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Our history

The idea of a trade association-owned bank may not have been the most obvious or conventional of ideas in the 1950’s, but it was one that the management team of the National Federation of Ironmongers (NFI), forerunner to BHF and bira, were inspired by.

In 1954, the NFI executive committee debated  the question of whether the NFI should operate a Hire Purchase Scheme which would compete with the advantageous terms offered by Department Stores and Nationalised Organisations and which would be of great value to smaller ironmongers. It wasn’t an easy sell as it was a step into the unknown and a risk to associate the NFI name with a financial venture of this nature. Thankfully, the committee voted in favour of the scheme.

At this time there was little doubt that hire purchase was becoming an ever-increasing feature of the Ironmongery and Hardware trade and that many members were giving serious consideration to this type of trading for the first time. It was recommended that a separate company should be formed and the NFI Finance Company was born. The regulatory hurdles and expense involved in opening and indeed running your own bank is almost crippling nowadays, especially since the 2008 financial crisis.

By 1973, turnover had passed the £1 million mark in a year and profits were over £100,000, a significant milestone although a far cry from 2014 when the bank saw lending break the £1 million pound turnover mark in a single month. Sixty years after its inception and the bank is going from strength to strength. The bank has celebrated breaking the £1 million pound barrier twice in 2015, in March and June, with exceptional interest from members in new vehicle finance and investment in equipment for their businesses with the latter helped by enhanced tax incentives to boost investment and help growth. This may seem boastful but it is something we’re very proud of as only too often we hear of SMEs struggling to find banks willing to help them expand into a new area or just keep their doors open during a difficult patch and fulfil a passion they have and most importantly believe in.

NFI Finance has been known by several names during its history and gone through at least two brand overhauls in its 60 years. In 1974 it changed its name to “Hardware Federation Finance” to represent the new federation name and once again repeated the exercise following the merger of the BHF and BSSA in 2009.

Building upon the recognition of the need to raise its profile to the newly extended membership, the bank rebranded to bira bank in 2013 before embarking on a strategy to add further products to its portfolio for the benefit of members in recent times.

What is obvious is that, although times change, the commitment to the independent market does not. Whilst the bank is built on traditional values of service, it is committed to developing modern, relevant products that genuinely benefit the independent retailer. In 2015 we launched bira bank mortgages and we are continually striving to add further products as bira bank seeks to provide members with a wide range of financial solutions to meet their needs.

Click here to download 60 years of bira bank