Belfast Telegraph

Building society home loan deals drive profit

By Margaret Canning

Northern Ireland's only home-grown building society has announced it remains in profit despite the tough economic environment.

Progressive Building Society revealed a pre-tax profit of £3.1m for the 12 months to December 31, 2012, down from £3.3m in 2011.

The society, whose main business is mortgage lending, said conservative lending policies and prudent financial management had enabled it to remain profitable.

Chief executive Darina Armstrong said: "Pre-tax profit of £3.1m is very impressive for a financial institution in this island. I'm very pleased we've stayed in profit through the financial crisis and it's a good place to be."

The lender said its "competitive" mortgage deals were stimulating the market, including a direct mortgage campaign in the spring last year aimed at first-time buyers struggling to get on the ladder because of the need for a large deposit.

Chairman Timothy Quin said: "The ongoing low level of interest rates last year had a positive effect on the number of housing transactions in the market and this helped us to increase the volume of our new lending in 2012 up from £106m in 2011 to £125m in 2012."

Progressive's review of business in its annual report and accounts also said it had repossessed 79 properties by December 31 last year, compared to just 46 the year earlier.

It said 46 mortgages were 12 months or more in arrears compared to 51 in 2011. Borrowers who were struggling with mortgage repayments were offered help such as the extension of a mortgage term, temporary transfer to an interest-only deal or concessions of less than the monthly amount due.

But the rising cost of living meant people had less money for saving, and savings balances fell by £14m to £1.47bn. Savings receipts were down from £310m to £283m in the year.

The business review forecast only "very modest" growth in 2013 for Northern Ireland's "slow" and "fragile" economy.

"We recognise that the challenges of low economic growth and low interest rates will dictate what happens in our local housing market in the immediate future," it said.

"Our key focus in the year ahead will be to build our financial strength, as this provides security for our members, whilst continuing to maintain an appropriate balance between the interests of savers and borrower."

But Mr Quin said he was cautiously optimistic. "We believe that the worst is over in the housing market and hope to see more evidence of increased activity and stronger house prices.

"The ongoing uncertainty in the eurozone makes an increase in the official UK bank rate less likely this year, which should provide stability for borrowers but may disappoint savers."

Ms Armstrong also said the society remained committed to its 12-strong branch network. "We find that the branch network is key to our business model due to the personal relationship that's built up with staff, who would know a lot of the members coming in. They are not trying desperately to sell them products which do not suit them."

Belfast Telegraph