Tuesday, June 11, 2024

Building society

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Nyongesa Sande
Nyongesa Sandehttps://bizmart.africa
Nyongesa Sande is a Kenyan blogger, Pan Africanist,c olumnist Political Activist , blogger, informer & businesman who has interest in politics, governance, corporate fraud, human rights and television personality.

building society is a financial institution owned by its members as a mutual organization, which offers banking and related financial services, especially savings and mortgage lending. They exist in the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand, and formerly in Ireland and several Commonwealth countries. They are similar to credit unions, but rather than promoting thrift and offering unsecured and business loans, the purpose of a building society is to provide home mortgages to members. Borrowers and depositors are society members, setting policy and appointing directors on a one-member, one-vote basis. Building societies often provide other retail banking services, such as current accounts, credit cards and personal loans. The term “building society” first arose in the 19th century in Great Britain from cooperative savings groups.

In the United Kingdom, building societies compete with banks for most consumer banking services, especially mortgage lending and savings accounts, and regulations permit up to half of their lending to be funded by debt to non-members, allowing societies to access wholesale bond and money markets to fund mortgages. The world’s largest building society is Britain’s Nationwide Building Society. In Australia, building societies also compete with retail banks and offer the full range of banking services to consumers.

History in the United Kingdom

Building societies as an institution began in late-18th century Birmingham – a town which was undergoing rapid economic and physical expansion driven by a multiplicity of small metalworking firms, whose many highly skilled and prosperous owners readily invested in property. Many of the early building societies were based in taverns or coffeehouses, which had become the focus for a network of clubs and societies for co-operation and the exchange of ideas among Birmingham’s highly active citizenry as part of the movement known as the Midlands Enlightenment. The first building society to be established was Ketley’s Building Society, founded by Richard Ketley, the landlord of the Golden Cross inn, in 1775. Members of Ketley’s society paid a monthly subscription to a central pool of funds which was used to finance the building of houses for members, which in turn acted as collateral to attract further funding to the society, enabling further construction.[4] By 1781 three more societies had been established in Birmingham, with a fourth in the nearby town of Dudley; and 19 more formed in Birmingham between 1782 and 1795. The first outside the English Midlands was established in Leeds in 1785.

Most of the original societies were fully terminating, where they would be dissolved when all members had a house: the last of them, First Salisbury and District Perfect Thrift Building Society, was wound up in March 1980.[7] In the 1830s and 1840s a new development took place with the permanent building society, where the society continued on a rolling basis, continually taking in new members as earlier ones completed purchases, such as Leek Building Society. The main legislative framework for the building society was the Building Societies Act 1874, with subsequent amending legislation in 1894, 1939 (see Coney Hall), and 1960.

In their heyday, there were hundreds of building societies: just about every town in the country had a building society named after that town. Over succeeding decades the number of societies has decreased, as various societies merged to form larger ones, often renaming in the process, and other societies opted for demutualisation followed by – in the great majority of cases – eventual takeover by a listed bank. Most of the existing larger building societies are the end result of the mergers of many smaller societies.

All building societies in the UK are members of the Building Societies Association. At the start of 2008, there were 59 building societies in the UK, with total assets exceeding £360 billion. The number of societies in the UK fell by four during 2008 due to a series of mergers brought about, to a large extent, by the consequences of the financial crisis of 2007–2008. With three further mergers in each of 2009 and 2010, and a demutualisation and a merger in 2011, as of 2023 there are 43 building societies.

Demutualisation

In the 1980s, changes to British banking laws allowed building societies to offer banking services equivalent to normal banks. The management of a number of societies still felt that they were unable to compete with the banks, and a new Building Societies Act was passed in 1986 in response to their concerns. This permitted societies to ‘demutualise‘. If more than 75% of members voted in favour, the building society would then become a limited company like any other. Members’ mutual rights were exchanged for shares in this new company. A number of the larger societies made such proposals to their members and all were accepted. Some listed on the London Stock Exchange, while others were acquired by larger financial groups.

The process began with the demutualisation of the Abbey National Building Society in 1989. Then, from 1995 to late 1999, eight societies demutualised accounting for two-thirds of building societies assets as at 1994. Five of these societies became joint stock banks (plc), one merged with another and the other four were taken over by plcs (in two cases after the mutual had previously converted to a plc).

As Tayler (2003) mentions, demutualisation moves succeeded immediately because neither Conservative nor Labour party UK governments created a framework which put obstacles in the way of demutualisation. Political acquiescence in demutualisation was clearest in the case of the position on ‘carpetbaggers‘, that is those who joined societies by lodging minimum amounts of £100 or so in the hope of profiting from a distribution of surplus after demutualisation. The deregulating Building Societies Act 1986 contained an anti-carpetbagger provision in the form of a two-year rule. This prescribed a qualifying period of two years before savers could participate in a residual claim. But, before the 1989 Abbey National Building Society demutualisation, the courts found against the two-year rule after legal action brought by Abbey National itself to circumvent the intent of the legislators. After this the legislation did prevent a cash distribution to members of less than two years standing, but the same result was obtained by permitting the issue of ‘free’ shares in the acquiring plc, saleable for cash. The Thatcher Conservative government declined to introduce amending legislation to make good the defect in the ‘two-year rule’.

