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< Back to the AGM 2024

In conversation with Richard

Richard Fearon, Chief Executive Officer, Leeds Building Society

Our Chief Executive Officer reflects on what we achieved in 2023 and shares his thoughts on the year ahead.

How do you reflect on 2023?

There was a great deal of economic turmoil during the year with high inflation and rising interest rates. But throughout I saw the Society at its very best, as we supported our members and each other through some tough times. We delivered fantastic results, we made good progress delivering our purpose and we strongly supported good causes and communities. I’m very proud of what we achieved.

We delivered fantastic results, we made good progress delivering our purpose and we strongly supported good causes and communities. I’m very proud of what we achieved.


In 2023 the Society continued to support first time buyers. Why is this important?

Everything we do is in support of our purpose of putting home ownership within reach of more people, generation after generation. So it’s pleasing that more than 1 in 2 of our mortgages went to a first time buyer, particularly given that it was the hardest time to get on the property ladder since our founding year of 1875.

This was driven by lots of innovation, such as launching Experian Boost to help improve credit scores for aspiring homeowners through their regular payments. We also created our Reach Mortgage range which provides options for people who may otherwise be turned down for a standard mortgage with us. We also ran a campaign to highlight the 426,000 first time buyers who could be lost to the housing market by 2027 – we wanted to bring a voice to their frustrations and will continue to campaign for reforms to help them achieve their home ownership dream.

How did we support people with mortgages?

As a member-owned mutual, it’s right we use our resources to help members stay on the property ladder. We were one of the first lenders to sign the Mortgage Charter to provide further help to those struggling with their payments. We also invested in the teams that support members in financial difficulty. I’ve listened to many of these calls and it’s emotional to hear the relief in people’s voices when we’ve been able to help them at a time where they need it the most.

Also, we haven’t charged arrears fees to our members since the pandemic, and we won’t do so until at least 2025.

122,300 new savings members joined the Society in 2023, a sign that we’re providing great value to our savers. We offered rates 0.59% above the market average in 2023 which works out as an extra £110 million in members’ pockets in interest. Members saved a record £2.7 billion with us, and we added two purpose-led, market-first products to our range, the Home Deposit Saver and the Shared Ownership Saver. We continued to provide highly rated service in branches, on the phone and online, with a new digital savings application process reducing the time it takes for members to apply by over 80%.

Are we making progress on our journey towards net zero?

This is a big focus for us. This year we continued our journey to significantly reduce our energy consumption by 2030 and become net zero in our operational emissions. We worked with the Energy Savings Trust to launch an online tool that helps members assess and improve the energy performance of their properties. And we updated our lending calculations to allow us to lend more on the most energy-efficient homes – something no other lender currently does.

How have we made progress on inclusion and diversity?

It’s so important that the Society reflects the diversity of our members. A big indicator of our progress is participation from colleagues in the events we run. I went to the Northern Pride event we participated in, and it was a real highlight for me. I’m very proud we were the first building society to be accredited as a ‘Gold’ Inclusive Employer in 2023. It’s validation for the journey we’re on to create a Society for everyone.

I’m very proud we were the first building society to be accredited as a ‘Gold’ Inclusive Employer in 2023. It’s validation for the journey we’re on to create a Society for everyone.


How have we made progress on inclusion and diversity within the Society?

It’s really important that the Society reflects the diversity of all the members we serve every day. We made tremendous progress last year in terms of colleagues having open conversations and sharing their experiences, and we were involved in lots of events too. I really enjoyed the Leeds Pride parade we sponsored – it was a fabulous atmosphere as colleagues and families got ready in our new building.

We also held a whole range of different events across the Society, for example for Black History Month. It’s important that people feel comfortable to share their different experiences, and I’m keen that we keep those conversations going.

What was your proudest moment of 2023?

It’s so hard to choose. Seeing colleagues step up and support members and each other through difficult times was very gratifying. But if I had to pick one thing, it’s winning the Leading With Purpose award in the Business Culture awards. It’s special to be officially recognised as a purpose-led organisation.

What’s your message to members for 2024?

As I look ahead, it’s important to acknowledge the decision by Iain Cornish to step down as our chair from 2025.

2024 is likely to bring yet more economic uncertainty, political change, and cost of living challenges. But we’re in a strong position to support members through this thanks to Iain’s contribution to our growth, his care in safeguarding the Society’s rich heritage, and his determination to deliver our purpose. The board has initiated a process for the appointment of our new Chair and an update will follow once that process is complete.

Through the year we’ll improve how we support existing mortgage customers when they come to the end of their deal, including through new technology. We’ll invest further in our branch network and we’ll also announce our new charity partner.

 

As always, I thank you for your ongoing trust and confidence in our Society.