BWC is an occupational benevolent fund. Funds like ours were usually established in the 19th century, and today this sector pays out £125m yearly in grants and welfare support to its members.
We were founded by bank clerks to provide for the children of ill or deceased colleagues. Subsequent mergers widened our range and we now serve a community of 1.8 million people (2.8% of the population) connected with banking. We have exponentially increased the help we provide by evolving from purely grant-giving to providing a range of services through leading specialist charity partners.
Today we have £50m in resources and, like many charities, we use the income generated by investing these resources to finance our charitable activities.
Our board had been interested in social investment as a way of creating social impact since the Charity Commission updated its guidance in 2011. This allowed charities to invest their funds for social as well as for financial return, rather than for financial return alone.
We started building knowledge by joining the Social Impact Investment Group (SIIG), which brings organisations seeking investment and potential investors together. For BWC, this has been a major source of potential investment opportunities and a platform for us to become recognised as an active social investor - so much so that we now have requests made directly to us.
In 2013 our board set aside £1m for social investment. We established a new sub-Committee to focus on it; this we subsequently folded into our Finance & Investment Committee as social investment became ‘business as usual’. We also, importantly, have a dedicated staff resource responsible for finding and evaluating investment opportunities.
By April 2017 we had four investments totalling £723k. Our first was a corporate bond with a fixed coupon issued by Greenwich Leisure Ltd (GLL). Subsequently we invested in two managed funds – the second Social Enterprise Investment Fund (SEIF II) managed by Big Issue Invest and the Evergreen Fund managed by Bridges Ventures. Finally, we invested directly in a start-up which creates medical apps for mental health issues, complementing our other activities in the mental health area.
We assumed it would be relatively easy to find suitable investment opportunities matching our charitable objectives; however, this hasn’t been so. The social investment market has not developed as quickly as many predicted, and it’s taken us time to understand how to access opportunities within the relative narrowness of our charitable objectives: health and poverty among bank workers. For instance, GLL runs swimming pools, gyms and leisure centres and so its impact is on general wellbeing, especially among disadvantaged groups. We’ve interpreted this as the promotion of health. Also, as our community makes up 2.8% of the UK population, we’ve taken the view that we can invest in organisations that benefit groups other than just bank workers, provided this doesn’t exceed 2.8% of the total investment.
We also made commitments to two proposed funds which didn’t eventuate. The first was in health; the second poverty and social mobility. Whilst both proposals were sound, in the first case there was a dearth of suitable investments, and in the second a lack of investors willing to back investment in the sector.
Our journey has been longer and more challenging than we anticipated. However, we’re committed to social investment and will continue to invest as the market develops. Key factors in our success are taking a deliberate and strategic approach from the beginning; committing dedicated resource to make it happen; and continuing involvement of members of our Board.
We have in fact now come full circle – wasn’t the original Bank Clerks’ Orphanage actually a social investment in its time?
If you have a question or would like to make a comment, please contact
or Jessica Tyrrell
 Association of Charitable Organisations: Benevolence in the 21st Century, 2006
 SIIG contact details