A few years ago, when other financial mutuals were seduced by aggressive growth ambitions, Yorkshire Building Society was one of the few larger societies that resisted. Instead, it concentrated on promoting - and developing - the benefits of being owned by its members.
Today, it is the country's third-largest building society, with assets of pounds 13.5 billion, and far from looking like an endangered species, the Yorkshire is flourishing, while some of those that took the demutualisation route have had a very public falling-out with their new City paymasters.
The Yorkshire (www.ybs.co.uk) doesn't measure performance in terms of profit, but looks at the value it provides for members. It has some impressive results: last year, its products were in the top quartile (in terms of the lowest/highest interest rates) more than 90% of the time; its net operating margin - the difference between rates offered to lenders and savers - is claimed to be the lowest among major lenders at 0.96%; and operating costs were just 0.71p for every pounds 100 of assets held by members.
These numbers hint at the operating efficiencies that the society has made in the past few years in areas such as automation, resource planning, turning branches into profit-and-loss centres, and redesigning processes. What the numbers don't show are some of the other customer benefits that have been delivered along the way - for example, dispensing with an automated call-answering system, shortening queues in branches, and making many services available online.
Numerous service improvements have resulted directly from customer feedback.
The Yorkshire uses most of the usual mechanisms to gather feedback, from surveys to focus groups and suggestion schemes. But it also has a unique asset in its 3,400-strong members' panel, composed of customers who have volunteered to give their time to act as a gauge of how well the society is doing, and as a test-bed for new ideas.
Those on the panel may be contacted 10 or 12 times a year, and their only reward is a Christmas card and diary. But their desire to participate speaks for itself, and the feedback they have provided has led to tangible results, such as the launch of a new 'rollover bond' and an offset mortgage; and the redesign of some of the AGM literature to make it more legible.
The panel was also used as a sounding board to determine how the society should promote itself during the Iraq war.
Over the past year, the Yorkshire has also focused internally on ensuring that employees really understand what it stands for. As chief executive designate Ian Cornish puts it: 'The supreme test we have set ourselves is to be famous for being recommended; you won't do that just on the back of the interest rate - what is needed is a set of common values.'
Some 200 staff were involved in formulating just such a set of values: 'Fairness, fun, passion and people working together'. These were introduced to the workforce at a 'Banging the Drum' roadshow, and are being further reinforced through a programme of workshops.
The Yorkshire also consulted widely with its staff before introducing a comprehensive flexible working arrangement, as part of its bid to become a preferred employer. Some 20% of staff were involved in focus groups that looked at the types of flexible arrangement that were most sought after, and these were whittled down to seven options in the final plan.
A set of tools was created to help individual employees make a business case for their own desired working pattern.
Another area in which the Yorkshire also shines is its support for charities and community work. A charitable foundation set up four years ago has already donated pounds 1 million to good causes chosen by staff and members at individual branches. The society introduced a scheme called 'Small Change Big Difference', under which the pence from a member's annual interest can be given to the foundation. Next year, it is expected to raise pounds 200,000, giving savers even more reason to look forward to those interest statements.