THE new boss of a North-East building society has pledged to hand back any future bonuses if he does not deserve them.

Colin Fyfe, chief executive of Darlington Building Society (DBS), told The Northern Echo yesterday that he had twice refused to take bonuses in the past when he felt they were unwarranted.

Mr Fyfe has joined the 158-year-old lender after almost three decades with Clydesdale Bank.

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Mr Fyfe's predecessor David Dodd last month came under fire when it emerged that he had received a £27,000 increase in the financial package paid to him, which was deemed excessive by some DBS members.

On his first full day in charge at the building society, Mr Fyfe, who comes from Larkhall, near Motherwell in Scotland, outlined his determination to uphold the mutual's traditional values, and also rise to the challenge of the digital banking where face-to-face service at branches is increasingly being replaced by online transactions.

He said he understood public anger around bankers bonuses, adding:

"It would appear there has been a culture, particularly in the banking sector, where bonuses are paid regardless of the behaviour or performance of an individual. That is wrong.

"I don't see how, if you are set objectives and you singularly fail to meet those objectives, that can be equated to a bonus.

"I have declined bonuses and would do so again if I hadn't earned them.

"It is also good to have a line in the sand if things haven't gone well in your financial year. It is better to have a consequence, such as there is no bonus payable, so you can put things behind you.

"There has to be accountability, or else things will never change."

Mr Fyfe, 47, said his move to DBS "felt right" and it would allow him to combine all of the things he had learned from several senior positions he held at the Clydesdale.

He added: "Every bank will talk about customer focus. The moment I came here I realised that it was not just words. The Darlington Building Society can actually do it. In the financial sector, doing what you say you are going to do is the key to success.

"We don't have the shareholders or analysts pushing us in a certain direction. We have got a group of people who are committed to keeping the Darlington name strong and putting those customers first.

"That was why this job was so attractive.

"I also like that we are clear about what we are good at, and look to do that really well. Many financial services organisations have been tempted into non-core activities.

"We don't hide away from saying that County Durham, North Yorkshire and Teesside is our territory. Nobody is tempting us to open branches on the other side of the Pennines or move north.

"We are seeing new banks entering the market which will need to find their foothold. The Darlington Building Society has its foothold and I don't see a need to stray too far from that.

"I grew up as part of a family business. We had been undertakers (Dundas Fyfe & Sons of Motherwell) since 1878.

"When I was growing up my father would go and see the local bank manager, whether he needed to borrow money or not, because he valued his opinion.

"That type of thing disappeared in the 1990s, or even earlier. I firmly believe you have to evolve, but you need a balance. There will be some banks that won't have any local relationships. They will market themselves on speed of transaction.

"Our branches are one of our attractions. You get very personalised services. We need to augment that with online services which ensure customers have a choice, so they get the best of both worlds.

"The traditional model that we have has been right for the times. We also need to avoid the risk facing any organisation that it stops being relevant."