GE makes a push into UK consumer finance

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GE Capital, one of the world's largest financial services companies, is to launch a major operation in the UK selling credit cards, loans and mortgages direct to consumers.

The venture, which will operate under the GE Money brand, will initially concentrate on unsecured lending. GE launched its first credit card for UK borrowers last week and has also begun trialling unsecured loan products. It will also shortly begin offering mortgages under its own name.

In addition, the company has a banking licence in the UK, through its GE Capital Bank arm, and could begin offering savings products and even current accounts within a year.

Brad Cooper, GE's chief executive officer in the UK, said the company was "pursuing a retail banking strategy" in more than 50 countries around the world. The UK is one of the few operations that does not sell services direct to consumers.

In addition to launching new products, GE plans to focus on raising its profile in the consumer market, where it is not well-known. Mr Cooper said: "If we are to build a full-scale relationship with customers in the UK, we need to work on getting better brand recognition of GE Money."

The move is an attempt by GE to diversify beyond the store card market, where it runs about 8 million accounts on behalf of retailers including Asda, Debenhams and Harrods.

Store card lenders have been heavily criticised by consumer groups for the high interest rates borrowers pay. Many cards come with annual interest rates of up to 30 per cent, and there have also been concerns that sales assistants in retailers are paid sales commissions to persuade customers to open accounts.