A building society is a financial institution owned by its members as a mutual organization. Building societies offer banking and related financial services, especially mortgage lending. These institutions are found in the United Kingdom (UK) and several other countries.
The term "building society" first arose in the 18th century in Great Britain from cooperative savings groups. In the UK today, building societies actively compete with banks for most consumer banking services, especially mortgage lending and savings accounts.
Every building society in the UK is a member 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 2007-2010. With three further mergers in each of 2009 and 2010, and a demutualisation and a merger in 2011, the current number of building societies is at 45.
- 1 History
- 2 List of building societies
- 3 Similar organisations in other countries
- 4 Operational differences from banks
- 5 See also
- 6 References
- 7 Further reading
- 8 External links
The origins of the building society as an institution lie 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. 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, was wound up in March 1980. 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 United Building Society. The main legislative framework for the Building Society was the Building Society Act of 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.
1980s and 1990s
|This section needs additional citations for verification. (March 2012)|
In the 1980s, British banking laws were changed to allow 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 became independent companies quoted on the London Stock Exchange, 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 Plc’s (in two cases after the mutual had previously converted to a Plc).
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 'carpet baggers', 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 1986 Building Societies Act contained an anti-carpet bagger 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 in order 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'.
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.
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).
Managements promoting demutualization 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".
The management of building societies apparently could expend considerable time and resources (which belonged the organization) 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).
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 maximize profit instead of the advantages of a mutual organization. Thus, according to the Bank of England's Boxall and 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 and Gallagher (1997) also observe; "... accumulation of reserves in the early-1990's, 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; " ... the paradox of the Abbey members who campaigned against flotation [conversion to a Plc 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 remaining societies 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 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.
List of building societies
The remaining building societies are:
- Trading names due to be phased out by 2015.
- These societies do not form part of a corporate business group, although they may own other businesses.
Ten building societies of the United Kingdom demutualised between 1989 and 2000, either becoming a bank or being acquired by a larger bank. By 2008, every building society that floated on the stock market in the wave of demutualisations of the 1980s and 1990s had either been sold to a conventional bank, or been nationalised.
|Abbey National||Converted to plc||Santander||1989||The new Bank, also known as "Abbey", was acquired by Banco Santander & now rebranded as Santander.|
|Cheltenham and Gloucester||was taken over by||Lloyds Bank plc||1994||Became part of Lloyds TSB, although C&G still had a branch network which became part of TSB Bank plc in summer 2013.|
|National & Provincial Building Society||was taken over by||Abbey National plc||1995||Business merged into Abbey National (now Santander), name no longer used.|
|Alliance & Leicester||Converted to plc||Santander||1997||Acquired by Banco Santander, which also owns Abbey, in October 2008, and merged into Santander in 2010.|
|Bristol and West||was taken over by||the Bank of Ireland||1997||Became a division of Bank of Ireland but its savings balances and branch network transferred to the Britannia Building Society in 2005 (which in turn merged with Co-operative Financial Services in 2009). Bristol & West mortgages ceased trading on 10 January 2009.|
|Halifax||Converted to plc||1997||Became part of HBOS in 2001, which itself became part of Lloyds Banking Group in 2009. Trading name still in use.|
|Northern Rock||Converted to plc||Virgin Money||1997||Nationalised following near bankruptcy in February 2008, due to the 2007 financial crisis. Bought by Virgin Money in January 2012.|
|The Woolwich||Converted to plc||Barclays||1997||Now part of Barclays plc. Woolwich brand name now only used for mortgages from Barclays with the Woolwich branch network merging with that of Barclays in 2007.|
|Birmingham Midshires||was taken over by||Halifax plc||1999||Now owned by Lloyds Banking Group. The brand name is still retained, but running entirely by post and internet.|
|Bradford & Bingley||Converted to plc||2000||Nationalisation with sale of savings book to Abbey (now Santander).|
No longer exist
The following is an incomplete list of building societies in the United Kingdom that no longer exist, since they either merged with or were taken over by other building societies or mutuals.
In Australia, building societies evolved along British lines. Because of strict regulations on banks, building societies flourished until the deregulation of the Australian financial industry in the 1980s. Eventually many of the smaller building societies disappeared, while some of the largest (such as St. George) officially attained the status of banks.
A particular difference between Australian building societies and those elsewhere, is that Australian building societies are required to incorporate as limited companies.
