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West Bromwich denies Coventry merger talks

West Bromwich has denied that it is in merger talks with rival mutual Coventry and says the future of the society’s national brokerage Mortgageforce is assured.

The comments come from Robert Sharpe, who took over as chief executive of West Brom last autumn.

In an upcoming interview in Mortgage Strategy’s sister publication Lending Strategy, Sharpe says: “We are not talking to anyone and we are not being talked to.”

As for the future of Mortgageforce, Sharpe is adamant that the brokerage still has a valuable role to play.

Questions surrounded the future of Mortgageforce following the departure of founder Rob Clifford last year but Sharpe says the business is secure.

He says: “We’ve had to adapt our business to the current marketplace. Mortgageforce is part of the strategy going forward and we’ve got some good people there including managing director Kevin Duffy and technical manager Katie Tucker.

“Clearly, the volume of business is not what would be expected in a normal market but the firm is making money.”

He adds: “We have had to cut down considerably in terms of infrastructure costs so we’re doing all the right things. Mortgageforce is still a force to be reckoned with.

“With the backing of West Brom, the company can continue to be a presence in the high street as the market comes back.”

When Sharpe joined West Brom it was thought that, given his record of big industry mergers, he would do the same at the mutual. But he says that joining forces with a rival has never been part of his brief and that he’s in for the long haul.

Sharpe received a generous settlement following his retirement as chief executive of Portman when it merged with Nationwide in August 2007.

But he says it was the challenge of turning West Brom around that persuaded him to turn his back on an attractive portfolio of non-executive directorships.

He adds: “I think what the board was looking for was a change in culture in the organisation given the current climate, moving away from sales and growth and towards risk management and control.

“There was a need for a realistic view that took account of the way the world was changing. There was also a need to change the society in line with challenges in the mortgage market.”

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