Posted on Friday 25 January 2019 by Ulster Business
Darina Armstrong’s career within the Progressive Building Society began at a young age, working her way up to leading the organisation since 2011 – almost 20 years after first starting with the society.
“I absolutely love everything about the business. I love the mutual ethos, and that we are fundamentally there to help the community,” she told Ulster Business.
“We have to make a return, but fundamentally we are there for the good of society. I passionately believe that home ownership is a good thing. And I passionately believe that savings are a good thing, and that’s what our business has been doing for more than 100 years.”
According to its latest full-year figures, ending in December 2017, Progressive posted pre-tax profit of £10.7m.
In the last year, it helped more than 1,000 people buy their home and almost 600 to build a new home, with overall new mortgage lending of around £200m.
It’s weathered some of the most difficult years in the residential property market here, with Northern Ireland prices plummeting in the wake of the recession in 2008.
“We are battling our way through that – the housing market hasn’t fully recovered through it. The number of new developments probably aren’t servicing the needs of the demand. We still have an issue out there.
“Slow, and modest growth is happening at the minute. But that’s good, and that’s sustainable. Affordability is very good in Northern Ireland and the economic factors, even with Brexit, are good.”
Progressive now has 12 branches and more than 180 staff spread throughout Northern Ireland.
For Darina, it’s about working hand-in-hand with the customer, and ensuring everyone in the team in the same mindset.
“For me, it has to be doing right by the customer. Once your staff are fully on that journey too, they know they are doing the right thing,” Darina says. “They aren’t forced into sales targets – they want to get the right product fro the person, and making it as easy as they possibly can.
“In part, to hand hold. There are some cases where deadlines don’t happen, things don’t go according to plans – for example, in a housing chain, someone can drop out. It’s about being there, and being able to help.
“There is still a demand for people to buy houses – that hasn’t changed at all.”
Darina took over at the helm in 2011, while the property market in Northern Ireland, and throughout the UK, was still going through tough times. But she believes it has normalised since then.
“Things are picking up,” she says. “We have the experience here to keep going in a direction that suits the demographic that we serve.
“We are here for the long-term, and factor that in. Ultimately, it has to be right for the consumer.
“It’s also about the whole of Northern Ireland. It’s not just Belfast-centric, and we have to extend our reach. There’s good activity in different parts of Northern Ireland, and that’s where our roots are.”
And after more than 26 years with the organisation, Darina says she has no plans to jump ship to another financial business.
“I am totally bought in to the mutual ethos. For me, it’s all about the customer. I would struggle where decisions would be made for shareholder return, or short-termism.”