Belfast Telegraph

Lending for mortgages at Progressive grows by 11% to hit £205m

By Margaret Canning

Mortgage lending at Northern Ireland's Progressive Building Society grew by 11% to £205m in 2016, it announced today.

Chief executive Darina Armstrong said it was a year of strong performance for the organisation, which focuses on mortgage lending and savings.

But pre-tax profits were down 16% to £11.8m in the year ending December 2016, from £14m a year earlier. Post-tax profits were £9.4m, down from £11.1m a year earlier.

The organisation is Northern Ireland's only homegrown building society and has 12 branches.

Mrs Armstrong said: "While the local economy faced uncertainty throughout 2016, the rate of growth was better than many had predicted and this was reflected through another strong financial performance."

She said borrower behaviour seemed unaffected by the vote to leave the EU.

However, Mrs Armstrong also admitted savers were being disadvantaged by the Bank of England's decision to cut interest rates to 0.25% in the aftermath of the decision. "I didn't see the need for it, but that is what we are left with," she said.

She also said borrowers were continuing to benefit, explaining: "There is a younger generation of borrower which has done phenomenally well from low interest rates for a long time. They have done better than savers."

She said the society continued to offer competitive rates to savers, despite the low base rate.

Mortgage lending was still growing as the building society benefited from an improving housing market.

And while prices have increased gradually, with the Office for National Statistics pointing to a 5.7% increase in average prices over the last year, Ms Armstrong said housing in Northern Ireland remained affordable.

She said that while the first-time buyer market was strong, along with segments of the home-mover market, older, larger houses tended not to be selling well. Ms Armstrong added: "Across our branches, mortgage lending has increased, helping people buy, build and improve their homes, which contributes to the local market and wider economy. Our savings balance also grew by £62m, which was achieved by offering some of the best rates in the market."

She said the society was spending money on improving its IT systems, including enabling customers to check their mortgage accounts and savings accounts online.

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