Co-op plans big push in financial services

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The Independent Online

The Co-op is planning a push in financial services this year as the society brings its services under one brand and tries to cross-sell to members of the wider co-operative movement for the first time.

The group has already brought its bank and insurance company together, and the business will be re-branded "The Co-operative" in April. The rest of group's 4,500 outlets – which include pharmacies, funeral parlours and grocery stores, will get the same treatment over 18 months. The society has traditionally been run as a loose federation but the Co-op believes that bringing its businesses together will allow it to identify customers for cross-selling of products. Financial services plays a key part in the plan as it seeks to tap into growing demand for eth-ical products.

"We have not really cross-sold between our insurance and our bank customers previously and we haven't taken advantage of our [wider] group," said David Anderson, chief executive of the financial services division. He said the Co-op has 1 million group members that have not bought a financial product from the society. There are also 9 million "conscience customers" in Britain who will buy ethical products but not at the expense of value, he said.

The Co-op bills itself as Britain's only ethical high street bank and says it has turned away £700m of income for ethical reasons since 1992. Its products include green mortgages and eco-car insurance which offsets 20 per cent of the vehicle's Co2 emissions

The financial services arm will modernise its often dowdy branch network as part of the revamp. Mr Anderson said: "Other brands have been presenting themselves more consistently than we have and that is what we are trying to address now."

With nearly 100 branches, the Co-op is dwarfed by the major high street lend-ers. There are no plans to increase the network but the Co-op will use branches in other sectors to sell products by putting web access or advisers in stores. Smile, the Co-op's internet bank, will stay separat-ely branded but will have stronger links with its parent to encourage customers to buy Co-op products. Like other banks, the Co-op has seen a big inflow of deposits, mainly because of the mass withdrawals from Northern Rock. With other UK banks in varying degrees of turmoil from the credit crisis, Mr Anderson wants to take advantage of their discomfort to lure more customers.

"We do have a different motivation. We haven't got that across to as many customers as we would like to and that is a major opportunity for us," he said. He added that in January and Feb-ruary, the Co-op sold 30 per cent more financial products than a year earlier.