From Demutualisation to Meltdown: A Tale of Two Wannabe Banks

Robin P Klimecki, Hugh Willmott

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

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Purpose – This paper aims to examine the influence of neoliberalist deregulation on the rash of demutualisations of the 1990s. It explores the extent to which the demutualisation of two building societies – Northern Rock and Bradford & Bingley – and their subsequent demise in the wake of the credit crunch exemplify key features of the neoliberalist experiment, with a particular focus on their post-mutualisation business models. Design/methodology/approach – The analysis draws on literature that examines the neoliberal development of the financial sector and examines the media coverage of the financial crisis of 2007/2008 to study the discursive and material conditions of possibility for the development and implosion of the business models used by Northern Rock and Bradford & Bingley. Findings – The paper argues that the demutualisation of Northern Rock and Bradford & Bingley was part of a broader neoliberal movement which had processes of financialisation at its centre. By converting into banks, former building societies gained greater access to wholesale borrowing, to new types of investors and to the unrestricted use of financial instruments such as securitisation. The collapse of Northern Rock and Bradford & Bingley is interpreted in the light of their access to these new sources of funding and their use of financial instruments which were either unavailable for, or antithetical to, the operation of mutual societies. Research limitations/implications – The paper comments on the contemporary features and current effects of the 2007/2008 crisis of liquidity, whose full long-term consequences are uncertain. Further research and future events may offer confirmation or serve to qualify or correct its central argument. The intent of the paper is to provide a detailed analysis of the conditions and consequences of building society demutualisation in the context of the neoliberal expansion of the financial sector that resulted in a financial meltdown. It is hoped that this study will stimulate more critical analysis of the financial sector, and of the significance of financialisation more specifically. Originality/value – The paper adopts an alternative perspective on the so-called “subprime crisis”. The collapse of Northern Rock and Bradford & Bingley is understood
in relation to the expansion, and subsequent crisis, of financialisation, in which financial instruments such as collateralized debt obligations and credit default swaps were at its explosive centre, rather than to the expansion of subprime lending per se. Demutualisation is presented as a symptom of neoliberalism, a development that, in the UK, is seen to have contributed significantly to the financial meltdown.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)120-140
Number of pages20
JournalCritical Perspectives on International Business
Issue number1/2
Publication statusPublished - 2009

Bibliographical note

Translated into Spanish:

Klimecki, R., Willmott, H. (2012). "De las altas finanzas a la
debacle: un relato sobre dos aspirantes a bancos". Cuadernos de
Relaciones Laborales, 30(2): forthcoming


  • Building Socities, Debt, Financial Crisis, Banks, Financialization, United Kingdom


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