The hitherto glamorous upstart egg brand was once lauded as the brash, card-based successor to the still respected, avant-garde First Direct operating model. Around that time the mutual societies were seen as deeply unfashionable and boring and treated with the same disdain as a flat cap at Royal Ascot.
Yet now the Yorkshire Building Society is seemingly about to buy the troubled egg which sadly appears to have done the rounds at the financial services party like a warm and slightly dented can of economy lager.
This seemingly odd pairing shouldn’t come as much of a surprise, though, as it would appear that the day of the mutual has dawned once again and the so-called nerdy crowd are now cool.
In 19th century England, the Industrial Revolution erupted into massive social change and, as a by-product of the drive for prosperity it threatened to tear village communities apart as generations headed into towns and cities to service heavy industry.
Building societies emerged as financial mutual help organizations for workers who had been uprooted from village communities. They offered a way for workers to pool resources and fund and build their own housing in spite of the sometimes scandalous and always difficult economic conditions of the new cities.
Mutual societies, of which the Yorkshire Building Society, Nationwide and, of course, the co-operative are examples can trace their roots back a couple of hundred years and several generations. Unlike most financial services organisations, they are run for the benefit of members rather than shareholders and take their foundation values very seriously. To this day they are one of the few types of organisation where several generations of the same family are happy to still work hand in hand.
As I very much respect this link between values, communication and brand I wrote about the YBS in Brand Engagement and feature a major case study on CFS and some of the inspirational people who work there in the sequel Brand Champions. This is not least because, despite these dark days, they are not only surviving but are thriving.
While their competitors resort to lawyers and due process to defend their much depleted positions from the wolf packs at the gate, which sadly includes a growing mob of disgruntled employees who are increasingly joining with shareholders baying for the blood of the board; Nationwide has announced further expansion plans, as has CFS, they are picking up awards for their multiple stakeholder approach to reputation and brand management at prestigious events and most mutuals are experiencing a flood of deposits and new accounts.
Cynics may claim that this simply represents a triumph of inertia over innovation and, yes, it’s true the mutuals have taken care with depositor’s money. But they have also been significant innovators in their own right and have been investing in engagement when other brands saw this as discretionary spend to be curtailed during the tough times.
Did you know that there are more co-op outlets than McDonalds stores in the UK? Were you aware that CFS was one of the most significant investors in employer branding and brand engagement across sectors and that their state of the art, award-winning brand engagement experience regularly attracts international visitors desperate to transfer best practices into their own organisations? This all goes to show that we shouldn’t blindly lust for Disney’s magic dust when seeking the employee engagement nirvana. Sometimes best practices are right in front of us.
The time has come to re-consider the humble mutual, organisations in the truest sense who treasure their legacy and who position their values at the very forefront of their brand. After all, what is a brand if it isn’t about keeping the promises you make to the market? What wouldn’t shareholders, both internal and external, give for that kind of authenticity right now?
Should the egg acquisition go through, the YBS management team will clearly need to prioritise the people aspects of the merger, as we know from our YBS experience, they surely will. Who knows what the egg employees and customers are thinking as their fate passes from one brand to the next? I know what they would have been thinking a decade ago. In light of recent events, might we suggest that this may have changed to….relief?