When Ross Smith, chief executive of the New Zealand-based building society Southland met the chief executive of Leeds, Ian Ward there was none of the traditional theatre that usually precedes a meeting of the two countries.
The Haka is reserved for places like Twickenham and a much publicised spear tackle is certainly not appropriate to two leading figures in the world of mutuality, rather a warm handshake.
The visit is part of Southland’s drive to understand how a successful mutual organisation in the UK can benefit their members in New Zealand and Leeds efficiency and ability to deliver value to its members was the obvious place to start.
Smith says: “Leeds is an extremely well run mutual organisation and there are a number of synergies between our societies. We operate in a different market place but the challenges are similar and I am delighted with the support Ian and his staff have given us.
“Although we are 12 hours ahead of the UK in time we are certainly not ahead in business and the competition in the UK is extremely strong. Given this, our relationship with Leeds will better prepare us for the future in New Zealand, where strong competition is likely to mirror that in the UK.”
Whilst the menace of an All Black front row is nowhere to be seen it is easy to see that Smith is as uncompromising as the legendary rugby team. A visit to the Southland website home page leaves you in no doubt about his attitude to business, with the quote “We’re proud to be a New Zealand owned, look-you-in-the-eye type of organisation.”
Ian Ward, chief executive of Leeds, says: “These visits are useful and an excellent opportunity to look at ways of improving how we operate to increase value to members. Like us, they are a one-member one-vote mutual, which differentiates us from banks.
“It is also interesting to look at products and compare, for example, mortgages. We are currently offering a best buy ten-year fixed rate at only 4.69% compared to its best three-year fixed at 8.05%. Clearly, the UK market differs slightly from that in New Zealand and our keen, innovative pricing is something Ross was extremely impressed with and interested in.”