The founding of the UK’s first Building Society was an act of innovation, built entirely on the needs of the people.
The, perhaps familiar, story began in the year 1775. A society, the first of it’s kind, was set up to pool the resources of its working-class members, giving each the chance to purchase land and build their own home. The movement quickly gained momentum and what followed throughout the twists and turns of the 19th and 20th centuries, was a history of Building Societies responding to the evolving socio-economic forces shaping the lives of their members.
From enfranchisement of the population at a time when the right to vote depended on land ownership, to the rise of permanent societies providing a safe place for members to store their savings. Building Societies acted to rebuild homes and livelihoods after the devastation of war and evolved through de-mutualisation and mergers, in the face of economic boom and bust.
Today, more than 200 years after their founding, Building Societies have not strayed far from the path they set out on. Regardless of scale, they remain proud pillars of their communities, committed to providing services which meet the genuine needs of their members and don’t leave anyone behind. Especially at times of crisis.
Like all of us, Building Societies have been forced to adapt rapidly in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. On top of the logistical challenges brought about by lockdown measures, mortgage payment holidays (announced in March 2020), have meant that over 1.6 million borrowers have temporarily reduced or ceased monthly payments, for up to 6 months. This has further increased the operational pressure on Building Societies working to support their members through a time of financial adversity.
But just as they have weathered previous storms, Building Societies have remained resilient in the face of unexpected and drastic circumstances over the past months. They have drawn on the transformative power of digital technologies, together with an unwavering commitment to their mutual values, to continue providing the best possible services and support for their members.
Leeds Building Society, finding that the request for mortgage deferrals had increased to 2,000 a day, increased their use of robotic process automation (RPA) technology to create a fully automated web form for customers. This reduced call centre demand by 75%, once again creating space to deal with those unique queries requiring human assessment.
At Nationwide, a team of mortgage, technology and AI specialists trained the society’s virtual assistant ‘Arti’ to handle common, COVID related mortgages queries. Arti’s new abilities were available in just 4 days and gave frontline teams at Nationwide more time to deal with complex queries.
Many Building Society customers have readily embraced a move to more remote ways of interacting, through digital solutions such as these. Perhaps this highlights just how ready the industry was for updates, but that something monumental was needed to push transformation over the line.
Principality Building Society has delivered an online mortgage payment holiday service, in partnership with the fintech company Podium Solutions. The service offers a seamless customer experience for members seeking guidance on their options, including a mortgage holiday repayment calculator and an online application process.
Nickki Johns, Head of Digital at Principality explained, “Working for a building society actually crystallises your thinking in times like this. Of course you have to consider your commercial impacts but the over-riding concern is supporting our members through it. We were providing services to members who were facing an unprecedented and often very scary period in their lives. It focuses the mind, galvanises those who are designing responses and creates great opportunities to build powerful partnerships.”
The months ahead are sure to bring further upheaval to our daily lives and the economic hardship experienced will be long lasting for many. A capacity to embrace and drive digital transformation will be key to the resilience of the Building Society sector. Together with the reassuring, human approach they are trusted to deliver, technological innovation will allow Building Societies to continue to support their members, as we emerge into the ‘new normal’ ahead.
Join us on 21st October at FinTECHTalents Building Societies, to hear from a rockstar speaker line-up including Nickki Johns, who will be sharing Principality’s experience in creating a digital process to support their members through the mortgage payment holidays process.