Countrywide unveils plans to double outlets

FINANCIAL SERVICES group Countrywide Assured, which owns Britain's largest network of estate agents, has unveiled plans to double the number of its branches by 2006.

The group - which uses its 730 estate agencies to distribute its life assurance, mortgages and general insurance products - aims to expand its network to 1,500 outlets within the next five to seven years.

Countrywide said the expansion plan would begin by offering franchises under the Bairstow Eves brand, in Tyneside and south-west London, which currently has more than 220 branches.

After that, franchises would be offered under some of the group's 17 other estate agency brands which include Bridgfords in the North-west and Dixons, which operates in Birmingham and the West Midlands.

Alan Snowball, managing director of Countrywide Assured Franchising, said the plan would provide the group with a much-needed wider distribution network for its financial products. He added: "There's no intention to convert the existing network into franchises - that is a possibility for the future but it depends on how this goes."

Countrywide, which was spun off from Hambros in June 1998, said in August that the recovery in the housing market had helped boost its first half pre-tax profits by 51 per cent to pounds 28.6m.