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New Leeds chief executive looks to the future

Leeds Building Society has promoted Richard Fearon to chief executive following Peter Hill’s departure.

On the back of the building society’s annual results – which showed net lending of £1bn and growth in mortgage balances at twice the rate of the market – he spoke to Mortgage Strategy about his plans for the future.

The society grew its total mortgage balances by 5.8 per last year to £15.8bn, while growth in the wider market was 2.6 per cent, according to UK Finance figures.

Fearon has worked at Leeds BS for three years, originally as its chief commercial officer before going on to work as deputy chief executive, a position he held for seven months.

“I’ve been on the board for three years, and so I formed the architecture of a lot of our strategy over that time,” he says. “One of the key things was to refine the strategy – to add a fourth pillar to our core values.”

The three original core values are efficiency, being secure – which Fearon says is centered around the idea of making sure the lender is active in the right market segments – and being customer centric – for brokers as well as retail customers.

The fourth pillar is being future-facing, Fearon says, and it includes the uptake of open banking, APIs, and one-touch mortgage applications. “The direction of travel is very much that we need to participate in this world,” he concludes.

When asked if this means that Leeds is developing something in-house, Fearon responds by saying only that Leeds has made “the biggest ever investment. What we will announce will be very, very powerful, and transform the image of Leeds Building Society.”

He is determined to make clear that technology isn’t the only thing he wishes to build on, however. “I’m about our people. We have record-high engagement and we recently placed in the top 100 companies to work for,” he says.

Backing this up is the fact that following Leeds’ annual results, Fearon, accompanied by his executive team, will be embarking on a nationwide tour of all Leeds BS offices and network branches to present said results and his corporate vision to each of the 1,300 Leeds employees.

“This will take a week, and it’s something I will do every year. For the half-year results we’ll executive a more scaled-down approach,” he explains.

He also talks about the lender’s approach to product development. “We were the first high street lender to offer a RIO mortgage,” he says, “and we constantly look to improve our offerings. A good example is how we acted on feedback to extend the fix of the RIO to 10 years,” he explains.

He adds that the lender also looked at how it could incorporate different types of pensions into its affordability assessment.

When asked about the future of the housing market generally, which is currently going through a sticky patch, Fearon is positive that the strong competitive nature of recent times will continue – along with wider uncertainty.

“Investing in our future is therefore the right strategy because this is something we can control,” he says.

He concludes by saying that he is “very proud to be the chief executive of Leeds Building Society – just the eighth in 144 years. Continuity is a key part of our strategy.”

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