Can former Asda marketer Chris Pilling put some fizz into UK building societies?

Chris Pilling, currently head of HSBC’s bank branch network in the UK, is joining the country’s second-biggest building society Yorkshire as CEO.

The move is interesting on two counts: building societies have been pretty moribund since the 2008 credit crunch, cutting back their lending and therefore contributing to the credit squeeze currently bedevilling the UK economy.

And the last time a former Asda executive took control of a financial institution, Andy Hornby at Halifax, the consequences were disastrous. Halifax embarked on an ill-timed property lending spree which resulted in it being ‘rescued’ by Lloyds Bank which, in turn, had to be rescued by the UK taxpayer.

Pilling, who is credited withy signing up Sharon Osbourne as the advertising ‘face’ of Asda, should have learned the error of such ways in his stint at HSBC, one of the UK-based banks that didn’t get into trouble in the credit crunch although it did incur big problems in the US by buying sub-prime lender Household.

It’s moot point whether Pilling’s decision to join Yorkshire, the second-biggest UK building society after Nationwide, is because of any great faith in the future of building societies or because, as a Yorkshire-based executive, he’s taking one of the best jobs in the county.

But Yorkshire has upped its lending this year and everyone up to UK coalition chancellor George Osborne is hoping desperately for some extra lending from somewhere in the financial sector to avert another recession in the UK.

Nationwide, which up to the credit crunch was showing every sign of wanting to behave like a bank despite being a mutual (owned by its members, not shareholders) has pulled in its horns in the three years since the dark days when Gordon Brown’s Labour government had to bail out Lloyds, Royal Bank of Scotland, Northern Rock and Bradford & Bingley.

Pilling, who has also worked at British Airways, Kraft and Procter & Gamble, now has the opportunity to do the country a small favour (in relation to the wider financial sector) and also prove the point that managers from a non-financial background can be trusted with all that money, money, money.

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About Stephen Foster

Stephen is a former editor of Marketing Week and London Evening Standard advertising columnist. He wrote City Republic for Brand Republic and is a partner in communications consultancy The Editorial Partnership.