David & Goliath in Islington

By Adrian Harvey

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I’m writing this from the Building Societies Association Annual conference in Islington in North London and what an eye opener today has been.

I am a huge advocate of what these friendly societies and mutuals do and how they are so true to their values and beliefs. When they say they care about providing a high level of service in their local area they mean it. You won’t see this lot closing branches and telling customers “trust us, it’s what you want” like NatWest have done in my local town!

Similarly, the level of legitimate collaboration between the various societies is awe inspiring. When you are competing in the same pond as the likes of NatWest but employ less than 100 staff you need to leave egos at the door and work with your peers to ensure that you compete on your terms. It really does feel like a David & Goliath battle.

But, I don’t know any other sector that is so passionate about their customer base and so free and willing to share experiences among themselves for the wider benefit of the sector and the customers they serve.

For example, we measure employee engagement as a critical success factor of a regulated firm. 95% of our clients are regulated but those from the friendly and mutual space have unparalleled levels of compliance with some achieving 100% engagement from the CEO down and many getting 98 -99% month in and month out.

What I have learned today and over the past couple of years from exposure to this sector is that their passion for excellence is genuine and not just a marketing ploy. They really care about delivering a relevant and high quality service to their communities, and those using Nelly can unequivocally prove the levels of employee competence and capability.

In a world where I as a consumer have become accustomed to receiving at best mediocre levels of service and employee capability from the majority of suppliers and only occasionally unearthing genuine consistent high quality service provision, it makes a refreshing change to come across an entire sector dedicated to and, on the whole, achieving best in class service provision.

If these small firms with limited budgets can achieve it why can’t some of the largest brands with huge budgets even come close?

I suspect these firms will continue to prosper as more and more consumers refuse to accept British Leyland standard of service, often delivered through inarticulate offshore service centres and instead gravitate to genuine high quality local service.

Go David!