Belfast Telegraph

Progressive Building Society sets a new profit record

By John Mulgrew

Progressive Building Society has once again broken its own records, posting a £14m pre-tax profit in 2015 as mortgage lending soared by a fifth in one year.

And chief executive Darina Armstrong today said any "uncertainty" in the run-up to the EU referendum is "not healthy" for Northern Ireland's economy.

Lending rose 21% to £185m in 2015 at Progressive, which is Northern Ireland's only homegrown lending institution. Ms Armstrong said: "It's been the best ever in terms of profit and we are delighted."

She said the boost had been down to a pick-up in the overall mortgage market, buoyed once again by first time buyers.

But the home movers' market - people moving to bigger houses - had also started to pick up.

"That was really encouraging to see because in my opinion, a first time market being buoyant is great, but the whole market needs to be buoyant. We need activity at all stages.

"Savings have been great. And as an organisation, we have encouraged people to save."

Progressive has just over 89,000 savings members and over 25,000 mortgage members.

Michael Boyd, deputy chief executive, said: "There was an increase of 8% (in post-tax profit). The three main drivers included margin management.

"It was a very competitive mortgage market, so it was difficult enough to ensure we were able to manage that margin.

"For our savers, we ensured we provided a strong rate for our savers.

"Efficiency would be the second one. Our management expenses ratio is in the top four or five among building societies in the UK.

"And improving provisions. The housing market is improving, house prices are going up, which reduces the amount we have to provide for bad debts."

Those provisions set aside for write-backs - money set aside to cover predicted bad loans - have fallen from £5m in 2014, to £2.5m last year.

"We haven't had the big swings that the banks have had," Mr Boyd said.

And it's also looking like another strong start for this year, with the first quarter posting similar numbers to the beginning of 2015.

While Ms Armstrong wouldn't be drawn on whether she is against a Brexit, she said: "Listening to the economic analysis, there seems to be a bit of a slowdown waiting for the vote. That's not healthy.

"Even for Northern Ireland, we have had the bad years, and the biggest dip ever, just when it's all starting to go again, then we have this uncertainty.

"Commentators who know better than me are saying people are holding back on making investments.

"That can't be good for us."

But she added that she doesn't have any concerns that savers and those buying new homes will be affected by the vote on June 23.

Progressive now has 12 branches across Northern Ireland and employs 161 staff. It also launched a new Belfast branch at Cornmarket last summer.

Belfast Telegraph