Saffron Building Society 170 year anniversary

As part of Saffron Building Society’s 170 year anniversary celebrations we are featuring some of our longest serving staff. Our people are our greatest asset so we’d like to introduce you to some of them. If you’d like to meet more of our team why not pop into your nearest branch where somebody will be pleased to welcome you.

Christian Draper

Christian DraperHead of Partnerships and Properties

Like any business it’s important to be progressive, forward looking and relevant to remain successful. In Christian’s 15 years at Saffron Building Society every role he has undertaken has involved just that.

Having joined from HSBC in 2004 he immediately took the helm at two of Saffron’s branches in Ware and Royston managing them simultaneously.

Christian comments: “There’s no better way to learn about a business than working on the front line. Assisting customers in branch enabled that and fast tracked my Saffron familiarization. The experience I got has been invaluable in the future roles I have undertaken.”

Positions in retail operations; managing corporate business; heading up the sales and service team and more recently involvement in Saffron’s ‘innovations’ projects has kept Christian at the cutting edge of the business. This wealth of specialist experience has led him to his current role as Head of Partnerships and Properties.

Christian is excited about this new responsibility. “From a partnerships perspective we are constantly looking at ways to develop the customer experience to improve their financial health and provide wider services. As well as mortgages and savings, which most people know us for, Saffron offers whole of market investment and equity release advice; will writing services; estate planning; later life advice and funeral plans - all through our trusted affinity partners. I am now charged with growing the breadth of options through partnerships.”

Christian’s other main focus will be managing a project to locate and establish a new headquarters for Saffron Building Society in a single site.

Christian adds “Currently our head office staff are located on two different sites, as part of our branch in the centre of Saffron Walden and at Little Chesterford. We are looking for one site where everyone can be together which can only be a good thing with regard to communication, convenience and economy of scale.

As we celebrate our 170 year anniversary I am proud to be involved in this project and who knows, the location could be our home for the next 170 years!”

Justin Curtis

Justin CurtisCommercial Analyst

If you have one of Saffron’s many mortgage or savings accounts the chances are Justin has been involved in its development.

As a commercial analyst, a position he has held with Saffron for the last seventeen years, Justin and his colleagues evaluate data from which our product experts design our acclaimed savings and mortgage range. Data analysis is an ongoing process that keeps the team busy throughout the year ensuring innovative, relevant and competitive products are brought to market.

So what has changed in the life of a commercial analyst since 2002? Justin explains: “Back in the early 2000’s our analytical work revolved around the study of data presented on printed, hard copy reports and spread sheets. Storage was a real challenge – banks of large filing cabinets were a dominant feature in the office. Of course everything is computer led now – data is stored digitally and all information can be transferred in an instant electronically.”

Justin may have an important job understanding and explaining financial data, but he also has another key role within building society life – involvement with the Saffron Community Choir. Started as a way of engaging with the Members and staff of the Society, the Saffron Building Society Community Choir has grown into a strong and happy group of all ages. The choir encourages singers of any ability to come along and join in the fun.

The choir meets every Friday at midday in the Parish Rooms of St Mary’s Church, Saffron Walden, which is off Church Street. It sings for an hour and its repertoire ranges from traditional, through to choral and contemporary music. No auditions are held and everyone is welcome.

The choir led by Tim Lihoreau, breakfast presenter on ‘Classic FM’ and his wife Siobhan, performs regularly in the area at concerts, music festivals and fundraising events. One of the choir’s recent highlights was supporting the London Community Gospel choir at Saffron Hall. As part of the choir’s community involvement they have made several visits to the Highfield Care Home in Saffron Walden entertaining residents.

Justin comments: “The choir forms part of the society’s community engagement programme and we’re delighted to give something back to the local area through our music making. We have raised funds for some really good causes along the way too!”

Justin adds: “As choir members, we have a great time learning a wide repertoire both classical and pop. It’s very social, we get a great sense of ‘team’ as we perform and as is widely reported, singing is good for you! It’s great to see Society staff, Members and friends all singing together.”

Rachel Warwick

Rachel WarwickProduct Manager

In a year when the World Wide Web was invented, the Berlin Wall came down and the very first episode of The Simpsons was aired, Rachel was recruited to the Saffron Building Society team. She joined for 3 years and is still here 30 years on!

In a career that has developed in different areas of the business Rachel was a mortgage officer for her first 10 years. After several promotions she ended up managing the savings team before moving into product where she plays a very active role today.

Rachel is now a product manager involved in the life cycle of a savings product from concept to delivery. This involves work with focus groups to discover what customers want; building the best savings product to meet their needs; bringing it to market; promoting the new product then monitoring its performance.

If you are often in Saffron Walden you may well have seen Rachel, she has been based at Saffron House in the middle of the town throughout her 30 years with us. She also maintains a close relationship with the branches and customer facing teams to hear what customers are saying making sure Saffron’s savings products remain relevant and fulfil our customers’ needs.

You may have also seen her handy work first hand as she has been involved in bringing our special 170 year birthday bond and the 170th Birthday Regular Saver to market.

In her 30 years at Saffron Rachel says that the use of technology has been the biggest change in her working life. She originally used a dictaphone to outline any customer letter before secretaries from a typing pool would produce them. The introduction of a shared computer in the savings team heralded the move into the technologically driven operation we see today.

