The joke of the town is like this. You can be absolutely sure what the bank with the excess capital will do next. The only question is: over which wall.
Nationwide Construction Society is not like that. It is an institution for the ages, a force for good in a world that is not burdened excessively.
It does not waste our money without thinking. He is its steward.
It has remained true to its roots since 1884. Its mission is to make it possible for ordinary people to save, acquire a home they can afford, and keep it in place, no matter the economic climate.
Efforts to convert it into a shareholder-owned bank were resisted with vigor and not a little pride. Members rallied around management to tell planners: Fill up.
Its very existence is an insult to the big banks, especially its former building society rivals like Alliance & Leicester, Bradford & Bingley, Abbey National and the rest, which had at least one thing in common.
They were converted into banks and promptly went bankrupt when the financial crisis hit in 2007, or were sold to larger animals and disappeared along the way.
The notion that they would be more competitive in the stock market, rewarding investors as well as customers, unraveled with almost ridiculous speed when the problem arose.
Nationwide, as always, rose above all this. If some flash start-up with whizzy marketing offered shaky teaser deals on savings or mortgages, Nationwide shrugged its shoulders.
It said, we are not in that game. We will be better for you and your family throughout your life.
Be a rat-chase tart if you will. Then come back to us when the tart is done just so.
Nationwide doesn’t need to chase market share – in fact it doesn’t need to. The aim is to sell only what feels right for now and the future. What if profits fall?
All this makes some of its recent moves a bit worrying.
It has stepped into the spotlight under new chief executive Debbie Crosbie. For starters, there are the ridiculous TV ads you can’t forget, in which actor Dominic West plays a parody of Gordon Gekko, a ruthless bank boss, as if he’s from Eton.
No current UK bank CEO is remotely like that man. The ads aren’t funny either.
I asked Nationwide how much it was paying West for these ads. It’s not answering that right now, or much else.
It was also offering a savings account paying 8%, which is about as good a rate as you can get.
It won’t last; It’s just a matter of time before the rate becomes a bit more sustainable.
Nationwide Building Society is considered sustainable from the start and has little association with Hollywood (one wonders if Dominic West wonders what he signed up for and wishes he hadn’t Would).
Once you start asking these questions, other people will follow suit. Is the commitment to keeping branches open just a sign that its digital offering is miles behind the competition?
Like Barclays, how many of those branches have limited opening hours? Are staff at branches handling calls in the same manner as a bank call centre? So are these branches in name only?
What will happen when the branch promise ends in 2026? There is a trend of closing branches because customers are using them less. By the time your commitment ends it will have ramped up – won’t you have to close a lot of branches almost immediately?
Crosby received a payout of £3.5 million in his first ten months at Nationwide, which is generally considered to be the largest pay deal ever for a building society boss. What is the reciprocal in this? If members had the chance, would they vote in favor of that salary?
The pity is that Crosby is excellent. Honest. Likeable. Eager to do the right thing. It seems like she is trying to show off, which is not for the society.
There are 16 million members nationwide, which is an astonishing testament to its success. We like it just the way it is. Tomorrow (Friday) it will report half year results and we are confident they will be as solid as ever.
There is no calculation trickery. No forgiveness on bad debts from curious commercial property organizations. The big banks that society is protesting have no funny business with their beloved derivatives and other financial frauds.
Perhaps we should end here with a plea.
Dear Nationwide: Be yourself. Stay calm. Keep going. forever.
Simon is the financial editor of the English Evening Standard.