As we head towards the much-anticipated year ahead, I wanted to reflect on the past nine months here at The Cumberland and recognise all that has been achieved together in the face of unprecedented global challenges.
When the first lockdown was announced on 23 March, we quickly focused on two main priorities; continuing the provision of essential services to the regions and customers we serve and supporting all our customers facing financial difficulties due to Covid-19.
As we move through what we hope will be the final stages of this pandemic, two simple principles remain at the heart of our business; to continue to protect the health and wellbeing of our customers and our people, and to provide the best level of customer experience possible.
Throughout the crisis we have remained committed to maintaining the quality, security and availability of services while keeping our people and customers safe. And we couldn’t have delivered the uncompromising level of service we have if it weren’t for the dedication of a brilliant team at The Cumberland.
For that, I thank you all.
We’re brighter together
Supporting our customers
Since the Covid-19 pandemic began we have been relentlessly focused on supporting our customers through an incredibly difficult time. Initiatives including mortgage payment holidays, additional overdrafts and mortgage offer extensions have provided support for our residential customers. Over the last nine months over 2,000 residential mortgage borrowers took a payment holiday, over 10% of our mortgage customers.
We also deferred and waived current account charges and for many of our commercial customers, as well as supporting more than 1,000 of them with a payment holiday, accounting for over £250 million of mortgages across the hospitality, tourism and holiday let sectors.
We understand that we are by no means through this crisis, and many of our customers will face financial difficulties next year. We will continue to do all we can to help and support our customers through the uncertainty ahead.
Supporting our people
At the outset of the crisis we recognised the difficulties that lay ahead for our people, not just from a work perspective but also personally. Issues such as home schooling and personal anxieties caused by caring for vulnerable family members, underlying health issues, worries around their own mental wellbeing and grieving the loss of family or friends have unfortunately impacted many in our team.
We took steps very early to keep our people safe. Even before the first lockdown came into effect, we made the decision to stop our teams coming into head office unless absolutely necessary, and the majority of our head office team has continued to work from home throughout 2020.
We introduced a flexible working day so that our people could manage their work as well as home schooling or caring for relatives, and we undertook regular welfare calls with our teams to ensure they were coping with the situation and to identify any areas of further support that might be needed.
As an essential service, our branch team have continued to work throughout the pandemic, initially in the face of an uncertain threat. Again, we quickly took all measures possible to ensure their safety, with additional cleaning, screens and social distancing, and our teams are now operating in ‘bubbles’ to make every effort to contain any potential cases of the virus.
While everyone has settled into this new way of working with determination and understanding, we do recognise the longer-term impacts on mental wellbeing and we have been working hard in recent months to ensure we have plans and provision in place to offer support that puts the wellbeing of our people at the heart of our business.
Supporting our communities
Throughout the crisis we have remained committed to supporting our communities. Our Community Fund has continued to make donations to local good causes and charities, committing over £100,000 to organisations around our region.
Our Annual General Meeting took place behind closed doors as the first lockdown ended. Despite this, we still received a high number of votes online and we were delighted to donate £19,000 to local branches of FareShare on our members’ behalf. The charity is providing an invaluable service distributing surplus food to frontline organisations such as food banks – something that has tragically been much in demand this year.
During the summer our ‘100 Thank You’s’ campaign was launched to celebrate 100 people across the region who symbolise the extraordinary Cumbrian response we’ve seen to the Covid-19 crisis. The entries really humbled us and showcased the way our local communities have risen to this challenge and the acts of kindness we continue to see in all walks of life.
We hope this campaign will leave a lasting legacy, one that will always recognise and remember how our communities united and coped with this historic challenge.
Maintaining excellent customer service
Providing excellent customer service has never been more important, and we are proud to have been nationally recognised recently for our Covid-19 support. Specifically, we were highly commended for our customer service and community involvement at the Mortgage Finance Gazette Awards in November. This commendation was in recognition of the actions we have taken to support our customers during the pandemic and for our continued commitment to making a positive difference in communities around the region. And while we don’t take these actions for the recognition, it certainly was welcome to be noticed for our work in this area, especially at the moment.
We are incredibly proud of the way our teams have risen to the challenges of forbearance, home-working, flexible branch opening hours and dealing with customers who may be anxious about their financial situation to continue to deliver the customer experience we have become renowned for.
A brighter future
As we look ahead to 2021, I’d firstly like to acknowledge the incredible hard work and dedication of our entire team in supporting our customers and communities throughout the most challenging period in a generation.
Collectively, The Cumberland family has shown uncompromising resilience and it is this united strength that has kept our organisation going throughout the pandemic. Their commitment to looking after our customers and each other is inspirational.
Undoubtedly, the future will involve a different way of operating for many people and many businesses. Whatever those changes may be, our key aims next year will remain the same – to provide the support and understanding our customers need while looking after our people and our communities.
By knowing and understanding our collective purpose – to make a positive difference to the lives of our customers, communities and people – and by taking a step forward every day, however small, on the journey to delivering this, collectively, we will emerge stronger than ever.
As a senior team, our number one priority for the first half of 2021 will be to lead our Cumberland family through this pandemic safely and with resilience.
To all our people, our customers and our local heroes who continue to deliver our essential services, day-in, day-out, thank you. While this Christmas may look and feel a little different, I’d like to wish you all a very merry one. And please, stay safe and healthy and look after one another.