Meet … Andrew Whyte, CEO, Association of Finance Mutuals

‘With the right policy and regulatory framework we could do so much more and be a real engine for growth’

Andrew Whyte was appointed chief executive of AFM in April 2023, following a career in communications. Previous roles include head of corporate & public relations at the BBC, and director of communications at Arts Council England, the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs, the Foreign & Commonwealth Office and, most recently, the FCA – where he gained extensive knowledge of the financial services industry and regulation.

How did you first come across the co-op and mutuals sector?

With hindsight I have realised that my first car insurance was with a mutual – although I didn’t appreciate the significance at the time, which says something about what we took for granted then, and how the market has changed since. Later on, I had a mortgage with a building society, which ironically demutualised while I was a member. By that time I did appreciate the significance (and, by the way, voted against the demutualisation).

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What was your journey to your role at the Association of Financial Mutuals (AFM)?

Before joining AFM, I had been director of communications at the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) so had seen the work of the AFM and the distinctive contribution the mutual sector makes to financial services from that regulatory perspective. Once I came across the CEO role and started to research my application and prepare for the interviews, I was excited by both the ethos of mutuality and the great things we do. And since I joined AFM at the start of last year, I have continued to be inspired by the dynamism, commitment and professionalism of the sector and the way the original values and innovative spirit, which have driven the mutual movement for two centuries, still animate what we do today. 

What does your role entail?

The AFM secretariat is a small team, just three of us, one of whom is part-time, so we all do a bit of everything. But as CEO I work with the AFM board to develop the long-term strategy, priorities and business plan for the organisation. One of my key roles is representing AFM to external stakeholders, like regulators, government departments, opinion formers and others, and, of course, engaging with AFM’s members so I understand what’s on their agendas and how we can do the best job for them. 

Can you describe a typical day?

We don’t have an office base so at least I don’t start with a commute.  But once I’m at my desk I’ll spend quite a bit of the day in Teams calls or meetings, taking part in one of our regular webinar sessions for members, or drafting papers for the AFM board or other committee meetings. At this time of year, a big part of our work is focused on planning for our annual conference in October, which this year is in Nottingham. 

Having said that, I aim to get out and about at least a couple of times a week, meeting members, regulators, politicians or other stakeholders or representing AFM at industry and other events. For example, earlier this month I spent a really enjoyable and productive couple of days at the Building Societies Association conference in Manchester.

Related: MPs approve law change to level playing field for building societies

What are the biggest challenges for your sector?

Like others in the mutual and co-operative sector, we know that we are already making a real contribution to the economy, our communities and society more widely. But we also know that with the right policy and regulatory framework we could do so much more and be a real engine for growth across the UK. That means things like access to capital, which will be vital if we are to grow, and more proportionate regulation, which recognises our special status as member-owned businesses and more accurately reflects our risk profile. There is such untapped potential in the sector as a whole and a coherent and integrated approach across government, at national and local level, will help us unleash that to everyone’s benefit. 

What are the biggest opportunities? 

Over the last year or so it has felt like the climate is changing for the mutual and co-operative movements and the values we represent. 

At a political level we’ve seen the passage of the Co-operatives, Mutuals and Friendly Societies Act last year which won all party support and is a start in the process of long-overdue reform and modernisation of some of the outdated legislation which covers our sector. More widely, recent corporate scandals, like the Post Office and water companies, have highlighted public concern about values in business and prompted debate about whether mutual and co-operative structures would better meet the needs of the public. And in financial services specifically we’ve seen a mutual model emerge as a leading option for the future of both Co-operative Bank and Virgin Money. 

So, this may be a moment for mutuals and co-operatives. An opportunity to really make an impact, doing what we do best and proving that there is a different way of doing business. The challenge for us is to make the most of that opportunity. 

How does the AFM fit with the wider co-op movement?

Over the last year or so we’ve been working very closely with our partner trade bodies in the wider mutual and co-operative world – Abcul, BSA and Co-operatives UK – in a joint initiative to shape the public policy debate ahead of the general election. We published a joint  mutuals prospectus, The Purpose of Mutual and Co-operative Business in Society, and have taken the message to politicians with meetings at Westminster, the Senedd in Cardiff and Holyrood in Edinburgh. That partnership, speaking with one voice about the aims and ambitions we have in common, is getting us heard and will continue to be vital as we make the case for mutuals and co-operatives up to, and beyond, the election.

Where do you see AFM in 10 years’ time?

The real issue is not about AFM, but about the firms we represent and the values they stand for. So, in 10 years’ time, I want AFM to be representing a vibrant, active and still-growing mutual insurance sector, providing genuine competition and a real alternative to the big corporate, shareholder-owned firms and, most importantly, delivering great service to their members with financial products and services which meet their needs and help them achieve their aspirations.