Skipton International's 15th Anniversary
In 1995, Skipton Guernsey opened its doors for local and expatriate deposit business in Guernsey.
Now, 15 years later, following a buyout, an amalgamation and a name change, Skipton International is one of Guernsey?s premier mortgage lenders and savings banks, both for residents and British expatriates globally. We asked managing director Alan Bougourd to talk us through this journey.
Q: Describe, please, how the market was when you first started trading here in 1995, how did it differ from today?
A: The whole landscape was very different in those days, the market was much more crowded with lots of small offshore savings banks operating out of both the Isle of Man and Channel Islands, all chasing the same savings business. Our product range at the time was simple, easy to understand and attractive ? three characteristics which we still stick by today. In all probability, the 1995 saver with Skipton Guernsey would have had their savings in one of our Guernsey 60 accounts paying a gross interest rate of up to 7%, but in the 1990s, UK Base Rate stood at 6.625%.
Even at that time, we had a strong community focus, as it was in 1996 that we started to sponsor the new Floral Guernsey initiative, an event we have been delighted to support every year since.
Q: You are in your recently refurbished offices in Rohais now, have you always been there?
A: No, we started off in the offices of Royal Bank of Canada, to whom we subcontracted our administration and IT systems in what was called a managed bank operation. We were one of the few organisations to adopt this pioneering business model, the key characteristics of which are its flexibility and low cost, factors which enabled us to pay such relatively high interest rates, even in those early days.
Q: So when was the first big change to this set up?
A: In October 2002, when we bought our Guernsey mortgage book from Standard Chartered Grindlays and became a mortgage lender for the first time in Guernsey. In May 2005, we opened our Jersey mortgage operation which at the time was only available via a small selection of key mortgage brokers. Today, this too has grown into a thriving business and we have a wide range of partners in Jersey and also accept direct applications.
Since 2002, across both Guernsey and Jersey, we have successfully developed our lending operation from £100 million to a figure of £500 million, which we expect to see soon.
Q: Since that time, though, we have seen the global banking crisis and credit crunch, so how did that affect you?
A: In Guernsey, we were largely unaffected, in fact you could argue we came out of that period of turmoil stronger than we went into it. Skipton Building Society merged with Scarborough Building Society in the UK, whilst here, Skipton Guernsey amalgamated with Scarborough Channel Islands as part of that deal.
That led to another big change for us; a new name and a significant uplift in staff numbers, as we welcomed colleagues from the old Scarborough Channel Islands on board.
Q: Apart from offshore savings and mortgages, what other activities are you known for in Guernsey?
A: I've already mentioned our Floral Guernsey sponsorship. We became the lead sponsor at the launch of Floral Guernsey in 1996. Since then, donations totalling many thousands of pounds have been made annually to support and develop the festival across the Bailiwick of Guernsey. The Floral Festival weeks are now highly regarded events in the local gardening calendar and attract many visitors to the islands. In 2009 the bank expanded it support of Floral Guernsey to include sponsorship of the Community Competition which selects a Parish each year to represent Guernsey in the annual Britain in Bloom competition.
Skipton International is also a regular contributor to other local events encompassing sport, the arts and local good causes. Recent support has included Liberation Day celebrations, the Lady Taverners, the Guernsey Football Association and the Guernsey Mini Soccer Festival plus the Skipton Walk at Sausmarez Park.
In this our 15th year, we began a new sponsorship in Jersey aimed at improving road safety and knowledge amongst cyclists, as we are now the main sponsor of the Jersey Cycling proficiency programme in schools there.
April 2010 marked another big step forward for us with the announcement that we were to take over as lead sponsor of the famous Guernsey Swimarathon, which is now known as the Skipton Swimarathon. Organised jointly by the local Lions Club and Round Table, the first Swimarathon was held in 1977. Since modest beginnings, Swimarathon has gone on to raise over £1 million pounds for good causes locally ? a key feature of the event is that all funds raised are spent in Guernsey
Now, with the first event successfully completed in October, we can look back with some pride on the early results of the 2010 Skipton Swimarathon, which has seen the huge sum of £40,521 pledged in sponsorship monies to go towards the target set by the organisers. Over 1,200 swimmers from 185 teams took part in the event, completing 9,659 laps of the pool and swimming a total of 241 kilometres. Put into context, this is more than two and a half times the distance from Guernsey to St Malo. With monies still coming in, the 2010 Skipton Swimarathon looks set to raise £5,000 more than last year.
Q: And how do you see the future of banking here over the next few years?
A: There is no doubt that we have just come through one of the toughest periods on record. You simply need to compare the number of independent organisations offering offshore savings and mortgage services today with the picture even five years ago. That said, we are focussed on this business, we know it well and we have no plans to change that focus. We have always prided ourselves on our approach to customer service too, taking the time to make sure every customer had the right mortgage or savings account for their circumstances at the time and it is this personalised, individual approach which has stood us in such good stead. You could argue these are local values, we would not disagree, but we also see them as good business sense as well. In difficult markets such as at present, this ability to focus on the customer and their personal needs and to really take the time to talk to them is vital and it also means we are on first name terms with many of our customers too!