The fat lady isn't ready to sing; MONEY TALK
Sunday 27 July 1997
The society could yet face a takeover bid, with Prudential a possible predator. Even without a bid, next year there is every possibility that elections to the board will be contested again.
Meanwhile, Nationwide's apparently resounding victory, while morale- boosting for many of the remaining societies, does not mean that a challenge elsewhere would be unsuccessful. Nationwide has made a better fist of proving the benefits of mutuality than most, and its challengers - headed by a former butler - were hardly the most credible. True, some mutuals have been lobbying for greater protection against future bids and challenges. But there are also societies out there - Birmingham Midshires and Skipton are my tips - who would probably be quite happy to sell out to the right buyer. Speculation could also switch to mutual insurers again - another group of financial companies where there is a pressing logic for rationalisation.
It is a fair bet that between now and the millennium the number of additional windfalls notched up could reach double figures.
So windfall hunters need not give up. Indeed, for people who missed getting accounts with Nationwide, the society has said that it hopes to reopen its doors to new customers, and opening balances may be modest too.
Moreover, Nationwide is as aware as anyone that last week's vote marked a lucky escape and that outsiders will be watching for any signs of complacency. Savers and borrowers can take heart from the fact that it will have difficulty explaining any relaxation in its keener rates.
Perhaps its victory will also prompt improvements to other aspects of its service that are lacking, and in some areas, even to set the pace. Bugbears that I would like to see addressed include allowing savers in its InvestDirect instant access postal account to make withdrawals by telephone transfer. At present, the post and cheque clearance times mean savers have to wait a week or longer for access to funds, or pay to use a cashpoint if they want instant access. Secondly, an end to these and all other cashpoint charges. Thirdly, a guaranteed turnaround time on mortgage offers. Lenders have a lot of gazumping to answer for as a result of failing to process mortgage applications quickly, and Nationwide's claim that it can give a firm mortgage offer in three days, but typically takes two weeks, does not convince me that it is anything special. A same-day mortgage would clean up, and if the world's biggest building society can't find its way to launching such a product, then the Tescos and Virgins of this world will.
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