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The beauty of simplicity in a complex world

Building Societies Association

3 min read Partner content

Speaking on the first day of the Building Societies 2023 Annual Conference at the ACC in Liverpool, BSA Chief Executive, Robin Fieth, talked about the beauty of the simplicity of the mutual sector’s social purpose in an increasingly complex world.

Robin Fieth BSASocial purpose has been the consistent backbone of our sector since the first known building society was founded in a pub in Birmingham back in 1755.  Today the oldest building society, the Scottish is celebrating its 175th anniversary and is joined by the Skipton Building Society at 170, Newcastle and Leek Building Societies at 160 and the Swansea Building Society marking its centenary.

Immediately post pandemic, the government’s mantra was briefly about building back better and the potential for a new covenant between government, business and society was flirted with.  A covenant which challenged the dogma that the purpose of business is to maximise return to shareholders and fostered a debate on a much wider stakeholder purpose.

The Government’s primary narrative has moved on.  Building societies and credit unions continue to work to maximise member value, not shareholder value, as they always have done.

Through the lens of this simpler model, Robin Fieth explores some of the complexities that all financial services firms, including customer-owned mutuals, are living with today:

  • The Economic backdrop – Which reminds us “that no country has a right to growth. It is something that must be earned through hard work and smart investment in infrastructure, innovation and talent.”
  • The focus on Unicorns and Gazelles over steady growth  –  “As we continue to emerge into a post pandemic economy, currently characterised by higher inflation, higher interest rates and monetary policy tightening, there should, in my view, be a premium on our sector’s long term steady growth record. Our modest credit risk appetite. Our dedicated focus on the needs of members, without the distraction of demanding shareholders. When we talk about the importance of diversity in UK financial services, this is what we mean.”
  • In the aftermath of SVB and Credit Suisse – “The answer is not always more capital and more regulation. It is better risk management, better governance, better supervision, all supported by strong, effective and appropriate regulation. Not more, but smarter.”
  • About Basel 3.1 – “As far as is possible, the UK’s prudential framework should support our housing market and our individual and collective dreams of home ownership. Not undermine the market by pushing up capital requirements unnecessarily, and with that the cost and potentially availability of mortgages. It should also be promoting competition and diversity in the banking sector, not constraining competition by penalising domestic mono-line mortgage lenders.”

Robin also explores other topics such as the Consumer Duty, the Digital Pound, the growth of AI, and personal financial resilience and the need here to ensure that no one is left behind.

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