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60 seconds with… Alun Williams

Alun Williams
Chief Executive
Swansea Building Society

Are you pleased about the possibility of a Welsh version of England’s NewBuy scheme?
We realised Wales wasn’t included in the NewBuy scheme, which didn’t seem fair. Clearly, we weren’t in as strong a position in Wales without the scheme so representations were made to the Building Societies Association and Council of Mortgage Lenders by the three Welsh building societies – Principality, Monmouthshire and ourselves. I’m pleased that the Welsh assembly government is trying to do something about it as it will benefit first-time buyers greatly.

What do you make of the Bank of England scheme to offer banks cheap loans?
Major lenders such as Lloyds Banking Group and Royal Bank of Scotland are having to downsize. It flies in the face of the Bank of England loans scheme for banks – there was no mention of building societies. If Lloyds and Royal Bank of Scotland are shrinking their balance sheets, then what use will it be to receive more risk-weighted assets from the Bank? It seems strange.

Is it an opportunity for building societies?
There are opportunities for building societies. However, one problem is that we do not have a suitable vehicle to raise capital because we are not owned by shareholders and can’t do a rights issue as a plc bank would.

There is no Financial Services Authority approved instrument to allow building societies to raise capital other than its own retained profits, meaning we can’t grow quicker than our profits allow. There is an opportunity for building societies to expand but under the current regulatory regime, societies would not be able to do it other than modest annual growth of 3% to 5%.

If you were in charge of the FSA for a day, what would you do?
I would have more joined-up thinking and get the industry together with the FSA, Bank of England and government to discuss how we get the economy moving. It may be that some FSA regulation is counter-productive to the UK economic growth.

What three things would you take to a desert island?
Mobile phone, as it can do everything, a good knife and a hat with sunglasses.

What book are you currently reading?
Back from the brink: 1,000 days at Number 11, by Alistair Darling

Interview by Samuel Dale

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