Santander pitches to Abbey shareholders

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The Independent Online

Banco Santander this week launched a charm offensive to win over the 1.7 million shareholders who are mostly also customers of Abbey National and together control a vital 30 per cent of the British bank's shares.

Juan Inciarte, a general manager of Santander Central Hispano Group in charge of Europe and consumer finance, said that, if his bank's £8.2bn bid for Abbey succeeds, it would expand the 740-strong branch network and those branches would offer more advice than at present.

Mr Inciarte, who is also a director of Royal Bank of Scotland, said: "Santander has always been focusing on retail. The retail customer of Abbey is the most important asset for us. We know how to handle the complexities of of customer relations and we want to put the best product through the branches."

Santander's advertising slogan is "Value from Ideas", and Mr Inciarte pointed out that it has been competitive in all the countries in which it operates. Apart from Spain, these include Portugal, Brazil, Mexico, Puerto Rico, Chile and Venezuela.

"We want to expand in all Abbey's traditional areas of mortgages, cash deposits, savings and protection," said Mr Inciarte. "We need to make Abbey more customer-focused and transform the back office into the front office. We would compete head-on with Halifax."

Santander is clearly worried about a counter-bid from HBOS, Halifax's parent. A spokesman warned this week that HBOS would want to cut out overlapping branches, leading to the loss of up to 10,000 jobs. Santander hopes to make economies of €560m (£370m) from merging computer systems and sacking back-office staff.

Mr Inciarte cited the self-employed as a sector of the UK banking market which Santander would single out for special treatment. He added that the UK market was driven by IFAs, but he would want to attract customers into Abbey branches for advice.

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