NATIONWIDE Building Society, which employs around 1,000 people locally, has seen annual profits fall by almost a fifth as it ramped up spending on technology.

The mutual society reported a 19 per cent drop in underlying pre-tax profits to £788million for the year to April 4 – its third straight year of falling annual earnings.

It said profits were affected by a £227m charge for technology asset write-offs and its IT investment programme. The society announced last year that it would spend £1.3billion on IT over five years.

Nationwide has around 800 staff at Portman House on Bournemouth’s Richmond Hill and last year opened a larger branch on Old Christchurch Road sporting the society’s flagship ‘4C’ design.

Chief executive Joe Garner said the business had taken the profit hit in order to put member interests first. He said the society still delivered above-target financial benefits to members of £705m.

“During the year, we also announced a significant boost in our technology investment over five years to ensure we continue to excel on service,” he said.

“These were conscious decisions we were able to make as a building society.

“As we expected, they have had an impact on profits in the short term, but these choices are in the long-term interests of our members.”

Nationwide expects the housing market to remain “fairly subdued” but to strengthen once the wider economy picks up as Brexit concludes.

It said growth is set to remain “modest” amid Brexit uncertainty and predicts little change in interest rates over the next few years.

But it added: “We anticipate that economic activity will then pick up once Brexit uncertainties fade and the UK’s trading relationship with the EU becomes clearer.”

The group saw net mortgage lending rise to £8.6bn from £5.8bn the previous year, and its share increase to 18.7 per cent from 13.2 per cent. Member savings deposits increased to £6bn from £3.5bn.

Nationwide recently pledged to retain a branch in any town or city where it currently has a presence for at least two years.

The society, which has about 650 branches, said this will apply until May 2021 whether there are rival banks and building societies situated there or not.

Nationwide is committed to spending £350m over five years – £80 million this year alone – to ensure its branches remain relevant to the needs of people, from introducing high-definition video and iPads to creating areas where members can chat, read a newspaper or have a coffee.