A year of building on solid foundations

A year of building on  solid foundations

When Andrew Craddock took the gamble to leave the comfort zone of his southern roots and head to the North-East a year ago, he had a clear objective.

Darlington Building Society’s reputation for community engagement and creativity had reverberated around the financial sector and, as the Society’s new Chief Executive, he wanted to build on those solid foundations.

A year on, and DBS has done just that: by not only reinforcing its commitment to donate five per cent of its profits to good causes, but by employing more staff, introducing more efficient systems, developing new products, and investing in its branch network.

“When I arrived, the Society was clearly in good shape,” says Andrew. “The business had grown significantly in the previous three years and doubled its lending. It was a case of it’s not broken so don’t try to fix it.”

However, he made an early commitment to visit all nine branches to talk to staff, and his assessment was that resources had not kept pace with the growth.

“They were under a lot of pressure and they needed more support to deal with the additional business,” he says. “It’s an important part of our ethos to give our members unrivalled personal service, and more resource was needed to give staff the time they needed to do that.”

By the end of 2019, DBS will be employing 30 more people than at the start of the year. “That’s been one of the most pleasing aspects of my first year because it’s had an important impact on job satisfaction and customer service.” A strong financial performance has been underpinned by lending to our members to purchase their own homes, which we expect to be slightly higher than last year’s £130m

– plus significant growth on savings, thanks to a range of products, including several ‘best-buys’.

In September, DBS launched lending into Scotland, so it now covers the whole of the UK apart from Northern Ireland. It also invested in a new role to strengthen its position in the intermediary market with appointment of Ben Blyth as the organisation’s first Head of Intermediary Distribution.

These are just some of the significant developments since Andrew took over as CEO on December 1, 2018, having been lured to the position after four years as Chief Executive of the Buckinghamshire Building Society, based in his childhood village of Chalfont St Giles.

It would have been easy to see out his impressive career on his home patch, but the call from Darlington Building Society was too tempting.

He’s bought a house in Northallerton and has quickly grown fond of the region: “It’s been fantastic,” he says. “It may be a cliché, but the people really are so friendly – I like the fact that they say it how it is – and we’re surrounded by beautiful countryside.”

As well as increasing staff numbers, another priority was to invest in the branch network. Guisborough, Yarm and Barnard Castle were all refurbished during 2019, and announcements will be made soon about relocating Bishop Auckland and Redcar branches to more central sites that have better disabled access.

Work is also underway to identify new locations to extend the branch network, therefore spreading the benefits of a mutual society with a proud history dating back to 1856 when it was launched as the Darlington Working Men’s Equitable Permanent Building Society to benefit local people.

Indeed, the Society’s ethos has remained true for those 163 years, with a core purpose spelled out in its latest strategy document: “Improving the lives of our members and communities through supporting home ownership and encouraging saving.”

Improvements in systems have been made in the past year, with more planned and mortgage and savings platforms replaced with new functionality to enable brokers and members to access accounts through different channels. But while it was important for DBS to embrace new technology, the emphasis remains unashamedly on face-to-face personal service.

“We want local people to be able to walk into their local branch and get the personal financial advice they need, as well as save for the future, and get help to purchase a home,” says Andrew.

And every customer can deal with DBS in full confidence that five per cent of profits will continue to be reinvested back into the community during 2020. Indeed, there is a glint in Andrew’s eye when he suggests that the five per cent commitment may soon be extended over a longer period.

“When I’m interviewing people for jobs, the five per cent pledge is the thing they always talk about,” he says. “It encourages people to want to work here and makes the existing staff really proud.”

The introduction of a formal apprenticeship programme in 2020 will give young people the chance to share that pride.

Meanwhile, the Society has strengthened its board by appointing three new high‐calibre non‐executive directors, with Angela Russell, Kate McIntyre and Jessica Williams bringing a wide range of skills and expertise from varied backgrounds.

All in all, it has been a fruitful first year with a lot to be proud of, not least being crowned Best Specialist Mortgage Provider at the British Bank Awards. But, as always with Darlington Building Society, it comes back to the importance of making a difference in local communities.

Asked for his most memorable moments of 2019, Andrew points to his pride in the way a team from DBS climbed Cleveland’s four peaks in support of autism charity Daisy Chain. He and his wife Gill were part of the team that raised £2,000 with match funding.

And, earlier in the year, there was personal poignancy when he presented St Teresa’s Hospice with a cheque for £100,000, representing the total raised by DBS staff over the past 22 years.

“I lost my dad to cancer and he was cared for in a hospice, so I know at first-hand what it means,” he says. “That cheque was in addition to the five per cent pledge – it was what the staff themselves had raised – and that summed up to me what Darlington Building Society is all about.”

Watch out for fraud

Remember to be vigilant when you receive communications from someone claiming to be us. Be wary about any communication from someone asking for personal details. You can find out more about fraud and cyber-crime by visiting the Action Fraud website: www.actionfraud.police.uk