2011 to see four Virgin Money high street banks

Virgin Money's 'attack on high street banking' is to be launched with its first four bank branches opening in 2011, including one in its home town of Norwich, its boss has told the EDP.

Jayne-Anne Gadhia, chief executive of the Norwich-based financial services group, said the firm is to be a 'significant banking player' in 12 to 18 months and hinted at the use of social networks in their new banking offer.

She said Virgin's assault on the high street would be an 'evolution of (banking) products' and a 'revolution of banking' with a 'back to the future' view of good products that had fallen by the wayside due to lack of relationships with bank managers.

She was speaking nearly a year after Virgin bought Church House Trust, a small private bank in the west country, in order to gain a banking licence.

However, in the time since that purchase, another new banking player has entered the market - Metrobank in London, which already has a number of branches in the capital. Tesco, the supermarket giant is also working on opening bank branches in its stores.


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However, Ms Gadhia dismissed Metrobank as tiny and focussed on London and market research had put Virgin well ahead of Tesco.

She said Virgin already had three million customers across a range of products and business was growing and was profitable.

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'This gives a good base to build a bank from,' she said. 'We have significent investment capital from Wilbur Ross and we are currently building and developing our own systems to really make an attack on high street banking in the next 12 to 18 months.

'We want to do everything right and we want to give people a bank of the future.'

Virgin's first four branches, to be opened by the end of 2011, will be in London, Manchester, Norwich, where Virgin Money was founded, and Edinburgh, where it has 65 staff and is currently recruiting another 250, she said.

The bank hopes to sign up 50,000 customers in the first year

Deposit products and current accounts are to be launched at the beginning of the year. Once they are online the One Account, which combines current accounts and other products with a mortgage, would be re-offered.

Once these are all running online, the business will start rolling out branches - at a pace of one a month as it gets going, she said.

Virgin's plan has always been for 70 branches in five years.

However, so far Virgin, which came up with the pioneering One Account, an offset mortgage account, has kept under its hat how different its branches or products would be.

'What we are not suggesting is that we are going to offer another type of deposit account or mortgage,' said Ms Gadhia. 'Account products have been offered and do a good job already, that's what people want.

'Our overall banking plans absolutely focus on customer service, building a service in a world of social networking and Ipads, finding a way for relationships to go much further.'

She also said the firm would be 'looking back to the future before banking went mad' at good products previously sold to customers as a result of their relationship with bank managers.

'We want to revolutionaise some of the good products of the past - try and introduce modern day equipment to the personal relationship with the bank manager.'

On Friday she said she was looking at branch design plans, which looked 'fabulous'. All the plans were fully funded by capital in the business, she said.

But she said the firm talks about still being around in 200 years, so there was no need to rush.

However, she admitted it would not be easy getting people to switch current accounts - although in reality it was easier than people thought.

She said the firm's failure to buy up Royal Bank of Scotland branches being sold off under divestation rules had not set Virgin's bank plans back but that it was a loss to competition on the high street.

'We feel very strongly about competition,' she said. There are too few, some 'too big to fail' and not enough lending. More players would also mean more liquidity in the system and there should be more disposals of assets of the larger banks.

On Friday staff at the firm were told all employees were to take part in a profit share pool which will pay everyone a Christmas bonus of 10pc of their pay due to this year's performance.

Its 2009 results showed a 46pc increase in operating profit to �38.4m on a �109.5m turnover. Customer numbers have increased by 500,000 this year.

However, it has recently pulled out of banking in the US. Virgin its social lending business in the US to its servicing partner, Graystone Solutions. Graystone continue to service the social loans under their own brand.

Virgin Money Group employs 250 people in Norwich, 65 in Edinburgh with recruitment underway for 250 more there, and about 65 in London.

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