From finance to faith – former banker gives back in Leith

He’s the minister who featured in the New Statesman last week under the headline ‘ the banker who found God’.

Minister of South Leith Parish Church Rev Ian May is known in his parish as the man who took on the payday lenders.

Using his expertise from a former life as a banker, Mr May helped establish what he describes as a “social justice mission” that provides the community with an affordable alternative to the payday lenders, the Castle Community Bank.

Ian May
Minister of South Leith Parish Church Rev Ian May is known in his parish as the man who took on the payday lenders

1. Can you explain the background to creating Castle Community Bank (CCB)?

The CCB was developed to help those in our community who may feel they have no option but to use exploitative and high cost payday lenders or retail outlets that charge large fees and prices for white goods and furniture. CCB was launched in July 2016 by bringing together two small community credit unions in Edinburgh. The aim of CCB is to provide affordable, accessible and responsible options for savings and loans. It is to give all in our communities’ access to this and not just those who are financially exploited. CCB is not a ‘poor person’s bank’ it is a bank for all.

2. Is it making an impact?

Yes, we have grown our membership by over 70% since July. The number of savings accounts and loans dispersed has increased by almost 100% or doubled since July 2016. People are using our online service to open a savings account and apply for loans with instant decisions and then the money is paid directly into their bank account

3. Why become a minister?

It is a challenging job and draws on all your life skills. A minister has to be there for all the community regardless if they are church goers or not. It is a role founded and operated upon relationships, first and foremost your relationship with God, with your congregation, your family, your parish. It is all about people so if you are not a people and relationship person do not even think about it!

4. Was it easy to make the transition?

Moving from a professional career into parish ministry does have its challenges, both personally and financially. The training helps a great deal and studying at university gives you the time and space to reflect and in some ways prepare yourself for the transition from your past career to ministry.

5. What skills from your career have you used as a minister?

Most of the skills I developed in my business life I will use at some time. The diverse nature of a parish minister calls for a wide range of skills. One of my biggest challenges is: ‘Am I a minister or a manager?’, and I would have to say both, depending on the situation I find myself in.

6.You had a visit from the Cabinet Secretary for Communities recently to the bank, was it encouraging?

Ms Angela Constance was very encouraged by what she saw and indicated that this could be a model for community banks/credit unions that could be rolled out all over Scotland. In turn we have been encouraged to engage with the Scottish Government to develop what we are doing and to see how they can support and help us develop.

7. Would you ever go back into the world of finance?

No

8. Do you think there is a need to get the message out to low-income people that support is there?

What we need to do is to get all people involved in supporting and using the community bank because we cannot be sustainable purely in helping those who are financially exploited.

We need all in our communities to know and use the service we provide. It is the 80/20 rule. If 80% of our customers are financially included, then we will be able to help the 20% who are financially exploited and that it at the core of we do.

Read more about the work of churches across Scotland in providing more ethical financial services.

Interested in becoming a minister? Take the first step here.