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Swansea Building Society’s CEO hits record breaking service landmark

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Swansea Building Society’s Chief Executive, Alun Williams, has officially been named the longest currently serving CEO of a building society, following 21 years at the helm of the South Wales-based mutual.

Williams began his tenure as Chief Executive Officer with Swansea Building Society in May 2001, following roles as Director of Banking Business at Bank of Wales, and Head of Securities at Williams & Glyn Bank.

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When Williams first joined the mutual, its assets were only £34 million. It was widely predicted, back then, that smaller building societies would struggle to succeed independently against a backdrop of increased regulation and the costs associated with operating such businesses.

Within 12 months of Williams joining, however, the Society was the fastest growing building society in the UK. It grew by 35% in this first year and gross lending increased by 48%. Fast forward to June 2022 and the building society is more than ten times the size it was then, with total assets in excess of £500 million.

The news of Williams becoming the sector’s longest serving Chief Executive was confirmed by the archivist of the Building Societies Association. It comes as Swansea Building Society gears up for its 100-year anniversary and follows the Society posting record results, experiencing sustained growth, and passing several significant milestones.

Ieuan Griffiths, the Chairman of Swansea Building Society, said: “Alun’s contribution to the success of Swansea Building Society over the past 21 years cannot be overstated. We all congratulate Alun on these achievements, as well as his new status as the sector’s longest serving Chief Executive. Over the years, he has accrued extensive experience – through a changing financial landscape – and is rightly held up as a shining example of how to lead a small building society towards a level of success that is recognised UK wide.

“Through all this, Alun and the Society has always put the customers first, an ethos, which I think is at the heart of its success. I look forward to continuing to work with Alun and carrying on our good work of widening our geographic reach through further branches.”

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Alun Williams, Chief Executive of Swansea Building Society, said: “I’m delighted to have been named as the longest serving Chief Executive in the building society sector. During the 21 years I’ve held the position at Swansea Building Society, we’ve weathered several global financial storms, and most recently the pandemic. Through all this time, we have held fast to our ethos of opening and not closing branches, enabling our customers to access our personal, face-to-face service.

“We have also moved with the times and introduced online services for our members, allowing them to access their savings in a way that suits them best. We have also invested heavily in IT infrastructure at our branches, both to make our services more convenient and to increase the security and safety of our systems. We have recently expanded our staff with a number of key hires to maintain the promptness and reach of our services.

“As we move towards our centenary celebration, the Society is in a stronger position than ever before and, though the future is always uncertain, I believe this strength will allow us to help even more people plan their finances securely and get the mortgages they need to buy their dream home.”

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64% of Wales employees set to leave due to cost of living

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During the biggest cost-of-living crises most people will have ever experienced, only 6% of employees in Wales believe their employer is doing enough to support them through the crisis.

Even though staggering 72% believe their employer has a responsibility to support them through the current climate.

That’s according to new research from Blackhawk Network, which says that according to employees, employee benefits are no longer just added incentives, they are now a way for employers to support their staff.

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It says it’s now essential employers are informed on what employees want and ultimately need from benefits schemes to help guide them through the cost-of-living crisis.

Other key findings in Wales show 94% of employers agree that they have a duty to support their employees as the cost-of-living rises, with 79% of employees saying employee benefits play, or could play, an important role in improving the cost-of-living 

Almost two thirds (64%) would leave their current job in order to find an opportunity that provides better financial support during the current cost-of-living crisis. 

The findings come from research conducted by Blackhawk Network in conjunction with Sapio, to support the launch of its new Blackhawk Network Extras Benefits Platform.

Workplace benefits are hot property at a time of crisis  

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According to the UK-wide data, 85% of employers agree that they have a duty to support their employees as the cost-of-living rises. While raising wages might seem a simple fix, businesses are also impacted by rising costs and inflation making pay increases unviable. But that doesn’t mean there’s nothing they can do to help. 83% of employees agree that workplace benefits play an important role in helping to balance finances as the cost-of-living continues to rise; and 95% of employers agree.

