Blog: a strategic vision for the financial mutuals sector


New research partnership launched to investigate the strategic application of mutual values

The financial mutuals sector makes a vital contribution to the UK financial services industry. Research has shown that corporate diversity, a key factor in the health of the financial services industry, has declined. This is a matter for concern, particularly when financial services must respond to calls for a new culture, a revived concern for the customer and the delivery of fairly priced services which meet everyday needs. To promote a sustainable and diverse sector of financial and banking mutuals, it is crucial to examine key factors for its success, which might include a more equitable operating environment, better ways of working and to encourage the emergence of new financial mutuals.

It is in this context that The Building Societies Association (BSA), the Association of Financial Mutuals (AFM), and the Centre for Mutual and Employee-owned Business at Kellogg College, University of Oxford have announced a research partnership to investigate the strategic application of the values and principles of mutuality, and the contribution these can make to fostering the sector’s growth. The project will examine potential strategic drivers, such as leadership, culture and inter-organisational collaboration. The study will also examine the contribution that mutuality can make to create a compelling vision for the broader financial services sector, based upon improving people’s lives.

The aim of this project is to find ways to help financial mutuals gain greater market share and to contribute to the creation of a renewed vision for the financial services sector, grounded in restored trust and collaboration for mutual benefit.

The research will be managed by Dr Ruth Yeoman, Research Fellow at the Centre for Mutual and Employee-owned Business. The output will be a set of practical recommendations to the sector which will also contribute to policy making. It is envisaged that the research will begin with an initial six-month project leading to a longer term research programme with Oxford and other academic partners.

Professor Jonathan Michie, Director of the Centre for Mutual and Employee-owned Business said: “The UK economy has long suffered from a lack of corporate diversity. This was exacerbated by demutualisation. We have paid the price for being dominated by ‘too big to fail’ PLC banks. It is important – and urgent – to promote a more corporately diverse financial services sector, and for this we need a renaissance of mutuality.”

Martin Shaw, Chief Executive of the Association of Financial Mutuals (AFM) said: “There are many factors contributing to the changing shape of financial services provision in the UK, from technology to demographics to regulation and consumer buying habits.  A profound change in the last 30 years has been the tumbling level of corporate diversity which has reduced choice for consumers and stagnated innovation.  This new project will help to better understand how we might witness a renaissance in the mutual sector, and with it a more effective market for financial services.”

Robin Fieth, Chief Executive of the Building Societies Association (BSA) said: “The financial services market is well sighted on diversity of product but not on diversity of provider.  This is not a nice to have, it’s integral to a properly functioning and sustainable competitive landscape, and adds to the stability of financial markets.  Mortgage lending has recovered well since the crisis, led by the building society sector with its strong base of retail deposits to draw on.  This is in stark contrast to SME lending which is so heavily dependent on corporate banks.  This project will help us to draw out what comes next in creating that compelling vision for financial mutuals as a core part of the financial services sector in the 21st century.”

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