A new Birmingham bank is planning to launch a product to specifically serve Jewish investors and families alike. The Birmingham Bank, established by entrepreneur Lee Bushell and granted regulatory approval at the end of last year, is looking to invest in small and medium enterprises (SME) that operate according to Jewish law.
Bushell will need to obtain a ‘Heter Iska’, which typically defines loans or bonds issued by the company as a partnership in the company’s business, and the interest as part of the profits, meaning that the company is not violating the ban in Jewish religious law on charging or paying interest, therefore appealing to the Orthodox sector.
Bushell, a member of Singers Hill Synagogue in the heart of the city, says: “I’m looking at targeting that community and I have someone to help us to do it. What a wonderful irony it would be that a bank represented by a city with very few Jews becomes a haven for people from the religious Jewish community to save and borrow in. It will give the community more choice, and for the consumer that’s key.
“I believe one or two banks do it and we will do the same. I think there is a demand, as many of the Orthodox communities are involved in property and this sits squarely in what we will do.”
The first bank to bear Birmingham’s name for more than a century, the Birmingham Bank supports over 6,500 independent UK businesses including retail, local DIY stores and cafes.
“I set it up because I had frustrations as an entrepreneur in getting loans for many of my business transactions,” says Bushell, who started his first business aged 15 selling clothing out of his older brother’s car.
“It seems banks take an age to move and make decisions and that’s not conducive to getting on with business.”
Such a move to obtain a Heter Iska would make Bushell one of a small but fast-growing niche within lending. It sits alongside Bushell’s philosophy of: “Business is about two things: profits and ethics and doing your best to
The businessman also applies this to his Bushell Investment Group (BIG), which recently bought struggling footwear retailer Aldo after it fell into administration in May. Bushell has saved 150 jobs and plans to create an additional 50 roles across the business over the next 12 months. BIG also acquired hair chains Supercuts and Regis.
“My brother is one of the top stylists in the Midlands and has a fantastic brand. When the opportunity came across my desk, I thought of using his extensive knowledge of the hair industry and our centralised resources as a natural fit. The timing with the virus hasn’t been ideal, but the sound financial footing we created has meant we have not lost any jobs or had to close down any shops.”
Father-of-three Bushell believes that the regions outside of London will be integral to the UK’s economic recovery. “Many people in London think the world doesn’t exist outside the M25, but there are huge swathes of wealth being created in the provinces.”
He adds: “I believe there are more opportunities outside of London and for companies like ourselves, it is advantageous because we haven’t got that London name/address. Investors should be looking to the provinces and
I have no doubt they are.”
I’m looking at targeting that community and I have someone to help us to do it. What a wonderful irony it would be that a bank represented by a city with very few Jews becomes a haven for people from the religious Jewish community to save and borrow in.
Covid has proven that people can work from anywhere, and Bushell predicts an increasing number of companies will move away from the capital to Birmingham following HS2, the new high-speed railway linking up London, the Midlands, the North and Scotland.
“The standard of living for the average person cannot be rivalled in London. Our proximity in Birmingham, lack of a commute and the house prices make it an attractive proposition.
“If only all the Jews who left Birmingham over the past three decades would have stayed, they would almost all certainly be enjoying large gardens over lockdown!”
Although following a successful education route – King Edward School followed by a law degree at Leeds University – Bushell’s focus was always on a business, be it gold buying, retailing, teaching or event organising.
“You name it, I’ve invested in it. Not always successfully I may add. I have a saying: ‘Lose often and small – win big and seldom’. Many of my businesses have not been a success, but I make sure all debts are paid and we move on swiftly. Business is about ethics and profits, nothing else. In this country, we often feel ashamed talking about profits. We shouldn’t. It’s the only true measure of a successful business. My father always reminded me of that.”
If only all the Jews who left Birmingham over the past three decades would have stayed, they would almost all certainly be enjoying large gardens over lockdown
Bushell cites launching the Birmingham Bank as the proudest moment in his career.
“To own a bank puts you in rare company and I appreciate the trust and responsibility I now have. And I suppose in some ways, it’s validation from the Bank of England that I am a ‘fit and proper person’ and that my business ethics are way they should be.”
And because he believes the bank is needed now more than ever. “SMEs are the heartbeat of the economy, and Birmingham has more SMEs and start-ups than anywhere else in the UK
outside of London,” he explains.
In terms of investment opportunities going forward, he says: “There will always be huge tech opportunities; however, we stay clear of these as we do not understand the intricacies and have been burnt before.
“The obvious place to look at is distressed investing [investing in troubled companies]; we have been doing this since 2017 and it has changed the face of our company.
“However, there are huge pitfalls to distressed investing. I would imagine there will be some leisure bargains coming up soon and that’s probably where we would turn our focus.”
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