Personal Finance: Carpetbaggers mobilise on the internet

THE building society carpetbaggers are back. And this time they are talking tactics on the internet. Several websites already offer tips and message board discussions for those intent on forcing building societies to pay a windfall to members. A new site, Members First, was set up last week, stating that its aim was to "give control of building societies back to the members".

This mass mobilisation of cash-hungry members could prove the biggest threat yet to the beleaguered building society movement. A society member has to have 50 backers before he or she can put a resolution to the board that the society should vote on conversion - meaning it becomes a bank or is taken over. Either way, the ex-society has to pay out cash or shares to members as compensation for losing their ownership stake.

Pam O'Keeffe, at The Building Societies Association, says: "What concerns us about the internet is the ease of communication and how much easier it is for them to get 50 members together. In the age of e-mail communication, it has to be questioned whether that threshold is high enough."

The big societies are already under renewed pressure. Last week, six of them met to discuss ways to fight off the unwanted attention of Michael Hardern, "king of the carpetbaggers". Last year Mr Hardern forced the Nationwide to poll its members on putting itself up for sale. He was narrowly defeated. Now he has turned his attention to the Britannia, Yorkshire, Skipton, Leeds & Holbeck, and Chelsea and Portman.

In a separate move, the Bradford & Bingley building society has already committed itself to polling its members on staying mutual. A member, Stephen Major, collected 50 backers and forced the 2.5million-member society to take out adverts in the national press announcing that a vote would take place as part of the AGM in April.

The B&B is strongly opposed to conversion but its hands are tied. "There is no legal way not to put this to the members," a spokesman said.

Meanwhile, the B&B and the Portman have closed their doors to new savers. Others could follow if they are swamped with would-be carpetbaggers in the next few weeks.

The internet activists distance themselves from Mr Hardern, believing that he damages their cause. He may well fail in his current attempts to disrupt the six societies, but even if he goes away, there will be hundreds of others to take his place.

The Government last week refused to offer any extra protection to mutual societies. All they can do is mount a massive campaign to persuade their members of the long-term benefits of mortgage rates that are lower than those offered by most banks. Because there are no shareholders, mutuals can plough their profits back into better deals for members.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and Clara have their first real heart to heart since he regenerated in 'Deep Breath'
TV
Arts and Entertainment
James Hewitt has firmly denied being Harry’s father
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Oliver
filmTV chef Jamie Oliver turned down role in The Hobbit
News
The official police photograph of Dustin Diamond taken after he was arrested in Wisconsin
peopleDownfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
PROMOTED VIDEO
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Sport
Ashley Barnes of Burnley scores their second goal
footballMan City vs Burnley match report
News
news
News
Sir James Dyson: 'Students must be inspired to take up the challenge of engineering'
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Man of action: Christian Bale stars in Exodus: Gods and Kings
film
Life and Style
Apple showed no sign of losing its talent for product launches with the new, slightly larger iPhone 6 making headlines
techSecurity breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant- NY- Investment Bank

Not specified: Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant Top tier investment bank i...

Selby Jennings: Quantitative Research | Equity | New York

Not specified: Selby Jennings: Quantitative Research | Global Equity | New Yor...

Selby Jennings: SVP Model Validation

Not specified: Selby Jennings: SVP Model Validation This top tiered investment...

Selby Jennings: Oil Operations

Highly Competitive: Selby Jennings: Our client, a leading European Oil trading...

Day In a Page

A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

Who remembers that this week we enter the 150th anniversary year of the end of the American Civil War, asks Robert Fisk
Homeless Veterans appeal: Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served

Homeless Veterans appeal

Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served
Downfall of Dustin 'Screech' Diamond, the 'Saved By The Bell' star charged with bar stabbing

Scarred by the bell

The downfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Security breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
Cuba's golf revolution: But will the revolutionary nation take 'bourgeois' game to its heart?

Will revolutionary Cuba take 'bourgeois' golf to its heart?

Fidel Castro ridiculed the game – but now investment in leisure resort projects is welcome
The Locked Room Mysteries: As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor Otto Penzler explains the rules of engagement

The Locked Room Mysteries

As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
Amy Adams on playing painter Margaret Keane in Tim Burton's Big Eyes

How I made myself Keane

Amy Adams hadn’t wanted to take the role of artist Margaret Keane, because she’d had enough of playing victims. But then she had a daughter, and saw the painter in a new light
Ed Richards: Parting view of Ofcom chief. . . we hate jokes on the disabled

Parting view of Ofcom chief... we hate jokes on the disabled

Bad language once got TV viewers irate, inciting calls to broadcasting switchboards. But now there is a worse offender, says retiring head of the media watchdog, Ed Richards
A look back at fashion in 2014: Wear in review

Wear in review

A look back at fashion in 2014
Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015. Might just one of them happen?

Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015

Might just one of them happen?
War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

The West needs more than a White Knight

Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

The stories that defined 2014

From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?