Alan Cleary: Happy staff mean happy customers

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Alan Cleary, managing director at Precise Mortgages, casts a critical eye over the industry

The Sunday Times recently released its 16th annual 100 Best Companies to Work For list, which includes six firms from the mortgage market.

The data gathering and analysis behind the list are extensive and the outcome is largely dictated by the firms’ employees, who fill out the survey. A total of 241,361 employees completed the survey this time around, answering questions about their firms and their bosses, whether they thought their rewards were fair and how much they felt their wellbeing was valued, among other things.

At the heart of these leading companies is culture. This is something many of the large banks have got wrong and, as such, it was no surprise to see none of them listed. By far the largest mortgage firm to win an award was Nationwide Building Society, which achieved an impressive third place in the large-employer category. According to the data, its 17,735 staff are well aware of the organisation’s strong social conscience.

In the mid-sized category, Charter Court Financial Services (also known as Precise Mortgages) came tenth. Founded in 2008 with just 27 staff, the company has grown to two divisions – a savings bank and a mortgage lender – and more than 300 employees. Staff rate the organisation highly, putting it in the top 10 for the categories of ‘fair deal’, ‘wellbeing’, ‘leadership’ and ‘my company’ .

They also say they are excited about where the business is going.

Skipton Building Society was a winner too, with employees considering the mutual to be run on strong values. Staff can put forward suggestions via an intranet forum and questions can be submitted to chief executive David Cutter. It is also possible to buy or sell up to two days’ paid leave a year in exchange for salary.

Also on the list was Just Retirement, with staff believing they could make a valuable contribution to the success of the organisation.

Meanwhile, Hanley Economic Building Society achieved success on the best small company list. Seventy-five per cent of the firm’s managers have been promoted internally. Their development has included external leadership and management courses and/or qualifications.

Last but not least, congratulations to Gopher Money, which was the only mortgage broking firm to claim a place in the list. The survey found the firm values the attitudes of its employees and aims to create a flexible workplace in which people feel motivated and supported. Founded five years ago, it now has 130 employees, with 90 per cent of them having been promoted internally. Staff feel they can speak out when things are going badly and they view bosses as role models.

I can speak only on behalf of ourselves but we spend a decent proportion of our company resources on ensuring our culture is one we are proud of. Underpinning everything we do are our ‘REACH’ behaviours: respect, excellence, attention, challenge and honesty. I suspect all the winning firms have something similar in place, as indeed do many of those not included in the list.

Notice there is no mention of business levels or profits. Obviously both are highly important but I expect that for most, if not all, of the winning firms, such factors are an outcome of having a great culture. After all, happy customers start with happy employees.

It would be great to see more mortgage firms in next year’s Sunday Times awards and I know many on the distribution side that would be worthy winners.

Alan Cleary is managing director at Precise Mortgages