Societies could be new model lenders

Can the building society sector withstand the prevailing stormy financial climate?

This is a question that will no doubt be occupying the minds of luminaries at the Building Societies Association as more and more mutuals reveal the impact of the credit crunch on their tenuous grip on survival. When will the next one bite the dust?

With regional societies suffering the consequences of investing in Icelandic banks and their exposure to sub-prime lending, it’s unlikely that the white knights at Nationwide will have the appetite or resources to ride to the rescue every time a Dunfermline pops up.

So is this the death knell for our much loved mutuals? One hopes not, although there is little doubt that the fire that has raged through banks is edging ever closer to the relative minnows of the lending industry in the mutual sector.

But would it really be such a tragedy if we were to lose our societies?

On one hand, yes. The values the mutual movement cherishes seem to be in short supply in an industry whose moral compass has been consigned to the rubbish bin.

On the other hand, societies have long been a waning force in the market and were they to consolidate themselves into virtual oblivion the vacuum left in their wake would simply be filled from another quarter.

Perhaps the mutual sector could become a government-directed savings and loan-style banking movement with greater regulatory supervision at its core.