1980s and 1990s

Building societies, like mutual life insurers, arose as people clubbed together to address a common need interest; in the case of the building societies, this was housing and members were originally both savers and borrowers. But it very quickly became clear that ‘outsider’ savers were needed whose motive was profit through interest on deposits. Thus permanent building societies quickly became mortgage banks and in such institutions there always existed a conflict of interest between borrowers and savers. It was the task of the movement to reconcile that conflict of interest so as to enable savers to conclude that their interests and those of borrowers were to some extent complementary rather than conflictive. Conflict of interest between savers and borrowers was never fully reconciled in the building societies but upon deregulation that reconciliation became something of a lost cause. The management of building societies apparently could expend considerable time and resources (which belonged the organisation) planning their effective capture—of as much of the assets as they could. If so, this is arguably insider dealing on a grand scale with the benefit of inside specialist knowledge of the business and resources of the firm not shared with outsiders like politicians and members (and, perhaps, regulators). Once the opportunity to claim was presented by management the savers in particular could be relied upon to seize it. There were sufficient hard-up borrowers to take the inducement offered them by management (in spite of few simple sums sufficing to demonstrate that they were probably going to end up effectively paying back the inducement). (Tayler 2003)

Management promoting demutualisation also thereby met managerial objectives because the end of mutuality brought joint stock company (plc) style remuneration committee pay standards and share options. Share options for management of converting societies appear to be a powerful factor in management calculation. Rasmusen (1988) refers to this in the following terms:

” … perks do not rise in proportion to [mutual] bank size. If a mutual is large, or is expected to grow if it can raise capital by a conversion, its managers derive more value from a conversion but do not suffer much loss of perks than if the bank were small. Their benefit is in the right to purchase the new stock, which are valuable because the new issues are consistently underpriced [referring to USA mutual bank conversions]. Moreover, by no means are all mutual managers incompetent, and conversions allows the bank to expand more easily and to grant executive stock options that are valuable to skilled managers”.

Instead of deploying their margin advantage as a defence of mutuality, around 1980 building societies began setting mortgage rates with reference to market clearing levels. In sum they began behaving more like banks, seeking to maximise profit instead of the advantages of a mutual organisation. Thus, according to the Bank of England’s Boxall & Gallagher (1997):

“… there was virtually no difference between banks and building society ‘listed’ interest rates for home finance mortgage lending between 1984 and 1997. This behaviour resulted in a return on assets for building societies which was at least as high as Plc banks and, in the absence of distribution, led to rapid accumulation of reserves”.

As Boxall & Gallagher (1997) also observe:

“… accumulation of reserves in the early-1990s, beyond regulatory and future growth requirements, is difficult to reconcile with conventional theories of mutual behaviour”.

Llewellyn (1996) draws a rather more direct and cynical conclusion:

By adopting a policy of building up reserves by maintaining an excess margin, building societies simultaneously allowed banks to compete and may have undermined the long run viability of mutuality. A more cynical approach is that some societies may have adopted an excess-margin strategy simply to enhance their value for conversion.

Some of these managements ended up in dispute with their own members. Of the first major conversion of the Abbey in 1989, Kay (1991) observed:

[T]he paradox of the Abbey members who campaigned against flotation [conversion to a shareholder-owned bank] of their building society. They were fighting to preserve a degree of accountability to the membership which the management of the Society patently did not feel. For incumbent management, the contrary views of some of their members were not matters to be weighed in the balance and taken account of in formulation of policy. They were a nuisance to be dealt with by the costly use of public relations advisers and legal processes.

In the end, after a number of large demutualisations, and pressure from carpetbaggers moving from one building society to another to cream off the windfalls, most of the societies whose management wished to keep them mutual modified their rules of membership in the late 1990s. The method usually adopted were membership rules to ensure that anyone newly joining a society would, for the first few years, be unable to get any profit out of a demutualisation. With the chance of a quick profit removed, the wave of demutualisations came to an end in 2000.

One academic study (Heffernan 2003) found that demutualised societies’ pricing behaviour on deposits and mortgages was more favourable to shareholders than to customers, with the remaining mutual building societies offering consistently better rates.

2000s and 2010s

The Building Societies (Funding) and Mutual Societies (Transfers) Act 2007, known as the Butterfill Act, was passed in 2007 giving building societies greater powers to merge with other companies. These powers have been used by the Britannia in 2009 and Kent Reliance in 2011 leading to their demutualisation.

Prior to 31 December 2010, deposits with building societies of up to £50,000 per individual, per institution, were normally protected by the Financial Services Compensation Scheme (FSCS), but Nationwide and Yorkshire building societies negotiated a temporary change to the terms of the FSCS to protect members of the societies they acquired in late 2008/early 2009. The amended terms allowed former members of multiple societies which merge into one to maintain multiple entitlements to FSCS protection until 30 September 2009 (later extended to 30 December 2010), so (for example) a member with £50,000 in each of Nationwide, Cheshire and Derbyshire at the time of the respective mergers would retain £150,000 of FSCS protection for their funds in the merged Nationwide. On 31 December 2010 the general FSCS limit for retail deposits was increased to £85,000 for banks and building societies and the transitional arrangements in respect of building society mergers came to an end.

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