HIGH street branches will remain the bedrock of a building society’s growth as customers continue to seek the personal touch in an uncertain economic environment, its boss has told The Northern Echo.

Andrew Haigh has hailed the continuing success of Newcastle Building Society’s face-to-face provision, revealing it is something the mutual “will continue to invest in.”

The commitment comes after the mutual helped more than 1,000 people take their first steps on the property ladder last year, with 25 per cent of those supported hailing from the North-East.

Chief executive Mr Haigh was speaking upon the unveiling of the business’ annual results for 2017, which showed its gross residential mortgage book had increased eight per cent to £535m on a year ago, with pre-tax profit 62 per cent better off at £13.1m.

Highlighting its mortgage services, which also grew net residential lending 11 per cent to £220m, Mr Haigh said the improvement was aided by the society’s’ branch network, which includes new, larger bases in Darlington and Durham City.

He said: “We still see the physical, high street branches as the cornerstone of what we are doing. They are something we are committed to and will continue to invest in.

“Look at our new Darlington and Durham City branches, they are much bigger facilities and we’ve worked hard to get the space right so that they are welcoming places for people.

“What we do is all about having conversations; we are fundamentally about delivering financial education, helping people save and buy their own home.”

Mr Haigh said he was pleased with the mutual’s performance amid “an increasingly competitive market and ongoing economic uncertainty”, which has seen consumers’ worries over the weaker pound and higher inflation compounded by bank closures and the subsequent loss of financial advice.

He said: “It’s times like these when people want an organisation they can turn to, trust and have a long-term relationship with.

“There is something about being physically present and being on the high street because people know they can come in and get advice.

“We are keen to be the North-East’s building society and have launched NorthEast exclusive mortgages to provide a little bit of extra value for people in the region.

“The difference we can make at a community level is really important to us.”

Mr Haigh added the customer satisfaction level at the society, headquartered on North Tyneside’s Cobalt Business Park, increased to 96 per cent, thanks in part to improved online, telephone and branch services.

He also saluted its community focus, which saw grants totalling more than £133,000 be awarded to 76 charities across its heartland last year.