Relax planning laws and build more homes for prosperity, says Skipton chief

Eyebrows were raised little more than a year ago when Stuart Haire jumped from HSBC, where he ran UK personal and private banking, to become chief executive of Skipton Building Society.

He was very much near the top of the global giant’s star executive chart, having held senior roles within M&S Bank, First Direct and John Lewis Financial Services, as well as HSBC UK. Compared to the mighty HSBC, the Skipton was seen as something of a backwater. He’s smiling, nodding, when this reaction is put to him. He remembers it well.

Here he is, though, 49 and having just presented an impressive set of annual results, with a performance that would do any financial powerhouse proud. He laughs at the memory. “What people don’t realise is that if we were to demutualise – and we’re not going to – Skipton would go straight into the FTSE 100 of biggest listed companies.”

His is an organisation with £37.2bn of total assets, more than 1,300 branches and 1.2 million members.

As well as the main building society business, Skipton owns Connells, Britain’s largest estate agents with more than 80 high street brands including Hamptons, Bairstow Eves, William H Brown and Connells. It is responsible for one in ten houses bought and sold in the UK. Skipton also has a financial advisory subsidiary, a commercial estate agency and an AI software firm in New Zealand. “We’ve a range of interesting businesses, it was part of the attraction,” says Haire. “We’ve got very strong businesses and we have no shareholders – we just have customers who are our owners. It’s a breath of fresh air.”

The group turned in pre-tax profits of £333.4m, up by more than £30m. Mortgage advances increased 6.3 per cent to £6.7bn, helping Skipton lift its market share by 12.7 per cent – this, despite the mortgage market being stagnant for most of the year.

Savings balances also rose, by 15.4 per cent to £26bn. Again, savings market share increased, 10.7 per cent. This, too, against a savings market that grew only 1.7 per cent.

Mortgage arrears of three months or more, were 0.23 per cent – against an industry average of 0.91 per cent.

It may be 170 years old, and still based in picturesque Skipton, in North Yorkshire, but the society has long earned a reputation for innovation. Haire is keen for it to continue, launching Britain’s only available deposit-free mortgage, Track Record. He’s rightly proud of increasing the number of first-time buyers helped by 40 per cent. Track Record received over £62m in applications.

It is genuinely deposit-free. “If you can prove you’re paying rent and the mortgage repayments will be less, then it’s likely you will get a mortgage offer. We want to assist people who don’t have part of the equity saved up, we want to help them get started as homeowners.”

It also unveiled Income Booster, which allows more than one person’s income to go towards buying a home. Again, aimed at giving first-time buyers a lift.

He has focused Skipton on two watchwords: homes and money. “There are too many people in the UK who desperately feel that they will never have a home of their own. Be they aspiring homeowners or renters. And that needs to change.

“Homes and money are vital for individual prosperity, and for our country to thrive. The Skipton Group sits at the nexus of homes and money, and we want to drive collaborative change across the UK housing sector, to help more people put these stable foundations in place, and to help unlock opportunity and build long-term financial wellbeing, home by home, right across Britain.”

He wants to see planning laws relaxed and the whole process speeded up. “We’ve got the largest estate agency in the UK. As a country, we need more houses.”

For first-time buyers some areas are prohibitively expensive and in places such as Skipton, there is an additional pressure, from second-home owners. “It’s not just about the financial aspects, local and central government have got to do more. We’ve got to do more with planning permission, we must be making sure we’re getting more homes built and in locations where people want to live.”

Last year saw Skipton become the Which? Recommended Mortgage Provider. It was awarded the Your Mortgage – Best First Time Buyer Mortgage Lender, together with being named, at the What Mortgage Awards 2023, Best National Building Society for the 10th year in a row.

“Looking ahead, our ambition is to make a positive impact to tackle the UK’s housing crisis by enabling more first-time buyers to realise their homeownership aspirations.”

Skipton, he says, “has great potential to drive transformative change in the housing market and financial services industry, leveraging our collective capability to drive change, influence decision makers and campaign on the issues that matter to our members and wider society.”

Savers are not forgotten. “We’re supporting our savers, passing on over 75 per cent of 2023’s base rate increases, which is above our competitors, while even our lowest rate on an instant-access account is well ahead of the market average.”

Saving members received £148m more interest than if they had taken market average rate saving products. They were able to take advantage of “member only“ offers.

“What attracted me to Skipton is its unwavering member-focused purpose and its huge potential to help more people.”

Skipton Building Society offers Britain’s only deposit-free mortgage


He says Skipton is a society that has always believed in keeping things simple, no frills. It’s in the DNA. “Its roots are here, in Yorkshire. We’re a massive local employer and we ensure that one per cent of our profits go to charity. We’re very much aware of our history and responsibility.”

Haire himself is from Glasgow – “a scumbag from Glasgow is how I am viewed in these parts,” he jokes. “I was always taught never to get ahead of myself, never to let ego get in the way. That’s also true of the people of Yorkshire. They work exceptionally hard and they’re very proud.”

In the year ahead, he is expecting rates to remain high. “They will come down but not by so much.”

He’s predicting “low growth” for the economy. “We’re starting to see confidence return. There are signs of real green shoots. In the housing market, mortgage applications are up 14 per cent, viewings are up 12 per cent and sales are up 12 per cent. Confidence is returning.”

Unlike HSBC, you sense, the Skipton has given him mission and purpose.


Leave a Reply

This website uses cookies. By continuing to use this site, you accept our use of cookies.