NO-HEADLINE

Nic Cicutti weighs up the benefits of staying mutual
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The Independent Online
The election next month of a new Nationwide board is one of the most important in the building society's history. Members who vote will be given a chance - albeit indirectly - to decide if they wish to follow other societies and seek to convert, or whether they will stay mutual.

Five candidates from Members for Conversion, a group led by Michael Hardern, are standing in the election. If they win, the pressure on Nationwide to demutualise also will be massive.

We are giving both sets of candidates a chance to put their case. As editor of this section, I have a view on this too.

Bluntly, I believe Micheal Hardern and his friends are wrong. Not so much on issues of morality - that is for others to decide - but on points of fact.

Sure, millions of former building society members will receive free-share handouts. How much they will be worth, given the inflated prices now being bandied for them, is another matter. Still, it sounds attractive, especially if, as Mr Hardern claims, the benefits of mutuality take hundreds of years to trickle through.

He's wrong, of course, as Phillip Williamson shows. Ah, Mr Hardern might argue, but the vast majority don't have a pounds 60,000 mortgage. Actually, many people nowadays do, particularly first-time buyers and those moving the next step up.

Which is why, by the way, the assets of Nationwide have grown so spectacularly in the past 10 or 15 years.

But what of those whose mortgages are far smaller? Here, Mike Hardern uses his figures disingenuously. Statistically, those with smaller mortgages are likely to be older and therefore have larger savings accounts. In other words, there is a rough-and-ready element of fair play at work.

Equally disingenuous is his argument that the rich are being subsidised by the poor at Nationwide. If he believes that, what does he feel about carpetbaggers being subsidised by millions of longer-term members?

As for the claim that once elected, his board members can devolve decision- making to management bureaucrats - what a contempt for the rights of members to be properly represented on the board!

If members vote for him and his crew, they should be under no illusion it will mean higher mortgages and lower rates. In this election, members have the unusual, but happy opportunity to vote both in favour of their wallets and for a higher sense of morality (see, I've fallen for it too). They should seize the chance and reject all Members for Conversion candidates.

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