Current building societies are
- IMB Banking & Financial Services
- ABS Building Society
- Greater Building Society
- Heritage Building Society
- Hume Building Society
- Lifeplan Australia Building Society
- Maitland Mutual Building Society
- Newcastle Permanent Building Society
- The Rock Building Society (Rockhampton and Surrounds)
The Republic of Ireland had around 40 building societies at the mid-20th century peak. Many of these were very small and, as the Irish commercial banks began to originate residential mortgages, the small building societies ceased to be competitive. Most merged or dissolved or, in the case of First Active plc, converted into conventional banks. The last remaining building societies, EBS Building Society and Irish Nationwide Building Society, demutualised and were transferred or acquired into Bank subsidiaries in 2011 following the effects of the 2008–2011 Irish financial crisis.
|Irish Industrial Benefit Building Society (1873–1969)
Irish Industrial Building Society (1969–1975)
|February 2011||deposit book Irish Life & Permanent plc / permanent tsb (Feb 2011-Jun 2011)
|Educational Building Society (-1991)
EBS Building Society (1991–2011)
|July 2011||EBS Ltd, subsidiary of Allied Irish Banks|
|Irish Temperance Permanent Building Society (-1888)
Irish Permanent Benefit Building Society (1888–1940)
|1994||Irish Permanent plc (1994–1999)
Irish Life & Permanent plc (1999-)
|Irish Civil Services and General Building Society (1864–1867)
Irish Civil Service and General (Permanent Benefit) Building Society (1867–1874)
Irish Civil Service Building Society (1969–1984)
|1984||subsidiary of Bank of Ireland
|Workingman’s Benefit Building Society (-1960)
First National Building Society (1960–1998)
|1998||First Active plc (1998–2004)
- Ballygall Building Society, 1977
- City and Provincial Building Society, 1978
- Dublin Model Building Society, 1984
- Dublin Savings Building Society, 1977
- Four Provinces Building Society, 1978
- Independent Building Society, 1977
- Irish Savings Building Society, 1984
- National Provincial Building Society, 1977
- Progressive Building Society, 1977
- West of Ireland Building Society, 1977
In Jamaica, four building societies compete with commercial banks and credit unions for most consumer financial services.
In New Zealand, a number of building societies were established. Some, including Countrywide Building Society and United Building Society, became banks in the 1980s and 1990s. Remaining building societies include:
- Nelson Building Society
- Southland Building Society, which moved in October 2008 to become a registered bank known as SBS Bank. However,it remained a building society and so retained its mutual structure.
- Heartland Building Society, created in 2011 through merger of Canterbury Building Society, Southern Cross Building Society and two other financial institutions.
- General Equity Building Society
- Hastings Building Society
- Heretaunga Building Society
- International Building & Investment Society
- Kiwi Deposit Building Society (now in dissolution)
- Loan And Building Society
- Manawatu Permanent Building Society
- Manchester Unity Building Society
- The Napier Building Society (Permanent)
- Wairarapa Building Society
Registration as a building society is largely a formality. The Registrar of Building Societies does not conduct any prudential assessment of the new entity, nor of its financial soundness, as part of the registration process.
Once registered, the extent to which a building society is subject to prudential supervision depends on whether it takes deposits from New Zealanders:
- Building societies that accept deposits in New Zealand aresubject to certain prudential regulations. The Reserve Bank of New Zealand (New Zealand's central bank) monitors compliance with these regulations. However, the Reserve Bank does not supervise individual building societies for financial soundness. (This is in contrast to New Zealand-registered banks, which are subject to a stringent prudential regime, including capital, liquity, and governance requirements.)
- Building societies that do not take deposits in New Zealand are not prudentially supervised. New Zealand law does not provide for an officially sanctioned offshore finance industry; there is no provision for the licensing or supervision of any form of offshore financial institutions that are incorporated in New Zealand but provide financial services only outside of New Zealand. Further, the Reserve Bank has no jurisdiction to monitor transactions undertaken by building societies that operate offshore only (e.g. Kiwi Deposit Building Society and General Equity Building Society). The risk is that persons outside New Zealand may assume from the fact that such building societies are registered in New Zealand that they are supervised financial institutions, when they are in fact not. There is a concern that this enables non-residents to register building societies in New Zealand to engage in dubious financial practices or scams in other countries (as New Zealand residency or a presence in New Zealand is not required in order to register a building society in New Zealand.
In Zimbabwe, Central Africa Building Society (CABS) is the leading building society offering a diverse range of financial products and services that include transaction and savings accounts, mobile banking, mortgage loans, money market investments, term deposits and pay-roll loans.
Similar organisations in other countries
In other countries there are mutual organisations similar to building societies:
- Austria: In Austria there are four co-operative banks: Allgemeine Bausparkasse (ABV), Raiffeisen-Bausparkasse, Bausparkasse Wüstenrot AG and Bausparkasse der Sparkassen (savings bank).