It is telling that almost a quarter (24%) of employees admit they’ve already used their benefits package more during the cost-of-living. In addition, almost three quarters (73%) of employer’s state that prospective employees are looking for employee benefits as part of the solution to the crisis.  

Employers must dial-up on support to have real impact  

The report says that dialling-up cost-of-living support through employee benefits is a must when talent is at risk. For example, salary sacrifice, where employees are offered the option to pay for services or products from their salary before they receive it to reduce tax, can be found with offers such as Cyclescheme, on technology or gym memberships, to save money that would otherwise eat into pay. However, there are still barriers to overcome.

When employees were asked what the term ‘salary sacrifice’ meant, almost three quarters (73%) admitted they did not fully understand it, including 18% who had not idea at all. In contrast, to almost all employers (98%) believing employees understand it to some degree. There is a clear disconnect between the employer and the employee, yet salary sacrifice can save employees money and help in mitigating the effects of the cost-of-living crisis. 

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If employers want to support employees, they need to make information about benefits, like salary sacrifice, more accessible and digestible to prove that it can have a real-life impact on their current financial situation by making their pay go further.

Over half (53%) of employees say they would be more likely to use salary sacrifice schemes if they had a better understanding of how they work. But this is an issue that only employers can fix. Better communication is essential to close the perception gap on employee benefits to be the support employees want and need during the cost-of-living crisis. 

Chris Ronald, VP EMEA Incentives & Operations at Blackhawk Network said: “It is becoming increasingly clear that employers have a vital role to play supporting their employees during the cost-of-living crisis. But the rising costs also mean that businesses are unable to offer blanket wage increases.

“Our research takes an in-depth look into the current state of employee benefits and the perceptions of the employees who are in a position to use them. With the release of this research, we hope to give businesses the tools they need to improve their benefit packages so they continue to support staff throughout the crisis.” 

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Over 500 teenagers in Wales to get £1600 a month in basic income trial

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The Welsh Government has launched its basic income trial scheme that sees it giving more than 500 people leaving care in Wales £1600 each month for two years – with no strings attached.

Equating to £19,200 a year before tax, it’s believed the cash offered is the highest amount provided on a basic income pilot anywhere in the world.

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The £20m scheme is controversial, and previous universal basic income trials in Kenya, Finland and California failed.

Welsh Social Justice Minister Jane Hutt says this particular scheme is a direct investment in the lives and futures of some of Wales’ most vulnerable young people.

The minister added that those taking part in the pilot will also receive individual advice and support to help them manage their finances and develop their financial and budgeting skills.

Local authorities will play a key role in supporting them throughout the pilot. Voices from Care Cymru will also work with the young people to give them advice on wellbeing, education, employment and help them plan their future after the pilot.

First Minister Mark Drakeford said: “We want all our young people to have the best possible chance in life and fulfil their full potential. The state is the guardian of people leaving care and so has a real obligation to support them as they start their adult life.

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“Our focus will be on opening up their world to all its possibilities and create an independence from services as their lives develop.

“Many of those involved in this pilot don’t have the support lots of people – myself included – have been lucky enough to enjoy as we started out on our path to adulthood.

“Our radical initiative will not only improve the lives of those taking part in the pilot, but will reap rewards for the rest of Welsh society. If we succeed in what we are attempting today this will be just the first step in what could be a journey that benefits generations to come.”

The Welsh Conservatives however have criticised the scheme as “giving out free money” and say it won’t help tackle the problems some vulnerable young people face.

Joel James, the Welsh Conservative shadow minister for social partnership said: “Whilst I wholeheartedly support helping the poorest and most vulnerable in our country, the Labour Government is not even close to living in reality with this trial.

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“Countless trials from across the globe have found basic income does not have the expected outcomes as it fails to incentivise work and proves time after time to be a waste of public money.

“If rolled-out across the board with every adult in Wales receiving £1,600 a month it would cost nearly £50 billion a year, and at the same time reward the wealthiest in society rather than helping those who need it most.

“Our NHS is at breaking point and our economy is in a fragile state, but instead of tackling those issues head-on, Labour are more interested in Basic Income – which will cost the country an absolute fortune.”

