The Charitable Corporation was established in London in 1707 with the noble mission of providing “relief of the industrious poor by assisting them with small sums at legal interest.”
Essentially, it sought to provide low-interest loans to poor tradesmen, shielding them from predatory pawnbrokers who charged as much as 30% interest. The corporation made loans available at the rate of 5% in return for a pledge of property for security.
The Charitable Corporation was modeled on Monti di Pietà, a charitable institution of credit established in Catholic countries during the Renaissance era to combat usury, or high rates of interest.
Unlike the Monti di Pietà, however, the British version – despite its name – wasn’t a nonprofit. Instead, it was a business venture. The enterprise was funded by offering shares to investors who, in return, would make money while doing good. Under its original mission, it was like an 18th century version of today’s socially responsible investing, or “sustainable investment funds.”
There are several key characteristics that stand out in the collapses of both the Charitable Corporation and FTX. Both companies were offering something new or venturing into a new sector. In the former’s case, it was microloans. In FTX’s case, it was cryptocurrency.
Meanwhile, the management of both ventures was centralized in the hands of just a few people. The Charitable Corporation got into trouble when it reduced its directors from 12 to five and when it consolidated most of its loan business in the hands of one employee – namely, Thomson. FTX’s example is even more extreme, with founder Sam Bankman-Fried calling all the shots.
Author(s): Amy Froide
Publication Date: 21 Dec 2022
Publication Site: The Conversation