- Finland: In Finland the Mortgage Society of Finland, a permanent building society, was founded in 1860. Since 2002 mortgage loans are handled by Suomen AsuntoHypoPankki, the licensed bank owned by the society.
- Germany: In Germany there are 11 Bausparkassen der Sparkassen (savings bank) named Landesbausparkassen (LBS) and 15 Bausparkassen of the private banks, for example Schwäbisch Hall, Wüstenrot, Deutsche Bank Bauspar AG and so on.
- United States: In the United States, savings and loan associations have a similar organisation and purpose.
Operational differences from banks
- Roll numbers
Because most building societies were not direct members of the UK clearing system, it was common for them to use a roll number to identify accounts rather than to allocate a six-digit sort-code and eight-digit account number to the BACS standards.
More recently, building societies have tended to obtain sort-code and account number allocations within the clearing system, and hence the use of roll numbers has diminished. When using BACS, one needs to enter roll numbers for the reference field and the building society's generic sort code and account number would be entered in the standard BACS fields.
|Wikisource has the text of the 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica article Building Societies.|
- "Building Societies Association". Bsa.org.uk. Retrieved 2012-06-06.
- Ashworth, Herbert (1980). The Building Society Story. London: Franey & Co. p. 4. ISBN 0-900382-38-4.; Berg, Maxine (1991). "Commerce and Creativity in Eighteenth-Century Birmingham". In Berg, Maxine. Markets and Manufacture in Early Industrial Europe. London: Routledge. p. 194. ISBN 0-415-03720-4. Retrieved 2010-09-07.
- Jones, Peter M. (2009). Industrial Enlightenment: Science, technology and culture in Birmingham and the West Midlands, 1760-1820. Manchester: Manchester University Press. p. 65. ISBN 0-7190-7770-2.; Chinn, Carl (2008-11-15). "Brum's building society origins". Strabane Mail (Birmingham Post and Mail Ltd.). Retrieved 1905-09-06.
- Rex, Simon (2010-04-20). "The History of Building Societies". Building Societies Association. Retrieved 2010-09-06.; Ashworth, Herbert (1980). The Building Society Story. London: Franey & Co. p. 2. ISBN 0-900382-38-4.
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- Clark, Peter (2002), British Clubs and Societies 1580-1800: The Origins of an Associational World, Oxford: Oxford University Press, p. 129, ISBN 0-19-924843-5, retrieved 2010-11-20
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- After 158 years, the end is nigh for Bristol & West, the Guardian, 10. January 2009
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- "retrieved 2008-07-12." (PDF). Retrieved 2012-06-06.
- The Temperance Permanent was so-called because the directors were required to sign the pledge, a requirement which was dropped with the merger and name-change — to the reported dismay of some members. [The Times, Friday, Apr 25, 1975; pg. 4; Issue 59379; col E, 'Temperance abandoned by building society'. Retrieved from InfoTrac on July 17, 2008].
- Britannia and Co-operative Financial Services unveil plans for super-mutual (Retrieved 22 January 2009)[dead link]
- "List of Building Society Changes". Irish Banking Federation. Retrieved 2013-04-25.
- "Notice of Instrument of Dissolution". Kiwi Deposit Building Society. 18 April 2013. Retrieved 2 August 2013.
- "Roll Number". Experianpayments.com.
- Llewellyn, D. and Holmes, M. (1991) "In Defence of Mutuality: A Redress to an Emerging Conventional Wisdom", Annals of Public and Co-operative Economics, Vol.62(3): pp. 319–354 (p. 327).
- Rasmusen, E. (1988) "Mutual banks and stock banks", Journal of Law and Economics, October, Vol.31: pp. 395–421 (p. 412).
- Kay, J. (1991) "The Economics of Mutuality", Annals of Public and Co-operative Economics, Vol.62(3): pp. 309–317 (p. 317).
- Boxall, A. and Gallagher, N. (1997) "Mutuality at the Cross Roads", Financial Stability Review, Issue 3: pp. 105–117 (p. 112).
- Llewellyn, D. (1996) "Some Reflections on the Mutuality v. Conversion Debate", Journal of Co-operative Studies, September, Vol.29(2): pp. 57–71 (p. 61).
|“||With hindsight they raised more money than they would have done had they stayed as building societies and with the credit crunch that now looks like a mistake,' said Adrian Coles. But John Wriglesworth argues that losing their independence because of this was certainly not inevitable ...||”|
—Analysis after the last of the UK's demutualised building societies lost its independence, Ian Pollock, Ibid.
- Building Societies Association
- The History of Building Societies from the Building Societies Association website.