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The big interview

July 2012 | by Keith Tondeur

The big interview

Financial education charity Credit Action is part of the Question of Trust campaign, which seeks to rebuild public trust in financial service institutions. Credit Action’s founder Keith Tondeur spoke to Sheila Marshall about his journey from being a City stockbroker to becoming a national financial educator.

ET: Which came first, faith or fortune?

KT: I was working in the City of London as a stockbroker and partner in a firm, and in many ways probably doing everything a Christian shouldn’t. I was ruthless and certainly didn’t treat people as well as I could have done.
    My wife and I met some people at a dinner party who said they were born-again Christians and shared what they believed. I thought about it and went to church, but I didn’t grasp very much.
    I read the Bible further. Some bits went in, but a lot didn’t. So I went to see a young curate who had worked in the City. He stripped me of my veneer and told me how it really was. I thought and prayed about it and my life has never been the same.
    I spent 10 years in the City as a Christian and my faith has grown stronger.

ET: Can you give examples where your faith led you to challenge your work environment, and what the consequences were?

KT: As a trader, I would occasionally get orders from companies and would have to say to clients, ‘I’m sorry, but I don’t feel I can deal with that company’, or ‘I personally have problems with this, because it’s in armaments or pornography and I’d rather not do this deal’.
    Initially, my partners thought it was terrible that I was turning business away, but people tended to respect it and came back with something else.

ET: Why did you leave the City?

KT: About 4 or 5 years later, I was asked to help a family in the village who were in significant debt. I said I didn’t know anything about debt. Their response was, ‘Well, you’re a stockbroker. At least you know how to add up’.
    They then introduced me to others in debt. I did this on a volunteer basis for 3 or 4 years by which time my company was taken over by a big bank. I decided that debt was a huge issue, so I left and eventually started Credit Action (CA), with a secretary/PA, in 1992.

ET: Is the public distrust of bankers and financial institutions justified?

KT: Greed and short-termism are endemic. Many people get into debt because, if they’re given the choice of borrowing now or saving up for two years, they say, ‘We will borrow and have it now, thank you very much’.
    The banks have been reckless and done some foolish things, but it would be wrong to say that everyone working in a bank was evil or wrong. We all got caught up in the mood of the time, and we’re all going to suffer because of that.

ET: You say Christians should not put their trust in wealth and find security in God. What could this look like?

KT: Compared to eternity, our time here is but a blink of an eye. Our attitudes don’t usually reflect that as Christians, and they should.
    If we were kinder, gentler and shared things more, we’d be happier. People think that a house will give them security, but interest rates go up or they lose their job, and what they think will be security becomes a source of anxiety.
    We can only find security in Jesus. Even though this is a basic tenet, many of us seem to have lost it when it comes to thinking about material things.

ET: Can you share a bit about your approach to money and possessions?

KT: We pray for people to come to know the Lord and for their lives to be healed. We also need to pray about how we use the money God has given.
    If we have a larger house, we have a responsibility. For example, do we host house groups in this bigger house? Money is neutral, but we tend to feel guilty if we have it, and equally guilty if we haven’t!
    There’s a joke about a £50 note and a 50p coin talking in a bank. The £50 note says, ‘I have a fantastic time. I go to health clubs, hotels and some good restaurants. How about you?’ And the coin says, ‘I go to church quite a bit’.

ET: Have you personally experienced debt?

KT: I took a 90 per cent pay cut when I started CA. My wife and I live in a one-up-one-down; and that’s all we need.
    I’ve not been in debt myself, but we know those who have. I’ve had a phone call from a man on the 6th floor of a car park threatening to jump. Redundancies and young people not getting jobs are distressing, so we do whatever we can to help.
    I know what despair debt can cause and that’s why I’ve dedicated my life to try and alleviate those problems.
    
ET: How does Credit Action work?

KT: We are a dozen strong and we’re lean. We try and work with organisations so we don’t reinvent the wheel. For example, we worked with Gingerbread for the Single Parents Guide and the National Union of Students on our yearly students guide.
    If we see a need, we still meet it. I produced a redundancy guide over three years ago. I think it was the first of its kind and no other guide was written for at least a year after that. Even though CA takes a huge hit, we ensure those guides are available free of charge.

ET: Do people see you as an authority on the biblical view of money?

KT: When I’m asked a question, I will say, ‘I think this is what the Bible says; this is my opinion’.
    A lot of questions are difficult. Some people will say you should be tithing whether you’re in debt or not and God will provide. Another argument is that tithing while you are in debt is tithing other people’s money.
    We also get asked about debt, lifestyle, insurance, savings and pensions, which we have to think and pray through.

ET: How can the Question of Trust campaign make a
difference?

We just got the Archbishop of Canterbury’s support for our work, along with organisations like the Institute of Financial Planning and Financial adviser. We say to financial organisations, ‘It’s in your and consumers’ interests to be honest and fair to customers’.
    We are already getting some quite positive noises from some major companies. We don’t want to see vulnerable people who are in debt worry about their family breaking up or their children being taken from them.
    If the customer can believe that the options that have been offered are true and that the lender is doing what is best for them, and they have a safety net for when things go wrong, then I think we’ve made a huge improvement in our society. That’s what all my time is being spent on at the moment.

ET: Is there a Bible verse that reflects your faith journey?

KT: The one I quote the most is, ‘Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven’ (Matthew 6:19-20).
    In many ways, one’s goal in life is to go to heaven and take as many people as you can with you. That’s a simple statement, but I think it’s my role. You do this by living a lifestyle, and people see that.

ET: What verse encourages you?

KT: Jeremiah 29:11: ‘I know the plans I have for you’. Verses about contentment encourage me. We live in a very discontented society and are usually discontent about what we haven’t got. Paul’s teaching helps us to learn to be content — and content with less.
    Most of us will have to be content with less in the coming years. The rest of us will have to cut back on our lifestyle, so that young people can find jobs. We might need less holidays and an older car.

ET: What helpful lesson have you learned so far?

KT: Don’t be afraid of putting biblical values into society. They do get listened to. We get listened to on the campaigns that we do.
    Working within God’s will, working in the service of others, and sticking to your principles can impact society.
    Don’t think that because Christianity is bashed in society, you need to hide. Choose your battles. When you think God is calling you to say or do something — even if it’s not within a Christian environment — that voice is a powerful thing.

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