IGP Stories

Rethinking financial innovation

Financing Prosperity

Dr Christopher Harker

12 October 2021

Finance often conjures up images of glass towers, (white) men in suits, extravagant wealth and extravagant lifestyles. But finance also takes place in mundane spaces, involving a diverse cast of characters doing things to help ordinary folks get by. These alternative stories of finance need more airtime if we are to rethink and reshape the role finance plays in society. This article retells one such story, about a group of ten Jamaican migrants, living in Hornsey in 1962. This group changed finance in the UK in ways that are still impacting communities, including University College London.

Bentley Hines, Blair Greaves and Basil Lewis and seven other members of the Ferme Park Baptist Church were unable to get credit from banks. Their solution to this discrimination was to create an informal savings club, something long practiced in their native Jamaica. Two years later, this club was formally registered as Hornsey Co-operative Credit Union (CCU). Credit unions are not-for-profit savings and loans co-operatives dedicated to promoting saving rather than borrowing. Hornsey CCU was the second registered credit union in the UK. The first, Wimbledon Credit Union, had been incorporated six days earlier. Hornsey CCU played a pivotal role in the creation of the Credit Union League of Great Britain in 1967. This organisation became the Association of British Credit Unions Limited in 1984, which is now the main trade association for credit unions in Britain. When Wimbledon Credit Union was wound up in 2005, Hornsey Co-operative became the oldest surviving credit union in the UK. In 2013, Hornsey CCU merged with London Capital Credit Union (LCCU). Elaine Greaves, daughter of Hornsey CCU co-founder Blair, serves on LCCU’s board.

This story both conforms to and departs from familiar scripts about finance in London. For instance, in February 2021, the Lord Mayor of London, William Russell, argued that ‘innovation is why London is ahead of New York, Hong Kong and Frankfurt as world's financial capital.’ Hornsey CCU might be cited as one example of such innovation. And yet, many of London’s earliest financial innovations – including long term credit instruments and transnational financial networks – were created by businessmen making money from the Atlantic slave trade. London retains its reputation as innovative by largely forgetting such histories, although the fabric of the city itself continues to offer prompts for those concerned by these colonial legacies.

If financial innovations rooted in colonialism are based on racism and exploitation, Hornsey CCU offers innovation based on solidarity, cooperation and equality. These values continue to be at the heart of London Capital Credit Union’s work. That is why IGP’s Financing Prosperity Network members Christopher Harker, Amy Horton and Shaun French have worked with LCCU Chief Executive Martin Groombridge and UCL’s HR department to set up a salary saving scheme at UCL. By joining this scheme, UCL employees will not only have access to LCCU’s products and services, but also support the ethical provision of credit more widely. This is one small step in nurturing forms of finance that enable shared rather than individual prosperity. Many other steps will be discussed in ‘Rethinking how we finance prosperity’, our autumn 2021 Soundbites and Seminars series.

Martin Groombridge, CEO of London Capital Credit Union talks about the creation of the UK's longest continuously running credit union by West Indian migrants.

Dr Christopher Harker leads IGP's Financing Prosperity Network and his current research examines existing and future financial systems and practices that enable people to flourish within planetary limits. Dr Harker is Director of Research at IGP.

Photo by Jonathan Cooper on Unsplash

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