THE UK’s second-biggest building society today announced a £160 million drive to improve products and customer services.
The Yorkshire Building Society said the five-year programme marks a new phase in its growth following a string of mergers and acquisitions in recent years.
The society said that it already has high customer satisfaction levels and is building its reputation as a “trusted alternative” to scandal-hit banks. Its membership has swelled by 6% over the last year to reach 3.5 million.
The investment programme, which includes £60 million this year, will improve the Yorkshire’s services and go towards staff development so that members’ needs can be met more “quickly and robustly”, the society said.
Yorkshire’s chief executive Chris Pilling said that the society will also target better online services as more people manage their money on the internet and via mobile phones.
The Yorkshire, which is the high street’s ninth largest financial services provider, is also looking at how the benefits used by customers of some of the society’s brands can be rolled out across the group.
For example, some technologies which have been available to customers of the Egg brand, which was acquired by Yorkshire a couple of years ago, can now be used by anyone who uses the Yorkshire Building Society website.
The Yorkshire is also planning to beef up its high street presence, with four new branches due to open this year.
The society said that a record 340,000 savings accounts were opened last year and savings balances increased by 3% over 2012 to reach £26.8 billion.
The mutual also doubled the number of mentions its savings accounts had on “best buy” tables year-on-year.
New lending increased by 12% year-on-year to reach £4.6 billion and the society said it also stepped up its mortgage lending efforts to home buyers with smaller deposits last year.
Some £490 million was lent to people with a deposit of 15% or less, representing 11% of the mutual’s new lending in 2012, up from 3% in 2011.
Mr Pilling said: “The £160 million we will invest over the next five years, including £60 million in 2013, will improve our back-office infrastructure and staff development and enable us to meet customers’ needs more quickly and robustly.
“Ultimately, this investment will support our commitment to our members and further contrast the Yorkshire with the many financial services providers which have scaled back lending, closed branches or walked away from providing face-to-face financial advice.
“In the past few years, the financial sector has been undermined by a series of incredibly serious errors of judgment by the big banks which have left customers questioning who they do business with.”
The mutual, which has 228 branches, said that it made a core operating profit of £137 million in 2012, representing a 16% year-on-year decrease. The Yorkshire’s profit before tax last year was £157 million, showing a 21% rise on 2011.
Yorkshire merged with Barnsley Building Society in 2008, Chelsea Building Society in 2010 and Norwich & Peterborough and the Egg brand in 2011.
The group employs 4,100 staff and has total assets of £33.5 billion.