On the Building Societies’ Association’s website there is a page recording the mis-fortunes of the demutualised mortgage banks. The financial crisis put paid to the whole sector: Santander, who was in the process of rebranding Abbey National, ended up with Alliance & Leicester and Bradford & Bingley; Halifax with Birmingham Midshires fell into the arms of Lloyds Group; and most spectacularly, Northern Rock went bust.

There are only a few banks or building societies that have sailed through the current turmoil with their business model intact, HSBC is probably the bank most people would think of. For me, Coventry Building Society would be the building society. Coventry has always been one of the larger building societies, with a strong regional base, alongside Yorkshire. It is still the third largest building society in the UK, but the sturdiness of its business model has transformed it. According to the latest mortgage data, it stood at 8th place in the mortgage lending figures for 2009, and that is very far from a place of 23rd in 2006.

Its offices, in Binley Business Park outside Coventry, have been a haven from the financial storms of the past few years. As a society it has been serving its community across the West Midlands for the past 126 years. When in 2009, it gave mortgages to first time buyers who either had a track record of saving with the society or close family relations who were existing members, it was commented on that this was a return to mutual values. But Coventry never left those values behind. They have always given preferential rates to long term members, and especially targeted better savings rates at the over 50’s or to encourage members to open accounts for their children.

And while the unfortunate members of Bradford and Bingley who held their shares until the bitter end in October 2008 lost everything, since October 2008 Coventry estimates that its value to members in terms of good interest rates on deposits alone has been £100 million.

And this strength also throws up an important lesson on the macro-economic stability the mutual sector can provide. For example, even though the mortgage market has shrunk enormously- according to the Council of Mortgage Lenders, net mortgage lending in 2007 was £108bn, and it is forecast to be only a fraction of that at £12bn – Coventry’s net mortgage lending this year is equivalent to 31% of the Bank of England’s estimated economy wide net mortgage lending. Their consistent provision of credit must surely have been an important counter-cyclical support to the regional economy, and the support doesn’t end there. Because Coventry didn’t follow an aggressive pro-cyclical growth path, local employment went elsewhere. Just look at the how the North East has had to suffer the additional costs of 2,000 job losses so far as the additional knock-on effects of their demutualised Northern Rock going bust.

It’s no surprise, then, that Coventry’s chairman reported to members that the board maintains that:

“the events of the last two years and the strength of the Society’s performance throughout this period have shown that a traditional, mutual building society, properly focused on members’ interests, can prosper even in challenging times. The directors believe unanimously that the Society should remain an independent, mutual building society.”

This article first appeared on LabourList.org