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Linda Will

Every Monday, Stroud & Swindon sales and marketing director Linda Will gets up at 5am, drives 200 miles from her Yorkshire home to Stroud in Gloucestershire and stays there for three nights before making the commute back on Thursday night and working from home on Friday. “You have to have some commitment to the role to do that commute every week,” she says.

Will has been in her role for just over four months. She left Yorkshire Building Society, where she was managing director of Accord Mortgages, at the end of last year before taking time out to redecorate her house and travel round the world.

She admits that when she left YBS due to “a difference of opinion” with chief executive Iain Cornish over the future direction of Accord, she was not sure if she would return to financial services.

“There was a bit of me thinking that I had a skill set which was transferable, so why would I want to go back to financial services, given the mess that banks and building societies were in?”

However, the job at Stroud & Swindon was attractive and Will has not regretted coming back to financial services.

She began her career at Royal & Sun Alliance or Sun Alliance & London as it was then known. She had won a place at the University of St Andrews on leaving school but after working at the insurance company during the summer holiday, she “got a taste for earning money” which meant she did not go to university.

After three years at Sun Alliance, she worked in a number of roles at different insurance companies until she joined Abbey National in 1986. A year later, she became insurance sales manager at Yorkshire Building Society. She moved through a number of roles at YBS, including financial services manager, group marketing and communications manager and e-commerce manager, before being asked to set up Accord in 2002.

Will is proud of the work she did at Accord and says: “It was a brilliant challenge and I think we created a super brand that was well recognised and respected.”

In her new role at Stroud & Swindon, Will has hit the ground running as last week saw the launch of online intermediary arm In The Loop Mortgages. It mainly provides prime mortgages but will also be offering buy to let and self-cert.

“In a marketplace where lenders are disappearing, we are the first new name on the block. I would argue that now is the time to do things like this because when the market is going like a train, it is much tougher to get visibility and get out there and compete. Just now, the fact that you are doing anything positive at all stands out.”

Will says she is also creating a branch evaluation model to assess the contribution that each branch is making to Stroud & Swindon and is working on simplifying and filling in the gaps on its savings range.

She gets quite passionate on the subject of savings and says the Government’s recent measures to stem the banking crisis have created an uneven playing field between banks and building societies because societies have been left out of this process.

“It is much tougher for building societies at the moment to raise the wholesale money they normally would raise through people like local authorities, particularly since local authorities have managed to lose a barrel of cash in the Icelandic bank fiasco. We are having to pay top dollar for retail funds.”

Will says all deposit-takers have suffered as savers have reduced their investments with individual institutions to the £50,000 guaranteed by the Government.

“In terms of volume, what you are losing on swings, you gain on roundabouts but a lot of money is coming out of older lower-interest accounts and all the new money comes in on newer higher-interest accounts. That degree of churn adds quite a number of basis points to your cost of funding.”

Will says until Libor returns to having any sort of passing relationship with bank rate, deposit-takers will have to maintain these differentials because paying more for retail money than the lending rate is not a recipe for a long-lasting business.

She does not think the pre-Budget report has helped the mortgage or savings industry and says spending billions of pounds will not bring about the end of the recession any faster and will leave us with “an enormous damn bill to pay at the end of it”.

But she does welcome Chancellor Alistair Darling’s decision to back the Crosby report’s proposals to guarantee mortgage-backed securities although she wants to know how the Government will implement this.

“I am not sure the British taxpayer is ready to underwrite mortgage-backed securities at this point. I agree with the Crosby report to the extent that this is what is fundamentally causing the issues but I just do not think the Government can print cash and underwrite loans and that is going to solve everything. Equally, I do not think letting it nationalise the banks is going to solve it. It does not show a deep enough understanding of the fundamental problems.”

Yet there is a silver lining to the banking crisis for building societies. Will says in times of recession, mutuals are one of the models that have the most to commend them because they are owned by and answerable to their members.

“I think there is a huge opportunity for building societies to come together. If you think about it, the people who have cocked us up were the converters who wanted to be like banks. Guess what, they have ended up like them and the state owns them now.”

Will is upbeat about the future of Stroud & Swindon and says it is about battening down the hatches, minimising risk and maximising opportunities in its existing book.

She says another silver lining from the credit crunch is that everybody is pulling together in one direction in the business.

“It is hugely powerful in terms of motivating and mobilising all the people in Stroud & Swindon to point in the same direction and I get a strong sense of that.”

Born: Bridge of Allan, Stirlingshire

Lives: Near Skipton, West Yorkshire

Education: Scottish highers, fellow of the Chartered Insurance Institute

Career: 2008-present – sales and marketing director, Stroud & Swindon; 1987-2007 – various roles at Yorkshire Building Society; 1986-87 – insurance manager, Abbey National; 1985-86 – Citibank; 1979-85 – insurance inspector, Iron Trades, 1977-79 – AIG; 1974-77 – Sun Alliance & LondonLikes: Red wine, pasta and travelling

Dislikes: People on trains talking loudly on mobile phones and saying they are on the train, people who stay in the middle lane on motorways

Drives: Audi A5 coupe

Favourite book: Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien, I read it every other year

Favourite film: Night of the Hunter

Favourite album: Bridge over Troubled Water by Simon & Garfunkel

Career ambition: To be part of an organisation that gets through the other side of the recession and comes out of it stronger

Life ambition: There is a lot of travelling left to do

If I wasn’t doing this, I would be…Adding the finishing touches and turning the sheep field into a garden at my new house


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