Belfast Telegraph

Awards help firm to continue building on a Progressive approach to lending

By Margaret Canning

The Progressive Building Society has announced it will sponsor the Excellence in Marketing category at this year’s Belfast Telegraph Business Awards.

Darina Armstrong, the incoming chief executive of Northern Ireland’s only home-grown lender, said she was delighted to announce that Progressive would be sponsoring the awards for the second year in succession.

Mrs Armstrong, who takes over from Bill Webb next month, said the society had benefited considerably from its sponsorship of the event last year.

“We feel it is important to encourage people to take part and showcase what they have been achieving in marketing terms,” she said.

“There is some excellent and innovative work being done in marketing in companies and organisations across the province and entrants would benefit from coverage in Northern Ireland’s national newspaper.

“Certainly, we have benefited as sponsors and even to be there on the night, presenting our award, was great.”

Mrs Armstrong, who is currently finance director at the Progressive, said the company was selective about its own marketing strategy, often choosing innovative solutions such as sponsorship of the UTV weather.

“It’s one thing that everyone looks out for,” she said. “Wherever they may be and whatever they are doing, everyone wants to know what the weather is going to be like. Everyone in Northern Ireland is watching the weather.

“What’s important to us is that, at the same time, they are also aware of our marketing messages.”

The now familiar Progressive “idents” feature the work of children’s author Oliver Jeffers and singer Brian Kennedy.

“Because we are fundamentally a local company, we have taken the approach of using and encouraging local talent in our advertising,” said Mrs Armstrong.

She said businesses could receive a boost from entering the awards, which would be particularly beneficial during the current difficult economic climate.

She said: “It’s a brilliant motivator. It’s great for businesses to see what they achieve and because entering means reviewing marketing activity, it might even spark some new creative ideas.”

In April the society reported a pre-tax profit of £1.5m, down from £2.7m a year earlier. At that time, Mr Webb said there would be a “significant uplift” for 2010.

Mrs Armstrong said: “We are still on target for an improvement this year. For us, it’s been another good year. Results will be good.”

The building society holds around 15,000 mortgage accounts and almost 100,000 savings accounts. Mrs Armstrong said the Northern Ireland property market remains slow. “It is difficult out there,” she said.

“The number of housing transactions is very low but we’re seeing encouraging news from England, where transactions are up.

“We know from many years’ experience that Northern Ireland is likely to follow that pattern, although we tend to lag up to one year behind on the housing trends.

“When prices are low it is the time to buy and we do have money to lend. For us, that has never been a problem. We are at the quality end of the market, however. From first-time buyers we have always encouraged a deposit.”

She said Progressive has never embraced the controversial “self-cert” mortgages or 100% mortgages, but was always able to support borrower.

“Our local roots mean that we do all we can to support members who fall into arrears, something which in our experience tends to happen more often because of marital break-up than job losses,” Mrs Armstrong said.

“The last thing we want to do is for anybody to lose their home, so we do everything we can do keep them there."

She said Progressive’s members were saving more and that the days of spending beyond our means are over.

She said: “Prudent housekeeping may not be the most exciting marketing message, but today people are increasingly aware of its importance and they are thinking much more about how they spend and how they save.”

The society will mark its anniversary in 2014.

“Here at Progressive, our independence and local base has not only given us flexibility but has allowed us to keep our costs low,” she said. “We have never had to impress demanding shareholders or pay excessive dividends. We therefore move towards the celebration of our centenary in 2014 with confidence and a hard-earned but well-placed feeling of security.

“The Progressive will continue to be a place which can help people buy their own home and provide a safe haven for their savings.”

Belfast Telegraph