Chief Commercial Officer at Yorkshire Building Society
When Yorkshire Building Society’s (YBS) Chief Commercial Officer, David Morris, and Director of Business Transformation, Ben Sampson, join me to discuss the seismic change that the mutual has enjoyed over the last five years, there’s more than 100 miles between them. Morris is joining from Oxfordshire in the south of England, while Sampson is dialling in from Halifax in the north. It’s both a sign of the times and a mark of how far Yorkshire Building Society has come since it was founded in 1864, when its original members would meet each morning in a small room in Huddersfield town centre.
Both Morris and Sampson are digital disruptors; they have been with the building society long enough to see it undergo transformational change. When they first joined the business, YBS had an ageing legacy platform powering its websites; it didn’t have a consumer app; and the percentage of customers signing up through digital was somewhere between 15% and 20%. “This was completely out-of-kilter with the rest of the market and demonstrates the size of the overhaul required,” David Morris says.
Yet the programme of digital transformation they have overseen is a considerable, long-term investment for the business – the single biggest programme of work that YBS has ever done, as Sampson describes it. He is a firm believer in the power of people and in creating environments that allow people to thrive. He is drawn naturally to people who have overcome adversity: to Stephen Hawking, who became the pre-eminent scientist of his generation despite battling adversity; to Richard Branson, who built Virgin from the ground up. Sampson also identifies with Steven Bartlett, the founder of marketing agency Social Chain. He describes him as “an inspirational man” and likes the fact that Bartlett dropped out of university, like he did.
David Morris says that central to his style of leadership is a ‘belief in better’. He is inspired by people who are able to think differently, challenge the ordinary and strive for something extraordinary. “I genuinely find myself engaged by people who are able to break paradigms, think differently and lift themselves out of the status quo. People who are able to say ‘here's a completely different way of doing things’.”
One of the driving factors behind YBS’ success in recent years is its precise clarity of focus. “We want to make sure we're doing things purposefully; we want to make sure we've got the capability to execute against that; and critically we only compete in parts of the market where we think we can win,” Morris says. This is a mindset instilled into the company by erstwhile CEO Mike Regnier, who left YBS at the beginning of 2022 to become CEO of Santander UK.
Morris continues: “What Mike did was come in and effectively provide quite a lot of strategic clarity in terms of what we can and can't be. We need to be a savings and mortgage business and we need to get simple, lean, and focused. That's really been the mantra over the last eight years. What we've seen since about 2018 is an acceleration of that vision.”
“People want to try and do everything,” Morris tells us. “I do think there is a competitive advantage in being selective.” This clarity of focus is clearly winning: in H1 2022, YBS outperformed some of the UK’s traditional ‘big six’ banks in terms of both book growth and yield performance. It is also highly competitive now on digital.
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“We're now shifting to delivery, pivoting into working more in the battle space, and supporting our ambitions in terms of NATO.