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Christian origin of Australian financial institutions

By Michael Jensen - posted Tuesday, 12 June 2018

Two of the founders of AMP, back in the 1850s, were notable Christians who had become prominent in other businesses in Sydney town: John Fairfax and David Jones, both members of the Congregational Church in Pitt Street (now Pitt Street Uniting).

Westpac, until the 1980s the Bank of NSW, was began in 1817 by a group of Christians led by Edward Smith Hall. Hall also founded the Bible Society and the Benevolent Society. He was a protégé of William Wilberforce, the great British anti-slavery campaigner, and was noted as an (often controversial) advocate for liberal values in the colony.

This father of Australian banking was committed to the equality of all human beings as made in the image of God, and also an understanding that we are deeply flawed. The bank was to be a bulwark against exploitation and corruption, for the common good.


What has been lost?

We've lost the notion that what social institutions need to accumulate is not capital, but trust. Trust is no longer a prized asset, to be guarded and nurtured. It is instead an opportunity to dupe consumers.

Our financial institutions have lost their original vision of service, which was inspired by the Christianity of their founders. Without a sense of duty to a higher being, these once-great vessels of probity and assurance have now become highly-mechanised and unscrupulous profit-engines.

The personal faith of our pioneers in financial services shaped a whole industry to the service of the nation and its people. Many of us scoff at the personal faith today. But given what we've just discovered about the current state of banking, maybe that faith wasn't such a bad thing after all.

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About the Author

Michael Jensen is the rector of St Mark's Anglican Church at Darling Point. He has a doctorate in Moral Theology from Oxford University.

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