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'It took 90 years to reach first £1m, but less than a week to achieve the last'

Meet Roland Gardner – Newbury Building Society's £1bn man

Newbury Building Society chief executive Roland Gardner

Newbury Building Society chief executive Roland Gardner

Three decades after first joining Newbury Building Society, chief executive Roland Gardner has succeeded in achieving a key
milestone in its corporate 2020 vision, way ahead of target – £1bn of assets.

Having successfully navigated the company through the choppy waters of Britain’s financial sector as CEO for the past 11 years, Roland credits the significantly strong skill set of his team for the achievement.

“We’re delighted to have reached the £1bn asset threshold,” he says.

“During the society’s 160 years of serving our local communities, it took 90 years to reach the first £1m assets, but less than a week to achieve the last £1m.

“In my first month here the board celebrated £100m; now our growth is around £60m-£70m per year.

“Back in 2011 we knew we needed to grow.

“We recognised that it is quite easy to grow without making money and quite easy to make money without growing, but the difficulty is achieving them both together.

“That is what we have done successfully over the past six years here and why we have reached this milestone three years early.

“We have, in fact, been able to do it while making record profits too, which is down to our cost-effective growth strategy.”

It is a growth strategy that is clearly working.

The society is in the top-performing quartile in its sector and is currently the 16th biggest building society in the UK, with 160 staff, 10 branches, 68,000 members and 6,600 mortgage borrowers.

The milestone brings the society into a new regulatory band, which, for example, has necessitated it to increase the scope of its risk and compliance departments, and it now has a project management team to deal with the regulatory requirements and business development projects.

Roland, who lives in Highclere, says the good working practices that the society has always adopted have ensured it has continued to grow during a tough economic climate.

“The last 10 years have been completely different from my first 20 years here in terms of regulatory supervision,” he says.

“We typically used to see the regulator every three years before the banking crisis, but during the credit crunch they seemed to be phoning us every day to check our liquidity levels.

“We now have regular contact, including annual visits.

“In 2014, they bolstered the regulations that governed mortgage lending.

“Before then you didn’t have to give advice to anyone taking out a mortgage, but we were already doing that so there wasn’t so much change for us to make.

“Stricter rules regarding affordability and arrears management were also adopted at that time.

“For us to have virtually no mortgage losses and complaints is something to be very proud of.”

Roland had studied German and medieval history at St Andrew’s University, which he says taught him to “write well and how to put thoughts together”.

“I didn’t know what career I wanted at the time I left school, so university prolonged the decision-making process,” Roland admits.

“I did a few jobs, including working as a forklift driver in Nuremberg, in Germany, during my GAP year.”

He moved to Newbury in 1985 and his career at the society started two years later when he left HFC bank to become branch manager for the Newbury office of NBS.

“I had to learn quickly, but things weren’t as complex as they are now,” Roland says.

“I developed the society’s lending policy, which had previously been inadequate in detail and largely operated through word of mouth.

“A sound lending policy is the cornerstone of our success and I am delighted to see how well ours has stood up over time.

“I also have great pleasure seeing customers today who are the children of some of my first customers.”

In 1997, Roland took a post at the society’s head office and spent the next 10 years working in a number of management roles.

He became an executive in 2001 and was in charge of the lending team, the IT function and the customer service team.

He joined the board in 2006 and then was appointed chief executive in 2007, a moment he describes as the proudest of his career.

Roland says he sees a significant advantage to being mutual.

It enables him to invest in the business for the future and this includes the “massive technical revolution” on the horizon that the society needs to keep up with.

“As a mutual organisation, we take pride in supporting and providing our members with the best possible experience,” he explains.

“We are very much a branch-based service, but we now need to look more deeply at how we appeal to people in their 20s and 30s and how we become their financial service provider.

“Three years ago we entered online savings, but currently only about 10 per cent of our customers are using it.

“We were the first to develop the system and after further development we now have a quality product which is genuinely fit for purpose.”

The local communities and charity are also very important to the society and so, says Roland, these are therefore a big part of his family life too.

“Our new marketing team and branch network have increased our charitable work recently,” he adds.

“All of our branches have a chosen charity and we have also developed a new charity account in the last year where some of the interest goes to the customer’s selected charity.

“Staff are able to spend two days every year carrying out charitable work as well.”

Roland, who is 57 and recently became a grandfather for the first time, is a member of Newbury and Crookham Golf Club, plays cricket for East Woodhay seconds and tennis for Woolton Hill.

“But golf is definitely my future,” he laughs. “You have to understand your limitations.”

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