The Nationwide Building Society has grown from its establishment in the United Kingdom in 1846 into the largest building society in the world in 2009. The financial institution has achieved this status through a series of mergers beginning in the 19th century and continuing into the economic downturn of the early 21st century that took a grip on the United Kingdom in 2007. The Building Society Association (BSA) reports that as of the financial year end of April 4, 2009, the Nationwide Building Society had total assets of more than £201 billion.
The Nationwide Building Society describes in its own history that its origins lie in the boom in building societies of the late 19th century. Temporary societies or building clubs would take in subscriptions from members to build houses until each member had built a house of his own; these societies would then typically disband. By the end of the 19th century, permanent building societies had sprang up around the United Kingdom, allowing permanent membership and new members to join at various times to allow for house building and purchase. At the end of the 19th century, the Nationwide was known as the Co-Operative Permanent Building Society. It survived both World Wars and the Great Depression of the 1930s.
The Co-Operative Permanent Building Society board of directors decided to change its name to Nationwide in an attempt to distance itself from problems surrounding the completely separate Co-Operative political movement in the United Kingdom. The name Nationwide was chosen to suggest coverage of the whole United Kingdom and was deemed free from potential political overtones. In 1987 the Nationwide merged with Anglia Building Society to become Nationwide Anglia before reverting back to Nationwide in 1992.
In August 2007 the Nationwide Building Society reported that it would merge with the Portman Building Society group to create the world's largest building society with assets of more than £159 trillion and 13 million members. Following the economic downturn of 2007, Nationwide merged the troubled Derbyshire and Cheshire Building Societies into its group to avoid more financial disruption, such as the run on the Northern Rock Bank of the same year, the first run on a U.K. bank in over a century.
Through the mergers of the late 20th and early 21st centuries, the Nationwide Building Society and its regional franchises have, according to the Nationwide Building Society, become the U.K.'s second largest savings provider and the third largest mortgage lender. The BSA reports the Nationwide to have 900 branches including regional branches of the Derbyshire, Cheshire and Dunfermline Building Societies, and around 19,000 staff.
According to the Business Banking Review, the Nationwide Building Society provides a number of financial products including residential and commercial mortgages, insurance, investments, credit cards and current accounts. The Building Societies Association reports that Nationwide had 1.4 million borrowing members and 13.8 investing members as of April 4, 2009.