Over the last few years the UK banking scene has become pretty stale with very little to choose between the products and services offered by the big names on our high street.
The sector has been crying out for some serious new competition to wake it from its slumber and give consumers a credible alternative and the chance to experience an improved banking experience.
We've already got Metro Bank slowly building a new following from scratch in the London area and Virgin Money is due to burst on to the current account scene sometime next year.
But the most exciting news which could lead to a dramatic shake up of the banking market came last week when it was announced that the retail giant Marks and Spencer is soon to offer bank accounts and mortgages through its new M&S Bank brand.
The trusted retailer has been a dominant force in high street retailing for much of its 128-year history and now has plans to offer customers a new style "modern banking environment".
The banks will have opening hours in line with the stores, which means customers will be able to access services seven days a week and, in some outlets, early evenings. There will also be telephone and internet banking to compliment the new branch network.
With the first branch due to be opened in its flagship store in Marble Arch in London next month, this could be the beginning of a shake-up in the banking world and at last give the existing players something to sit up and take notice of.
The timetable suggests there will eventually be fifty M&S banks opened in existing stores across the country, initially selling the current range of financial services products, to be followed by a new bank account at the end of summer and a mortgage range sometime later.
The existing M&S Money financial products are seldom out of the best buy tables, from its ever popular rewards credit card, already held by 3 million customers, its table topping personal loan, right through to the very competitive ISA and savings accounts.
Because the current no-nonsense product range offers such good value, there is much anticipation to see the nuts and bolts of the forthcoming current account.
How it will differ from that of its parent company HSBC and its multi-award-winning stable partner, First Direct, we'll have to wait and see, but it will be a big disappointment if yet another bland bank account offering is wheeled out with a complex and expensive charging structure that the public can't understand.
M&S Bank has a real opportunity to become a major force in UK retail financial services, the combination of the backing of the banking giant HSBC and an established and trusted high-street brand could see many of its already loyal shoppers switch their banking allegiance to the new kid in town.
M&S's chief executive, Marc Bolland, said: "This bank will be built on M&S values, putting the customer at the heart of the proposition and delivering the exceptional service that sets us apart from the competition."
Getting people to transfer their account from one bank to another has always been a difficult task and hence the reason we often see the £100 sweeteners being offered.
I'm sure Bolland fully appreciates that just another shade of beige isn't going to deliver his business objectives; he knows that banking customers want and deserve a better banking relationship.
With so many people disillusioned with the poor service levels and below-average products from their current bank, the potential for M&S Bank is huge.
But it will only have a postive impact if it gets its offering right, and that means top-notch service as well as an appealing product range that continues to reward customer loyalty.
AndrewHagger — Moneynet.co.uk