Page 5: Ownership
A number of important hurdles had to be passed before Abbey National became a public company.
- The members of the society – that is, customers who had mortgages or certain savings accounts which meant they owned the building society - had to support the change. At that time over five million people were eligible to vote.
- The society also needed to gain the Bank of England’s authority to become a bank.
- The Building Societies Commission, which regulates building societies, had to approve the conversion.
Abbey National put on a series of road shows and produced extensive literature to put the argument for conversion to its members. A sophisticated voting system enabled members to vote by post if they could not attend the Special General Meeting where the ballot would be held. Of the four million votes which were received, only 300,000 people opposed conversion – it was a massive vote of confidence in Abbey National’s decision.
The regulators - the Bank of England and the Building Societies Commission - also approved the move to conversion, after carefully considering all the relevant points.
Each qualifying member of the society received 100 shares in the new company in recognition of their ownership. It was decided that giving an equal amount to each member was consistent with Abbey National’s history of mutuality and fairness. In addition, each current and retired member of staff received 100 shares.
The first owners of Abbey National plc were therefore its customers and its staff. At five million, it was the largest shareholder register in the world. Even today, the company has 2.4 million shareholders, one of the largest shareholder registers in Europe.
On conversion, Abbey National also offered its members the right to buy extra shares, issuing 750 million shares. This increased its capital so that it had a secure base for its expansion and development.