End of year Q&A: Andrew Whyte, CEO, Association of Financial Mutuals

'We’ll continue to work together to make the case for the distinctive and vital contribution that mutuals and co-ops make to our economy'

How has the last year been for the Association of Financial Mutuals?

Having joined the Association of Financial Mutuals right at the start of 2023, the highlight of my year has been to see at first hand the energy, enthusiasm and professionalism of everyone in our sector, which is driven by a deep-rooted commitment to do the best for our members. 

There seems to be no end in sight to the cost-of-living crisis – a recent report by AFM member LV= found that 42% of people feel their finances are deteriorating. Meanwhile, the health service continues to be under extraordinary strain as do other parts of our social infrastructure which have provided the traditional safety net for so many. So, with both the short and long-term future feeling so uncertain for many people our commitment to serving the underserved has never been more important. 

Alongside this there been a radical change in our regulatory environment too, with the introduction of the FCA’s Consumer Duty at the end of July. The FCA describe the Consumer Duty as the “golden thread” which runs through all their activity, so it will continue to be a key theme for us in 2024 and beyond. 

Inevitably the new rules were accompanied by a range of ancillary activities – additional reporting requirements, staff training, clear Board and senior management accountabilities and so on – which we all spent months preparing for. But important though those bureaucratic requirements are, for us putting our members’ interests first, above all else, is not about compliance. It’s fundamental to who we are, always has been – and always will be. 

An important landmark for us this year has been Co‑operatives, Mutuals and Friendly Societies Act, which started life as Sir Mark Hendrick’s Private Members Bill, and was passed in the summer.  During the parliamentary debates on the Act, we saw widespread support on all sides for the mutual and co-operative sector. With a general election in sight, working together with our partners in the co-operative and mutual sector, BSA, Co-ops UK and Abcul, we are building on that momentum with a shared prospectus, The Purpose of Mutual and Co-operative Business in Society, which was published at the end of November and featured recently in Co-op News

The publication is just the start and over the next few months we’ll continue to work together to make the case for the distinctive and vital contribution that mutuals and co-ops make to our economy and society as a whole and setting out how, with the right enabling policy and regulatory framework, we can do so much more.

What are your hopes for the future?

So, looking forward to 2024, two themes stand out for me – collaboration and advocacy. Working together to deliver products and services which support our members through difficult times and to make the case that what we do, and the way we do it, matters now more than ever. 

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