always taken. I feel I could have been more helpful spiritually to some who were looking for counsel.
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