Santander stars pull in million customers as bank rules out immediate UK float

Spanish bank says it has no "current plans "to float its UK arm

Jessica Ennis-Hill, Rory McIlroy and Jenson Button have brought in more than one million new customers to Santander with their adverts for its 123 World account.

In the last nine months Santander said that 1.1 million people opened new 123 accounts with 232,000 of them switching from rival banks.

Chief executive Ana Botin said: “The UK economic recovery is strengthening, although uncertainties remain in the banking environment for the year ahead.

“This year we will continue with our significant investment in strategic initiatives to expand further our commercial businesses, to improve our retail banking offering and enhance the experience of our customers interacting with us across all channels.”

But she also made it clear that Santander’s push into commercial and especially small and medium business lending would not be done at any cost. Originally Botin had set a target that, by the end of 2015, 20 per cent of all the Spanish-owned bank’s lending should be to businesses.

That proportion reached 12 per cent by the end of last year but today the bank said: “We will not compromise our prudent risk management to meet the 20 per cent of total customer loans commitment for commercial banking.

"If we are not satisfied with the credit quality of the opportunities available to us we would choose to slow the pace of corporate loan growth.”

Santander UK’s profits were flat in 2013 at £1.14 billion, reflecting its decision to shrink its mortgage book in the high loan to value and interest only parts of the market. It has also seen a fall in deposits as it prices products to attract long-term rather than short-term savers.

The bank would not comment on concerns raised by the Prudential Regulation Authority over the imminent arrival of Nathan Bostock from Royal Bank of Scotland.

It is understood that his role as deputy chief executive has been given clearance but he has been told he cannot also be head of risk at the bank because of fears that this could create a conflict of interest.

The business lending pledge aside, Santander’s targets include raising its 123 customer base from its current 2.4 million to 4 million, cutting its cost to income ratio from 54 per cent to below 50 per cent and raising its return on equity from 8.9 per cent to between 13 per cent and 15 per cent.

Santander UK has postponed plans to float on the London stock market for at least a further year.