Association of Christian Financial Advisers chairman Mark Crofts uses the Bible and the teachings of Jesus Christ to offer his brand of financial advice. “Christian IFAs’ perspectives are different,” he says. “We realise it it not just about money, it is about how your whole being is affected by that money.”
Crofts initially trained as a catering technician and, with his wife, opened an organic whole foods restaurant in the early 1980s but he started to look for a different direction after the birth of his first child.
“I bought life insurance in the paper from the RAC and realised the value of it – I got a £50,000 premium for about £2 a month. I thought that was great value and it had really set my family up if anything should happen to me. I had realised how powerful financial products could be and how much good financial advice could mean to people.”
Crofts worked for the TSB in several roles during the 1980s but it was after he moved to Ecclesiastical that he found his calling. “I actually joined the mutual as a non-Christian and became a Christian while I was working there. I think it was more coincidence than anything else but I am sure some of the clergy I met had an influence over time.”
He eventually found himself at Investment Practice, a predominantly Christian firm. “My views of financial services changed as I became a Christian. I realised financial services should be more of a stewardship – it is our job to steward people with what God has given us.”
It was here Crofts learned to apply the principles of the Bible to financial planning, something he and his business partner Kevin Wiltshire still try to instil into their firm, King’s Court, today. He stresses that Christian IFAs are not “Bible-bashers” constantly looking to preach but he does think that some of the Biblical principles that Christian advisers adhere to should be considered by everyone in financial services.
“Integrity, dealing fairly with others, encouraging saving – these things are paramount in the financial services industry right now and if we want to get confidence back into the marketplace and the City, we need to sort it out so that the public who do not have trust can approach advisers and know they will be treated fairly.
Members of Acfa adhere to the belief that God owns everything. “We ask our clients to search their hearts and really understand what they want to get out of life, allowing them to put their goals alongside what they can pay for. Once they have a good understanding of their goals, they can see how they are going to do that.
“God owns those goals too, so if you get them right, the finances will follow. Getting the advice correct might not include products at all, it might just be using what the client has and putting it in place appropriately against their goals.”
Crofts says Christian advisers try to encourage giving as much as saving. “We will always encourage people to be generous but this might not mean a financial donation. It might be generosity in other ways – giving time, for instance. We offer free financial advice to those who cannot afford our planning and that is part of our giving.
“If you do want to offer free advice, you just have to put that into your business plan. Yes, that is difficult at a time like this but God will bless you if you do give.”
He says Christian IFAs work hard at fact-finding and investigating products.
“We do a lot of due diligence with the people and the firms we deal with. We have quite a few meetings and we ask difficult questions on what is behind the investment and about the values of the firm. There is always a lot of soul-searching and if we dislike what we see we will not deal with them.
“It does happen on occasion that we say no to some products and services – we avoided the vice fund that was launched a few years ago, for example, investing in pornography, alcohol and tobacco.”
Acfa has 65 members and Crofts is confident it can increase the number.
“People are searching for Christian financial advisers and it is a growing market. We have people approaching us who are not necessarily Christians but who understand our values. They see us as a trustworthy brand.
“For many of our clients, faith has been important over the last few years. It helps them realise that money is simply a tool given to us to make life work. At this time, when things have been difficult, people’s faith has been even more important because the only one who will not let them down is God – He is the only constant in an ever-changing world.”
Born: Solihull, 1960
Education: Kingsbridge Comprehensive School, South Devon Technical College, AFPC and CFP
Career: (2001-present) partner, King’s Court Financial Planning; (1995-2001) adviser, Investment Practice; (1993-95) regional manager, Bishopsgate IFA; (1991-93) district manager, Hill Samuel; (1988-91) regional manager, Ecclesiastical Insurance Group; (1984-88) adviser, TSB.
Likes: God, my wife and children, Manchester United, hockey, cricket, 80 per cent-plus cocoa content chocolate, real ale
Dislikes: The devil, mange-tout
Film: Lord of the Rings trilogy
Book: The Bible and The Ultra Secret by Frederick W Winterbotham
Album: Mission Bell by Delirious
Career ambition: To see biblical principles adopted within mainstream financial planning advice, regardless of beliefs
Life ambition: To tour the Holy Land for a month
If I wasn’t doing this, I would be…Mentoring parents who have autistic children. Our 19-year-old son Samuel is severely autistic and is doing well