Welsh Government Minister for Social Justice Jane Hutt said: “We’re in the midst of a cost-of-living crisis like no other and we therefore need new ways of supporting people who are most in need.

“Our Basic Income pilot is an incredibly exciting project giving financial stability to a generation of young people. Too many people leaving care face huge barriers to achieving their hopes and ambitions; such as problems with getting a safe and stable home, to securing a job and building a fulfilling career. This scheme will help people live a life free of such barriers and limitations.

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“We will carefully evaluate the lessons learnt from the pilot. Listening to everyone who takes part will be crucial in determining the success of this globally ambitious project. We will examine whether Basic Income is an efficient way to support society’s most vulnerable and not only benefit the individual, but wider society too.”

Tiff Evans of Voices from Care Cymru, speaking on behalf of young people who have experienced care, said: “This is a brilliant opportunity for care leavers in Wales. It is good to see that care leavers in Wales are being thought of and Welsh Government are providing this opportunity for them as young people to become responsible, control some parts of their lives and have a chance to thrive and be financially independent.

“We thank Welsh Government for investing in them and their future and we look forward to other changes and developments for care experienced young people in Wales in order for them to reach life aspirations.”

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UK households waste almost £170 on average each year on unused subscriptions

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A third (33%) of UK households have multiple individual memberships for the same streaming service, when they could be saving money by paying for one household membership instead, according to research from comparethemarket.com.

UK households spend £50 on average each month on paid-for subscriptions, the equivalent of £600 a year, with 32% spending as much as £50 to £300 a month.

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Depending on the providers’ terms and conditions, paying for one membership could also apply to joining up with family or friends outside your household for a subscription service, as almost two-fifths (39%) say they do not share subscriptions with close family or friends to save money.

Cutting down on infrequently used or forgotten subscriptions is another way households could make savings – the research found that nearly one in two households (49%) spend money on unused subscriptions, wasting on average £14 a month, the equivalent of almost £170 a year.

Of those who keep unused or infrequently used subscriptions, nearly half (48%) keep them just in case they ever use them again, close to a fifth (19%) say it’s too much hassle to cancel, and 15% feel they do not have the time to go through their finances and cancel unused ones.

Popularity boomed for online subscriptions over the past two years, with more than three-quarters (76%) of UK households having signed up for at least one subscription since the pandemic began. However, with the rising cost of living, many are now reviewing their expenditures and almost half of households (48%) say they are likely to cancel at least one subscription in the next few months.

Cancelling or spending money on unused subscriptions varies significantly by age; half of adults under the age of 34 (50%) are likely to cancel and are wasting the equivalent of £192 a year (£16 a month on average) on unused services. Whereas under a third (29%) of people aged over 55 are planning to cancel unused subscriptions and are wasting an average of £84 each year (£7 a month).

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At a time when household finances are being squeezed, the research also revealed that some companies are not making it easy for people to cancel memberships when needed. Free trials are a beneficial way to test a service and 65% of people have signed up for at least one in the past 12 months.

This figure is highest among young people, with 72% of those aged between 16-34 having signed up; this drops to only 28% for those aged over 55.

However, over a fifth (22%) found it difficult to cancel their subscription at the end of the free trial. When asked whether they were warned about the free trial ending and being automatically renewed, 46% said they were not.

Alex Hasty, director at comparethemarket.com comments: “You can get a subscription for just about anything now, with many people having signed up during lockdown seeking access to new forms of entertainment.

“However, at a time when household finances are being squeezed significantly, our research shows that people are now wasting hundreds of pounds a year on services they’re not using regularly or by having multiple accounts amongst family and friends unnecessarily.

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“Frequently reviewing your spending with the help of free tools or apps could help those impacted by the increase in household expenditures.

“This applies for other household bills too – an effective way of cutting costs and relieving some of the financial pressure is shopping around online for a better deal, such as for car and home insurance, or broadband.

“With comparethemarket.com, customers can also set up automated car and home insurance renewal quotes and be notified ahead of their renewal date to help them find great deals and save money.”

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