Sensible finances and sound principles

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The Independent Online
ETHICALLY-minded investors have the choice of two events today at which to discuss how principles and financial good sense can be combined, writes Andrew Bibby.

Ecology Building Society, the youngest building society, is holding its 12th annual general meeting. Ecology specialises in lending on 'ecologically sound properties'. According to its general manager, Bob Lowman, this can mean inner-city terraced houses or back-to-backs as well as more environmentally attractive rural properties. 'One of our major areas of lending is to people wanting to renovate semi-derelict properties,' he said.

Ecology recently reached the threshold of pounds 10m assets, and now has about 4,000 investors and borrowers as members.

'Conventional lenders look at a property valuation and the ability of a borrower to repay. We have a third factor to consider: whether the mortgage will meet one of our ecological criteria,' Mr Lowman said.

Meanwhile, in Glasgow this morning the ethical investment society Shared Interest is holding the first of a series of regional meetings in various cities. Shared Interest, established in 1990, is a Christian-inspired mutual society that takes deposits from British investors to lend on to capital-starved grass-roots businesses, primarily in the Third World.

'We see ourselves as a group of people coming together to pool our funds in a businesslike manner to provide other, less fortunate, people with access to business credit,' said Mark Hayes, managing director. The society has a total of about pounds 3m from about 1,500 investors. Deposits, which are on instant access, receive 1.5 per cent interest.

Shared Interest is in the unusual position of publicly pointing out that it failed last year to make a potential profit of pounds 350,000 from currency speculation on a pounds 1.2m transfer of funds to finance a dollar loan, at exactly the time when sterling was forced out of the ERM. 'The sort of money that was up for grabs was a very strong temptation. But we felt that the end would not have justified the means,' Mr Hayes said. 'I would not have relished the prospect of telling our members how we had made such a profit.'

But he is optimistic that Shared Interest will meet its target of pounds 5m in assets next year.

Ecology Building Society, (0535 635933), 2.30pm today at Ryton Gardens near Coventry. Shared Interest, (091-261 5943), 10.30am today at 168 Bath St, Glasgow.

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