THE chief executive of Nationwide promised to keep supporting customers during the uncertain future ahead as he looked back on an unusual six months.

Half-year results for the building society’s finances between April and September revealed that its underlying pre-tax profits remained steady at £305 million following a 40 per cent plunge in the previous financial year.

The company promised none of its 18,000 employees would take compulsory redundancy in 2020 but has no plans to extend this pledge into 2021.

Despite rumours of job losses, boss Joe Garner stressed that the company’s headcount remained the same now as at the start of 2019.

Deputy chief financial officer Alison Robb added: “We wanted to give people the guarantee that they would have a job if they wanted it until the end of the year.

“At this point, there’s no plan to extend that beyond the end of 2020 but you won’t see a massively-different shape to this society by the end of the financial year.

“There are changes in demand for what we do and we are having to continue with change programmes because in a world where your income is down, you’ve got to adjust your cost base accordingly.

“We are always focusing on maximising employment and how we can give employees retraining so we can move them.

“We had real successes in reskilling people in the second half of the year and though it doesn’t mean there’s a job for everyone, if we do have to go through more change, we hope we have given people more skills they can use.”

In the last six months, the company cut costs by £92m, opened 256,000 new current accounts, accepted 246,000 mortgage payment holidays and granted 91,000 payment breaks or interest-free periods on loans, credit cards and overdrafts.

Net lending fell to £1.6bn but deposits rose by £1.3bn as members held more money in their accounts.

Looking ahead to 2021, Mr Garner stressed that it was hard to predict what the future held but the business was doing all it could to prepare for every possible situation.

He added: “It’s impossible to predict because we don’t yet know to what degree the changes people have made in how they are using financial services will stay with us for the long-term.

“We are going to have to wait and see how demand evolves before we know what our ongoing position is going to be.”

“The news around the vaccine tells us that while the end might not be in sight, there will be an end and I think we can draw some comfort from that.

“As a building society, our business has always been helping people save for the future and buy or improve their homes. That absolutely continues and I think the biggest trend that will be with us for decades is the impact of climate change.

“We have made some pretty strong commitments about how we want to help the process of moving towards a net zero economy.

“We are confident that we will be able to maintain our financial strength and support our members and the economy over the uncertain period ahead.

“All I can say with absolute confidence is that people will always want a home to live in and want to save for their future and we are committed to helping them do both.”

Chief economist Robert Gardner added: “It’s all so uncertain, not just because of things like Brexit and the pandemic, but we are seeing behavioural shifts as people react to the pandemic.

“The way we approach it is to look at a range of scenarios because the uncertainty is so great at this point that it would not be sensible to have a strong view that the economy is going to take one particular course, there’s just too many factors at play.”

To illustrate this, Mr Garner described how GDP is eight per cent below where it was in February but the housing market is now four per cent above its respective February figure, which he said no-one would have predicted.

The company is extending its promise to keep branches open in towns and cities where they are already to at least 2023.

Ms Robb added: “The results are where we expected them to be. We take a pretty low-risk approach to our business so hopefully run an even keel.

“It’s an incredibly challenging environment – interest rates are 0.1 per cent, we had to make tough decisions in terms of savings rates but we are pleased we have been able to continue to lend, particularly for first time buyers, which is important for long-term economic performance.

“We have been able to contain costs by stopping things like our Nationwide For Business activity and tried to be efficient across all the society.

“We are pleased in this environment but realistic in understanding that challenges lie ahead because of the level of unpredictability.

“Thank you to our members who have held on with us while we’ve had to adjust to working in a different environment.

“To any members who are finding this a difficult financial environment - the sooner they talk to us the better. We pride ourselves on how we engage with members who need support, so please talk to us.”