Want to make pounds 1,000 on a pounds 500 deposit? Try the Woolwich

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The Independent Online
Rumours are again flying that the Woolwich intends to float on the stock market. Any such move, which would take at least two years, would transform the building society into a bank with a market value of about pounds 2.6bn. It would also involve issuing shares - worth on average up to pounds 1,000 - to its 3 million members.

Generous pay-outs to Cheltenham and Gloucester investors and the promise of more to come for Halifax and Leeds members have already prompted large flows of speculative money into the remaining societies. Although the Woolwich denied any immediate plans, it has admitted it is well advanced on a complete review of its strategic options, which included floating to become a bank, merging with another society, selling to a third party or staying the same.

So is it worth rushing down to your local branch of the Woolwich to open an account with the hope of receiving a windfall payment in the future.

Two points have to be made. First, like most societies, the Woolwich increased the minimum amount required to open an account in July. For example, the Prime Gold account minimum amount was increased from pounds 50 to pounds 500, so a speculative punt is no longer cheap.

Second, the great attraction of opening such accounts is that whatever happens, your money remains secure. You will receive interest whether the Woolwich converts or not. Unlike shares and other investments, there is no downside risk.

So which other societies might be worth looking at for a harmless flutter? There are rumours in the market that Cheltenham and Gloucester, which was recently taken over by Lloyds Bank, is thinking of acquiring the West Bromwich building society. Both societies have denied it.

Similarly, both the Nationwide and the Alliance and Leicester have long been considered as the next obvious candidates to float. Both say they are considering their options.

If your society gets taken over by a bank then you are likely to get your money sooner than if the society floats. But even if nothing happens its safer than the horses.

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