Tesco moves to bolster banking arm

Supermarket Tesco is considering taking steps to allow its personal finance arm to borrow directly from wholesale markets as part of a push into retail banking, it emerged today.

Supermarket Tesco is considering taking steps to allow its personal finance arm to borrow directly from wholesale markets as part of a push into retail banking, it emerged today.

The retail giant is looking to establish Tesco Personal Finance (TPF) as a standalone bank in the UK, which could see it launch into the mortgage market.

Tesco is mooting the need to secure a separate credit rating for its banking arm to be able to raise funds directly rather than through the parent group, although it stressed any mortgage launch would be at least two years’ off.

The group’s spokesman added that funding would also come principally from its burgeoning savings business.

A move into mortgages would be another step forward in an assault on the sector as Tesco looks to capitalise on a lack of confidence in banks following last autumn’s financial crisis.

The chain bought out former partner Royal Bank of Scotland last December and relaunched TPF as a savings brand.

It is also reportedly one of the suitors interested in acquiring Northern Rock from the British government.

Tesco recently revealed plans to open 30 bank branches in its stores by the end of this year, with six of these already launched by mid-June.

TPF has benefited from customer loyalty to the brand amid the banking woes, reporting a near-doubling of savings balances during and after the autumn meltdown – from £2.5bn (€2.9bn) in mid-October to more than £4.5bn (€5.2bn) by the end of February.

It added today that growth has continued at a quick pace, with £2bn (€2.3bn) in savings deposits in the space of six weeks.

The personal finance arm reported underlying profits before tax of £244m (€283m) in the year to February 28, with total accounts and policies rising by 8%, helping the operation contribute £163m (€189m) to UK sales.

While the insurance side of TPF still represents the lion’s share of the business, accounting for 65% of the underlying profits, this is set to change as it focuses heavily on banking services.

It is thought that a Tesco current account could come to market within 18 months.

Tesco has drafted in a number of non-executive directors who formerly worked at major financial institutions such as Barclays and Scottish Widows to work at the division and is beefing up the division’s headquarters in Edinburgh by more than 200 staff.

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