What Is a Building Society Reference Number?

Learn all about building society roll numbers, building society services, and how to open a building society account.

Updated: March 31, 2024
Matt Crabtree

Written By

Matt Crabtree


Are you looking for a new way to save money? Or perhaps you're looking for financial services outside of traditional high-street banks. One option open to you here in the UK is a building society.

A building society isn't a bank but a financial institution typically offering savings accounts and mortgage loans. Anyone can open an account with a building society, and some even offer accounts for children.

There are many reasons someone may consider a building society, like mistrust of a bank or seeking better interest rates to maximise their savings.

Building societies tend to have better interest rates for savings and lower mortgage rates than banks, so they're a popular choice for many people in the UK. There are 43 building societies across the UK, with approximately 25 million members.

In this article, you'll learn all about building society roll numbers, building society services, and how to open a building society account.

What Is a Building Society?

Building societies are financial institutions owned by their members.

They provide financial services such as savings accounts, mortgages, and personal loans. Although financial services may vary between building societies, most do provide savings accounts and mortgage loans.

The first building society, Ketley’s Building Society, was established in Birmingham in 1775, and many have since opened. Millions of people now use building societies in the UK. A building society isn't a bank but offers similar services, focusing on savings and mortgage lending.

Building Societies operate to help people achieve their life goals. The money a building society makes is reinvested in the business, allowing it to provide more loans and better interest rates for its clients.

The critical difference between a bank and a building society is that building societies are owned and run by their members, whereas banks tend to be owned by shareholders and float on the stock market.

Structure-building societies prioritise customer service because members have a say in society's operations. Members can attend meetings and vote on decisions within the building society.

Although a building society isn't a bank, it is still trustworthy. The Financial Services Compensation Scheme protects money deposited with a trusted building society. When applying for an account with a building society, check that the Prudential Regulation Authority authorises them. You can see if the building society is on the Financial Services Register.

How Does a Building Society Make Money?

You'll receive interest when you open an account with a building society and deposit money.

The funds in the account are used to lend to customers seeking a mortgage or other loans. Customers with a mortgage loan pay a higher interest rate than the one you're being paid for the funds in your account. The extra money from the mortgages is used to put back into the building society.

If you're worried about your funds, you can withdraw them anytime, depending on your savings account. Always check your agreement or contact your building society for further details on withdrawing funds from your account.

Benefits and Drawbacks of Using a Building Society

With any financial service, there are benefits and drawbacks.

We've listed all the advantages and disadvantages to give you an idea of the bigger picture behind building a society.


✔️ Better interest rates: Unlike traditional banks, building societies don't have to pay dividends to shareholders, so they can offer better interest rates. When taking out a loan, a building society offers more competitive rates.

✔️ Accessible lending: A building society is more likely to lend you money than a bank if you're considered a high-risk borrower. If you're self-employed, a first-time buyer, or have a small deposit when looking to take out a mortgage, a building society may be more likely to help you than a bank.

✔️ Your voice matters: Building societies are run by members, so when you become a member, you can attend meetings and vote on decisions about how the society operates. Participation is optional, but it's great if you want more say in handling your funds.


❌️ Limited range of products: Traditional banks offer a more extensive range of bank accounts and financial products. However, you're limited in what you can do when using a banking society.

❌️ No current accounts: Most building societies only offer savings accounts, so you can't open bank accounts or take out a loan with them. If you require a current account, you may have to look elsewhere.

❌️ Limited branches: It may be challenging to find a nearby building society branch since most are only present in their respective regions. However, most modern-day building societies allow online access so that you can access your online account anywhere.

What Is a Building Society Roll Number?

If you already use a building society or plan to, you must know what a building society roll number is.

A roll number is sometimes called a building society reference number.  A roll number is essentially a unique account number made of an alphanumeric reference code and is used to identify individual building society accounts.

You may be familiar with the standard account number and sort code system banks use, but building societies use roll numbers. As the account holder, You will need your building society roll number to make payments and access your online account. You should never share your account number with anyone else, as it is crucial for making payments.

Sometimes, you may still be asked for your standard account number and sort code in addition to a roll number, as a roll number can act as an additional identification should you need it.

How to Get a Building Society Reference Number

When you initially sign up, you'll receive a building society roll number in the documentation.

Every person who opens an account with a building society will receive a roll number, whether you're opening a savings account or taking out a loan. Once you receive your roll number, you should keep it safe, but you can access it via your original signing-up documents.

You can find your roll number on any of your account statements. However, if you're still struggling to find your Building Society roll number, you may find it on your online banking app, or you can reach out to your Building Society's customer service team to help you further.

How to Start Putting Money Into Your Building Society

If you don't have an account with a building society, you must open one.

The method you use will depend on the building society you choose, but you can typically open an account in a branch or online. 

To open a Building Society account, you will need proof of identity and proof of address:

  • Proof of address: Use recent letters from HMRC dated within the last three months and any bills or government documentation.
  • Proof of identity: You can use a passport, driver's licence (full or provisional), or birth certificate. 

When you find the right building society, they’ll provide you with a list of all the documents you need to open the account. If you want to open a savings account, you will need your investment to deposit into it once it's opened.

You can transfer money into your building society account by bank transfer, phone, post, or branch. The process is fairly simple; however, if you need extra guidance, you can contact customer service, and they'll be happy to walk you through it.

Some building societies may only allow you to make in-person deposits or bank transfers, so you should find out before you open an account.

Who Are the Biggest Building Societies in the UK?

Although the UK has over 43 building societies, some significant names are the biggest and leading building societies in 2024.

For example, Nationwide is the largest building society in the UK, with group assets worth around £272 billion in 2023. The second largest is the Coventry Building Society, which recorded group assets of around £54 billion, and the third is the Yorkshire Building Society, with a recorded group asset value of £52 billion.

Factors to Consider When Looking for a Building Society

The biggest doesn't necessarily mean the best, but they're usually well-regarded and are leading building societies.

We can share which building society we think would work for you, but we don't know your financial situation. Instead, we've compiled a list of factors for you to consider to help you decide on one:

  • Account type: Most, if not all, building societies offer savings accounts. However, some may provide additional accounts and services like ISAs and deposit accounts. Most building societies don't offer current accounts, but some might. There may also be different savings accounts, such as easy access, fixed-rate bonds, regular savings, children's accounts, etc.
  • Interest rates: Look around at different building societies for the best interest rates; typically, interest on a savings account with a building society ranges from 5-9%, depending on the type of savings account you open.
  • Support: Knowing a financial institution has an excellent support team can make you feel valued as a customer. Look at what kind of support the building society offers, whether in person, over the phone, or via email. If you need to, you must contact the support team in the most comfortable way.
  • Customer ratings: A good way to gauge a building society's suitability is to read online reviews and spaces for customers' opinions. Reviews are great because you can see a real person's opinion on the establishment and learn if the institution is well-reviewed.
  • Branch location: If you like to deal with finances in person, consider which branches are close to you. The branch location may be necessary, but most building societies offer online account services if you're not too fussed about how close the nearest branch is.

Final Thoughts

Now that you know all you need to know about the building society roll number, how to get one, and why it's so essential, you can decide if opening an account is your best option.

It's essential to remember that building societies typically don't offer bank accounts except for savings accounts, so they shouldn't be used as a replacement for banking but as an additional tool for helping with savings, loans, or mortgages.

Related Guides:

What Is a Building Society Reference Number: FAQs

Does Everyone Have a Building Society Reference Number?

How Many Digits Does a Building Society Reference Number Have?

What Is a Building Society Account?

Is a Building Society Roll Number a Sort Code?

Is a Building Society Safe?

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