Rachel commented: “Each CEO over the last 30 years has brought a different style to running the business relevant to the time but throughout it has always remained a friendly place to work, Saffron value their staff. The aspects I’ve enjoyed most have been helping to create Saffron’s award winning Children’s Regular Savings account – encouraging young people to get into the savings habit and increasing financial education so the merits of saving are better understood.”

Karen Mepham

Karen MephamSenior Mortgage Underwriter

As Saffron marks its 170th anniversary this landmark year has got Karen thinking on a personal level too; in 2019 Karen celebrates 35 years working for the society so has her own milestone to reflect upon. Questions that have sprung to mind for Karen are: How have building societies changed; what is their future and why has she stayed with Saffron for so long?

The full history of building societies can be identified through organisations like the Building Societies Association. Apparently the first known society was recorded in Birmingham way back in 1775 - Richard Ketley's. The earliest societies were 'terminating', and wound-up when all their members had bought houses and were confined to the Midlands and the North of England. What a far cry from the wide array of financial service options provided by building societies today from all over the UK.

Karen comments “Saffron Building Society, where I have spent most of my working life, is based in the Essex market town of Saffron Walden having been established in 1849 by the Reverend John Marten. Interestingly he was Minister of the Hill Street Baptist Church and Manager of the local gas company as well as the Society’s founder. From these humble beginnings Saffron has successfully grown to manage assets of over £1 billion through its intermediary and direct operations.

Karen adds “As I walk around the centre of Saffron Walden and look up at some of the town’s historic buildings or drive past new housing estates across the region I often consider how the society has facilitated housing growth not only in this area, but right across the UK. It’s a good feeling to know I have played a small part in enabling people to buy their first house, dream home or investment property and the financial security this has brought”.

The changes since Karen joined Saffron in 1984 have been phenomenal. Like every aspect of life, the advancement of technology has been one of the most impactful advancements. Her career started as a branch cashier on the front line of customer service – back then staff had to manually balance the books at the end of each day – something hard to believe in this era of automation!

As Karen progressed through the ranks, branch management was offered to her giving the added responsibility of managing both savings and mortgage aspects for our local customers. Younger readers may find it hard to comprehend that all building societies had the same interest rate and essentially the same products they had to sell on service. This may seem like a somewhat limiting USP but one Saffron are seeing return. Personal service combined with an extensive product range is unsurprisingly a winning combination.

Karen comments “People want to deal with people. Applying for a mortgage through an automated algorithm alone is not only impersonal, but doesn’t always get the mortgage offer customers are looking for. In an increasingly diverse society employment is rarely for life and income may not be from a single source. Your income may come from a non-traditional sector or from a series of jobs as part of a portfolio career. It’s important to assess the individual’s full circumstances and avoid simply number crunching salary details – the easiest way, of course, is to speak with the customer and find out the full situation”.

Karen adds “Saffron has always maintained a personal touch – looking at the individual in detail and finding a mortgage that meets their needs is what we’ve always been about. From a job satisfaction perspective it gives us great pleasure to meet a customer, find out more about them and work together as they look to purchase their dream home.

On reflection my 35 years working for Saffron has included big change, yet holding on to what works best. I think the building society model led by ‘benefits for Members’ rather than ‘profit for Shareholders’ is more successful than ever – the future is genuinely bright!

Our ability to keep that personal touch whilst introducing modern technology to support customer service, combined with innovative, competitive products will bring the sector ongoing success – I look forward to being part of that journey.”

Sally Cameron

Sally CameronData Protection Officer

Sally is one of Saffron’s longest serving employees with 40 years of service under her belt. During this time she has undertaken many roles and brings a wealth of experience to her working day as she supports the teams that serve the Society’s customers.

She joined the Saffron team as an Office Junior straight from school in 1979. Back then administrative duties were very different. Sally recalls, ‘One of my fondest memories was being out and about in town, on foot, personally delivering documents to local companies, surveyors, solicitors and accountants.”

Sally soon transferred to a customer service role, across both the mortgage and savings business. From this she worked on system projects for the next two decades.

In 2017 Sally became a qualified Business Continuity Planner and in 2018 went on to become a Saffron’s certified data protection officer. Sally now works on supporting the Data Protection & GDPR activities within the Society and works with all teams in ensuring business continuity remains uninterrupted.

Sally reflects: “Throughout my career, some things at Saffron have changed dramatically whilst other aspects have stayed much the same. With regard to changes - I’ve been constantly encouraged to learn and progress within the organisation and to refresh my skills set. The thought of taking exams recently was daunting. I’ve now gained fresh and relevant skills, all of which have taken me into emerging and progressive areas of the business.”

Sally adds “What has remained constant over the last 4 decades has been Saffron’s primary goal – putting the customer first and serving them in the best way possible. Increased regulation has changed the way we do this but the ethos has remained the same.”

As a working mum and carer, Sally has a full day but enjoys taking time out to sing with the Saffron Building Society Community Choir. Sally concludes: “Finding this pastime, meeting new friends and getting to know colleagues in a non-work setting has been a real highlight for me. If you’d told me a few years ago I’d be singing to large audiences, in well-known venues, I wouldn’t have believed you.”