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Home > Opinion > Jeff Prestridge

Lack of mutual awareness needs addressing

Members of the BSA and AFM are keen to raise awareness of the value of long-term relationships.

By Jeff Prestridge | Published Jun 20, 2012 | comments

Yet even Amice’s members admit that they have a lot of work to do to get consumers to understand that mutuals offer an alternative way of doing business.

Against the somewhat moving backdrop of Gdansk’s largely derelict shipyards – and with Euro 2012 smouldering in the background – they accepted that they have a mammoth task in getting their message across to the public. They readily admit that they have not done enough to get consumers to understand the special features of mutuals – consumer value for money, good corporate governance and membership owned – that stand them apart from stock market-listed insurance companies and other financial services companies.

My message at the conference was to get the mutual sector to realise that it has a powerful consumer message to promote if only it had the confidence to do so.

Certainly in Great Britain a number of mutuals are now striving hard to do things slightly differently. They seem determined to prove that hard selling is not the only way forward in financial services. Companies can actually thrive if, rather than just pushing more products on customers, they build long-term relationships.

Nationwide is leading the mutual charge on this front. Although it has just annoyingly announced the closure of 23 branches across its brands (Dunfermline, Derbyshire and Cheshire as well as Nationwide), it has launched a number of initiatives in the savings space which show it truly cares about customers.

Earlier this month it confirmed the launch of a rate-tracking service that allows its savers to be updated, by text or email, on any interest rate changes to their accounts. The service will also tell savers about new product offerings, thereby ensuring that savers can monitor the attractiveness of their existing accounts.

Although only a small step for saving mankind, this builds on a series of savings promises launched by Nationwide in late 2010. These promises were primarily based around ensuring that customer loyalty is always rewarded with existing customers are offered preferential deals. It is a welcome strategy that breaks the conventional mould that dictates that new customers should be offered the best deals.

Together with its commitment to excellent customer service and a strong focus on efficient complaints handling (its record on complaints handling puts most banking rivals to shame), Nationwide is breaking the mould. But it is not the only provider waving the flag for the virtues of mutuality. Coventry, Yorkshire (with its commitment to branches and simple savings products) and NFU Mutual are all doing their bit for the mutual cause by treating customers fairly and with respect.

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