Belfast Telegraph

‘Steady and reliable’ Progressive gains £3m

By Margaret Canning

Northern Ireland’s only home-grown lender has doubled its profits while vowing its focus on “steady, reliable growth” will continue.

Progressive Building Society said pre-tax profits were up to £3m in the year ending December 31, 2010, compared with £1.5m in 2009.

But the subdued housing market meant the independent society fell short of its target for gross lending.

New mortgage lending was £107m, compared with £141m a year earlier.

A sluggish housing market also prompted Progressive to increase its bad debt provisions from £0.5m to just short of £5m.

Society chairman Dr Joan Smyth said: “This will cushion the society from losses that could arise due to the decline in local property values.”

Its annual report and accounts said 31 of approximately 15,000 mortgage customers were in more than one year’s arrears, while possession proceedings were brought against 18 borrowers.

The balance sheet stayed steady with assets value increasing slightly to £1.67bn, while liquidity levels of over £360m provided continued security.

Chief executive Darina Armstrong said growth was dependent on the health of the housing market.

“The mortgage market has to pick up for any more growth to happen. There are not enough mortgage transactions taking place out there.”

She said the institution was proud of the results, which could be attributed to careful management of costs, natural wastage — and the consequence of high rate savings accounts drawing to a close.

“Over the past few years we never got carried away on the high-risk bandwagon, when the high risk was being chased with little thought to the downturn that would come.

“We also have the benefit of being a mutual so that we are not driven by shareholders who were purely investors in us.”

The society holds around 100,000 savings accounts and 15,000 mortgage accounts.

Mrs Armstrong said the society — whose ‘idents’ are a fixture of UTV weather reports — had its eye on steady growth.

“We don’t have to grow in a dramatic way but in a very sustainable, balanced way.

“We have never chased the very quick, high speed growth which comes at a high cost which is very well evidenced at the minute.

“We prefer steady reliable growth.”

Belfast Telegraph