Lloyds TSB rolls out Euro e-bank

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The Independent Online

Lloyds TSB is set to buck the trend of doom and gloom in the dot-com sector by rolling out its European online banking division, evolvebank.com.

The venture, which was launched in Spain at the end of January, will be available in Italy at the start of next year, to be followed by France and Germany. It is hoped that a successful rollout will establish Lloyds TSB in the European online banking arena.

"The strategy is to build a pan-European bank but we are doing it one country at a time," said Jane Almond, managing director of evolvebank. The online bank was targeting Italy, she added, because its market is forecast to grow rapidly and there are relatively few competitors.

The online banking sector has been hit hard by the downturn. At the start of 2000, Barclays forecast10 million people would be banking online by the end of the year. Today's figure is thought to be closer to five million.

Last month First-e, which was Dublin-based and French- owned, became financial services' highest-profile casualty when it was forced to shut its UK and Germany operations. First-e struggled partly because customers found it hard to trust an operation not linked to a strong brand or traditional, well-established bank.

"It is terribly important to have the backing of a big bank for customer reassurance and security reasons," said Ms Almond.

Evolvebank hopes to expand across continental Europe and reach profitability within four years. It is currently working with Centrica, the gas supplier that has moved into financial services, to sell financial service products in the UK, through its Goldfish credit card brand name. Evolvebank aims to reach one million customers through Goldfish.

Evolvebank's parent company, Lloyds TSB, which is set to list on Wall Street and whose £19bn attempt to take over Abbey National was blocked in July for competition reasons by the Trade Secretary Patricia Hewitt, is currently searching for an international partner. The group is thought to be looking for potential deals in Europe and North America.

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