Now is the time when mutuals, so long considered an unfashionable throwback by many, are really showing their strength and coming into their own.
As we look back on 2012 and forward at the continuing challenges for the economy, there are some rays of light beginning to emerge on the financial landscape and many of these are down to the patient efforts of our building societies.
One is the increase in lending which has been particularly marked among mutuals, who account for 86 per cent of net lending in the UK this year.
During the first half of the year, net lending among building societies and other mutuals rose by 40 per cent compared to the same period in 2011 and gross lending among mutuals reached £29bn in October, up 29 per cent on last year*.
At Teachers, we’ve seen a 130 per cent increase in new lending compared to last year and have now set challenging targets for growth over the next few years.
As a provider aiming to help first-time buyers on to the property ladder, continuing this trend is not only central to our strategy but is our reason for existence.
As well as the overall lending picture, mutuals also seem to be offering their members better rates.
According to Moneyfacts, the average mortgage rate currently charged by mutuals is 4.18 per cent compared to 4.39 per cent for banks.
So, with prospective home buyers nervous about the year ahead, according to the Building Societies Association latest property tracker survey, what does 2013 hold in store?
Certainly, things appear to be improving, albeit slowly, and the BSA survey did find that the number of respondents citing saving a deposit as a barrier to home ownership is creeping down – from 64 per cent this time last year to 59 per cent now. We need to keep the numbers going in that direction.
The Funding for Lending Scheme may not be proving to be the magic key first-time buyers seek, but together with other home buying initiatives such as NewBuy and a willingness to lend, should help to keep the mortgage market on the right path. Mutuals are demonstrating that they have the willingness.
One in three loans made by mutuals are to first-time buyers and there is strong support for affordable home ownership and individual underwriting among mutual lenders.
With their market share expanding and, Britons having less trust in their banks than almost any other nation according to a global survey by Ipsos Mori this year, mutuals have an opportunity to become the champion of first-time buyers and help not only themselves but the wider economy to move forward.