Alun Williams with chairman Gwyn Williams

Swansea Building Society chief executive Alun Williams with chairman Gwyn Williams

‘Customers still want a personal service’, says Swansea Building Society chief

Swansea Building Society chief executive Alun Williams says the group’s commitment to providing a personal and friendly service has underpinned the company’s recent growth

Swansea Building Society enjoyed a strong increase in its total assets and a modest increase in its profits in 2016, mainly driven by the success of its newest branch in Carmarthen, which generated increased retail savings and mortgage balances during the year.   

The group’s annual income was £5.7m in 2016, an increase of 6% on its income of £5.4m a year earlier and the society also increased its net profit to just over £2m, an increase of £12,000 in comparison to 2015, despite the appointment of additional staff at its Carmarthen branch and head office, and continued investment in its IT systems. 

During the year the society’s total loan book also increased to £185m, an increase of 8.9% on the £170m outstanding in 2015. This helped generate an operating profit before impairment losses and Financial Services Compensation Scheme (FSCS) provisions of £2.7m, which, in turn, led to increased capital, which now stands at £17.8m. 

This impressive growth has come during a period when many high street banks and building societies across the UK have decided to shut and downsize branches in a bid to invest in new technologies such as online banking and customer contact centres.

There have already been over 500 branch closures confirmed throughout the UK for 2017 and more are expected to follow. So, after opening a new branch in Carmarthen and announcing plans for a new branch in Swansea City Centre, why is the Swansea Building Society bucking the trend?

Alun Williams, CEO of Swansea Building Society, said the society prides itself on providing savers and borrowers with a friendly and flexible face-to-face service.

This enables the society to really get to know its customers, understand their needs better and take a more personal view of their individual circumstances. 

Such an approach has gone down particularly well in West Wales, where many banks and building societies do not have full time branch-based qualified mortgage advisors.

Williams also noted that many banks and building societies have been closing smaller branches in South West Wales in recent years, preferring to direct customers online or to call centres.

He said: “Swansea Building Society has maintained a traditional approach to financial services, where customers receive a personal and friendly service with a branch representative that takes the time to really understand their needs.

“Getting to know our customers rather than directing them to impersonal automated services has proved successful for the society, particularly for our customers in the Carmarthenshire region, which just shows a service with a personal touch is of great importance. 

“We are delighted with the contribution made by our newest office in Carmarthen, which has been a significant factor in another strong set of annual results for the society. Despite the substantial investments we made in staff, infrastructure and IT systems last year, we have delivered an extremely pleasing set of results. 

“Although Carmarthen only opened on 31 October 2015, in its first year of trading to 31 December 2016 it recorded a profit - an exceptional performance from Sioned Jones, branch manager and her team. The new branch has had a significant impact in the wider West Wales region, heightening the profile and products provided by the society.” 

The rapid growth of the society’s new Carmarthen branch was one of the main drivers of the group’s rapid growth in 2016 and the branch now employs eight staff including two managers.

The society is now hoping that its plan to launch a new branch on Portland Street in Swansea City Centre later this year will have a similar effect.

The new branch will complement its other branches in Mumbles and Carmarthen and Williams said that he feels opening a branch in the heart of the city centre will provide a more accessible location for customers and help generate further growth for the society. 

The new branch will be located at 3-4 Portland Street in a space previously occupied by a jewellery store. It is also in the vicinity of several other national banking brands, all adding to the visibility of Swansea Building Society and its viability as an alternative option for financial services.  

“We need more space in our head office to accommodate growth. The launch of the Portland Street branch will allow us to both free up space in Cradock Street and place our customer-facing branch in the heartland of Swansea, boosting our profile and visibility at the same time,” Williams said.

Williams anticipates that the new branch will be officially opened to the public in the fourth quarter of 2017.