Intelligent Finance creator quits after HBOS puts expansion plans on hold

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Jim Spowart, who is largely credited with creating Intelligent Finance (IF), the HBOS-owned online bank, is suddenly leaving the group after HBOS decided to postpone IF's international expansion.

Only six months ago Mr Spowart stepped down as IF's chief executive to expand the successful concept to America and Continental Europe.

But in a statement yesterday HBOS said Mr Spowart was leaving his full-time position within the group "to pursue new opportunities outside the UK financial services sector". He will be retained as a consultant on banking strategy.

The statement added: "Having established IF as the UK's leading telenet bank, Jim Spowart took responsibility for the possible overseas expansion of the IF concept, including partnerships and strategic alliances. All of the preliminary work relating to this expansion has now been completed but, because of the current uncertain global economic situation, expansion is being put on hold for the time being."

A spokesman for HBOS explained that the international expansion plans had been put on hold because potential foreign partners declined to commit themselves to the venture.

He said: "We will go abroad with IF only in partnerships or joint ventures, not alone. In the conversations we have had, we have had a lot of interest from possible partners, but they are not quite willing yet because of problems in their own back yard. And it takes two to tango." He declined to say when the project might be revived.

Asked why this entailed his departure from the group, Mr Spowart said: "Things came to a crossroads, and you have to decide which way to go. It is a natural tendency to move on, but I am definitely not throwing my toys out of the pram." He has not signed up a new deal, but claimed to have "one or two irons in the fire". He declined to comment on whether HBOS was paying him off.

IF launched three years ago, after Mr Spowart was poached from Standard Life. Based in Edinburgh, it now handles deposits of more than £15bn and is expected to break even for the first time this year.

HBOS shares fell 23.5p to 684.5p.