Despite 2020 being ‘a tale of two lockdowns’ the Society continues to flourish
Posted by Kevin Gray 1st December 2020
My LinkedIn account has just pinged me a message to say that I have been working at Bath Building Society (BBS) for 22 years. As I reflect over that long period, I can honestly conclude that 2020 has undoubtedly been the most testing year of my working life to date. The unfortunate appearance of Covid 19 in the UK has severely tested my own leadership capabilities and has posed major challenges for my senior team and our colleagues. Although we have all successfully ‘upped our personal games’ to enable the Society to survive the impact of the virus, I am thankful that major pandemics on this scale do not (hopefully) occur more than once in a working lifetime!
Like many businesses, the initial lockdown over the second quarter of the year forced us to move the majority of our staff to home working. One major exception was our Branch team, who gallantly worked throughout the lockdown to process customer cash and cheque requests and who also implemented a cash delivery service for some of our most vulnerable Members. A combination of proper, prior planning and the use of new technology resulted in the move to home working being both very swift and smooth for BBS. If I may say so, I think our team actually surprised ourselves as to how well the shift to home working went. The commercial and operational challenges over the first lockdown were immense. Due to the demand for mortgage lending being robust at the start of 2020, we entered the Q2 lockdown with a historically high level of mortgage applications to process and all of the administration relating to these applications having to be performed with a segregated team working from their own home offices, bedrooms, kitchen tables etc. This work was however successfully processed without any major reduction in the level of service offered to our customers. The first lockdown also delivered many hundreds of requests from our borrowers for mortgage payment deferrals, the so called ‘payment holidays’. We successfully processed these applications throughout Q2 and Q3 and, through close communication with our borrowing Members, we have managed to avoid any major uptick in loan arrears as the deferral periods have matured. In Q2, we were also faced with the need to process a major cut in the Bank of England base rate, to administer the annual ‘ISA season’, and to service a material switch of customers away from Branches towards our online savings system. We admirably coped with all of these.
The third quarter of the year saw the economy moving out of lockdown back towards an increasing level of normality, albeit with some forms of social distancing measures remaining in place. A rapid increase in the demand for property and mortgage finance took place over Q3 due to a combination of the release of the backlog of business built up over the lockdown period, plus new borrowers wishing to take advantage of the lower Stamp Duty rates that were introduced by the Chancellor. BBS experienced a second surge in demand for its mortgage products.
At the time of writing this article in Q4, the whole of England is two weeks into another national lockdown that is aimed at reducing the second wave of the virus. The Financial Conduct Authority is shortly due to publish its final guidance that will extend the window of opportunity for borrowers to apply for a mortgage deferral to 31 January 2021. A moratorium on repossessing properties has also been extended to this date. This will again be a difficult period for BBS, but like most of the country, we are in better shape this time to cope with the likely challenges arising from the second lockdown. Although the Society has not had to resort to using the UK Government’s furlough scheme, it welcomes the extension of support to 31 March 2021. This will keep many a household afloat until the winter months have passed, seasonal employment prospects should have improved and a vaccine will hopefully have started to be rolled out to the population.
Despite all the difficulties that BBS has had to overcome in 2020, our commercial performance has been surprisingly good, if not spectacular! The Society has already delivered record gross lending and also looks like it will achieve record annual growth in its mortgage book. The Society’s savings balances have risen above the £300m barrier for the first time ever and its membership is increasing. Profit margins are being maintained and its net profitability remains robust. BBS is planning to expand its team of people in 2021 and it is investing a growing level of resources back into the business. We remain a confident and ambitious organisation that will stick to its business purpose, that being to improve the lives of our Members.
As I start my 23rd year here at the Society, I am thankful to have such a wonderful team of colleagues who continue to make work so fulfilling. I cannot praise them enough for their efforts over 2020!
Please take care.