Make no mistake: small and personable does not mean uncompetitive

The Monmouthshire Building Society is a classic small, mutual lender.

With assets of £976m, it ranks 15th in the UK’s table of building societies, and despite the competition from others, and susceptibility to economic headwinds, its new chairman Haydn Warman said this gave it certain advantages.

He said: “One of the great advantages of our size is that we can be nimble; we can react to developments in the marketplace and we can be flexible.

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“One of the recent developments is the increased interest in self-build properties, and funding of those properties. We established there was a growing interest in this, funding there had not always been straightforward, and we were able to look at this and look at our products. Some of the bigger players tend to be a little slower in reacting.”

There are other advantages to not being a big bank – being local and having lots of branches on the ground is a big draw to Monmouthshire members, 80 per cent of whom come from south Wales and the west of England.

Mr Warman said: “People value the fact that we are owned by our members, and we are run and controlled in Newport, and not by an anonymous outfit in the City of London. We’re approachable, and that’s what people value.

“The branch network is very important, particularly for saving members – a number of them are on first name terms with the branch staff. They see the same faces month after month.

“There’s a nervousness with the larger organisations – who are they dealing with? Whereas with a local building society they know who they’re dealing with.”

After having served four years as a non-executive director, in October Mr Warman was appointed as the company’s chairman. Prior to this was at neighbouring – and bigger – building society the Principality, at which he had risen through the ranks to become general manager.

A lawyer by training, Mr Warman’s non-executive role is to lead the board, making sure it sticks to its strategic direction, as well as ensuring it acts in the interests of its members.

He said: “My role is to check and challenge the executive. It’s demanding, I won’t pretend otherwise. It’s keeping yourself fully informed as to what’s going on in the business given the welter of information you receive; challenging where appropriate, and ensuring we are aware of the expectations of the regulator.

“If a chief executive is not subject to check and challenge, there is a risk that things may go awry. The experiences of Northern Rock and RBS should be a lesson to us all that we have to be on our toes and discharging our responsibilities effectively.”

He added: “I have always found without exception throughout my career, if you have good non-executive directors you have a good outcome.”