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Post OfficeEarlier this year the Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform, Lord Mandelson, was said to be in support of the idea that the Post Office could operate as a 'people's bank' with a social purpose, offering a full range of services. This may seem like a particularly British approach, but the way some European countries deal with financial exclusion could also appeal here.

Die Zweite Sparkasse is an Austrian initiative providing banking for those who have difficulty getting access to financial advice or current accounts. Customers get a bank card, an investment account with interest and an optional building loan. Discounted insurance is also offered as part of a broad package of counselling and support services.

The organization is staffed entirely by volunteers from the banking sector. It works partly because Die Zweite Sparkasse has fantastic links in neighbourhoods and communities where poverty is likely to be an issue. In fact, sometimes the people who help run the system are the only professionals who work in certain deprived areas. This is because - you guessed it - Die Zweite Sparkasse is run by local church networks.

In the UK some churches already maintain rural post offices. Others offer good financial advice and debt counselling. The ability to tie these threads together might help regain the Church's ailing reputation for social innovation.