Money talk: Nationwide does the windfall tango

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The Independent Online
By the time next week the Nationwide could well be going the way of the Halifax and the talk could be of the end of the building society movement.

On Thursday Nationwide will announce whether its savers and borrowers have voted a bunch of rebel windfall-seekers onto the society's board, or whether they have backed the society's placemen. Assuming the former, it is difficult to see how the society can avoid coming up with a windfall proposal, and sharpish. Some estimates put the potential handout at pounds 2,000 a head for the society's 3.5m members, with the fastest option probably to sell the society, rather than convert it into a fully-fledged bank on the stockmarket.

More than a million people have already sent in their voting slips - a phenomenal turnout by the standards of such elections and one that suggests the windfall-seekers will win.

Logic would suggest that people are more likely to vote if they want change, and less likely if they are happy with the status quo. Also, the more people who vote, the more it is that savers are likely to be in the majority, and it is they who stand to gain most from any windfall.

It is almost certain that a windfall, rather than the rate improvement policy the Nationwide has been following, is in the direct interests of the vast majority of savers rather than keener rates. For most savers it would take years to make up the equivalent of any windfall.

And there is little to stop them switching from the Nationwide if its rates worsen subsequently.

Borrowers, it is true, have more to lose from an end to the Nationwide's keener mortgage rates - given that it is less easy to switch a mortgage than savings account. But for every mortgage borrower Nationwide has six savers, so the interests of its membership as a whole are clear.

DON'T hold your breath for the results of the government's comprehensive review of the mess that is this country's pensions set-up, announced last week. The review won't be finished until next year and it could take into the new millennium for the full proposals to materialise. The interim uncertainty is hardly helpful for encouraging people to make retirement provision. Until we know more, the only bit of advice that seems beyond reproach is join and keep contributing to your employer's pension scheme, assuming one is on offer. But even then, try to make sure its decent value.

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