HSBC looks to sell online credit card business Marbles

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HSBC is looking to sell Marbles, the online credit card business it bought when it acquired Household International in 2003.

A small number of hedge funds and private equity groups are said to be interested in buying Marbles' portfolio of loans, whose sterling receivables are in the mid-hundreds of millions. The sale process is said to have picked up steam in the past few days.

The credit card book is a discrete portfolio that can be sold off easily. Marbles also markets personal loans, though these are not for sale and can be absorbed by HFC Bank, Household's UK business.

Marbles has been closed to new business since April after increased competition in the credit card market made the costs of promoting the brand uneconomic.

The move to sell the book could also be part of a general trimming of HFC's business four years after HSBC bought it. HFC's Hamilton insurance units were sold to Aviva this year.

HFC launched Marbles in 1999 as one of the first UK online credit cards. It originally focused on cashback deals for customers who tended to pay off their balance each month, but in later years it joined the stampede to offer zero per cent introductory rates to new customers as lenders fell over themselves to tap into Britain's consumer boom.

HFC concentrates on lending to people with poor or unusual credit records, though the Marbles book is said to be of fairly mainstream quality.

HFC's core business is consumer finance, which it sells through 140 branches and also through in-store sales at retailers such as PC World and B&Q. It came as part of the Household International acquisition, which has backfired on HSBC as sub-prime mortgage defaults have mounted in the US.

HSBC has expanded its own credit card business in recent years. With internet banking now standard and only HFC's limited branch network to sell Marbles' cards through, it was decided that the brand was no longer required.

An HSBC spokesman declined to comment on the sale.