The Cambridge Building Society to open flagship modern store on site of its first branch
St Andrew's Street store will open at end of April and replace two others in city centre
Embracing the new, but with a nod to its past, The Cambridge Building Society will open a flagship new store at 4 St Andrew’s Street at the end of April.
The store will replace those at 32 St Andrew’s Street and in The Grafton centre and will be modelled on the society’s successful St Ives branch, which was upgraded last March.
It will offer a contemporary space with improved technology, assisted service to help customers use the digital screens in store and better facilities for meetings with staff.
For all its modernity, the new store will have strong ties to the society’s history, for it sits on the same site as its very first branch, which opened in Post Office Terrace in 1884.
The move comes after the building society recorded a strong performance in 2017, with profits of £4.1million,
Andy Lucas, chief operating officer, says: “We’ve seen the benefit of investing in our people and in giving them a different environment in St Ives. We wanted to take what we learned there and use it.
“In the new store, we’ll have meeting rooms, semi-private meeting space, kiosk space and an open environment with our staff in the banking area.
“Our challenge is staying relevant and offering customers choice. If they want to be technology-driven they can do that. If they want face-to-face, we can do that. That’s why we invested in our IT.”
The availability of the site, formerly occupied by the Yorkshire Building Society with its Norwich and Peterborough brand, encouraged The Cambridge to bring forward plans to revamp its city centre offer.
The existing St Andrew’s store branch – which would have been difficult to reconfigure and features unused space upstairs – will close at the same time as the new store opens. The Grafton branch, which Andy acknowledged was at odds with the fashion stores and coffee shops in the shopping centre, will close about a month later. The space in both is at odds with the way The Cambridge sees its business going.
“Transactions at most locations are falling about 5-10 per cent per annum. Customers are more likely to do those by phone or online and go in store for a quality conversation,” says Andy.
“We offer assisted service. If people want self-service, they can complete something online, but a lot of customers value the interaction with a member of our team, who can also help them get to grips with the technology.”
Paperless account opening is one feature first introduced at the St Ives store that has since been rolled out.
“Some of our highest customer experience scores have come back from St Ives,” notes Andy. “Customers said it is a much better environment and they feel like they can engage more with the team.
“We want to be forward-looking. The underlying reason of why we exist is the same, but we want to stay relevant.”
Finance director Peter Burrows adds: “The simplicity of our business model continues. The society was established by people saying ‘We’ll all chip in, and that will enable somebody to get a house’ and fundamentally that is still our business model.
“The vast majority of our funding comes from individual savers through share accounts. We are pooling that money and using that to lend to people to buy homes.”
One striking example of this business model comes in the form of a curious wooden box from the society’s past. Andy uses it in his induction for new recruits.
When the society was permanently established and gave out its first loans in 1850, three years after being formed as the Cambridge Benefit Building Society, those who deposited savings were given numbered balls. These were dropped into the box and a clever mechanism activated that ensured only one came out the bottom. The lucky person whose number came up got to buy a house.
“We do the same thing today as we did 168 years ago,” notes Andy. “We’re here to help people buy a home and provide a trusted home for their savings. You can see that in the documentation from when we were set up.”
In preparation for the move to the new site, just metres away from the first branch, the society has been checking its archives and located some of this documentation, including leases from Christ’s College, along with poignant letters from Second World War widows warning The Cambridge that they had lost much of their income and may struggle to meet their mortgage commitments.
“As we’re looking to invest and grow, we’re not looking to go away from our core business. We know what we do well,” says Peter.
Looking at its history is a reminder of how the building society was set up to help Cambridge people pool their resources so they could buy a home. A century and a half later that remains key to its mission.
“We are thinking about whether there are some innovative things we can do to reward our members and enable people to get a home who might otherwise not be able to. Those are still early-stage thoughts,” says Peter.
Andy adds: “Cambridge is at the centre of our business and we know that it is difficult to buy here. So we are looking at what we can do to help people here and unlock the opportunity. It’s on our agenda for the next 12 months.”
The Cambridge will be hoping the year is as successful as 2017.