Two Minutes With…Stuart Williamson, Director of Communications, Nationwide Building Society
Why did you join Nationwide? After a few years working in comms agencies, I wanted to move in-house. Financial services really appealed to me as a sector that had its fair share of opportunities and challenges.
How did you get into comms and PR? By mistake! I started working at a great local comms agency in Cheltenham, where I grew up, with clients like the Territorial Army and Cheltenham Racecourse, and was hooked!
How has the current lockdown and coronavirus affected Nationwide? In a really positive way. We’ve proven we’re able to do many of things we’ve sometimes questioned, like really moving at pace to get things done, and reaffirmed others, like the fact that the Society cares deeply for its employees and its members (we’re owned by our customers). There have been some darker moments too, unfortunately, where many of our branch teams have been on the receiving end of some pretty awful verbal and aggressive behaviour from a minority of customers, as have other high street-based organisations.
How do you think the financial services industry has been affected? The sector is much stronger through the capital it has had to build up over the last ten years. This also means we’re able to respond by helping people when they have needed it the most.
What have been you biggest comms challenges? Dealing with the unknown – there was no precedent for this. It was also a real challenge to know where the next change in direction was going to come from, including the daily Government press conferences.
How has it changed your working habits? As a team we’ve learned that we don’t always need to be in the same room, and I have really seen the power of agile working. I hope and believe this will change our ways of working for good, enabling people to work in a way that better suits them. It will also mean that businesses can search further for talent.
Once lockdown is over, what do you think will change? I think while we’ve spent most of our time apart, the need for community and the need to help those around us has never been more important.
What positives on a personal level have you taken from the experience? The massive positive for me is working from home. I’ve also learned a huge amount from this whole experience.
What does financial services get right in the UK? What we’ve remembered from this crisis is that it’s an essential service, to the point where branch and contact colleagues were designated essential workers. I’m not sure we’d thought about our industry like that before.
If you could give a younger version of yourself one piece of financial advice, what would it be? Get saving, no matter how much. Now!
What three things would you do if you were head of the FCA or Prime Minister for the day? Create greater powers to protect those working on the frontline of our high streets and shops (see one of my previous answers). Do everything possible to help younger families through this crisis (while continuing to spin all the other plates). Have a day off (we’re all human).
What is the one column or website that you read every day? The Red Box Daily email from the Times, Politico and Today on Radio 4.
What would you do if you received a windfall of £10,000? Despite telling my younger self to save, I’d go on the best holiday ever to somewhere hot!