Surprise bidder for Lloyds bank branches

Insurance tycoon Clive Cowdery has emerged as a surprise bidder for the 632 bank branches being sold by Lloyds Banking Group, it was reported today.

The entrepreneur is among a handful of players to lodge first-round indicative offers for the assets by last week's deadline, the Sunday Times said.

Virgin Money and NBNK, a bank buy-out vehicle led by Lord Levene, are also in the frame but the Mail on Sunday said Lloyds was under pressure to sweeten the package of branches it has put up for sale after a disappointing response.

As well as a group of branches, the collection of businesses on offer include 19% of its mortgage business and accounts for 5% of the retail banking market.

Lloyds is being forced to sell the branches in return for up to £20 billion in state aid following the October 2008 bailout of the banking sector.

The taxpayer backed bank is believed to want to identify a preferred bidder by November at the latest and possibly before the Independent Commission on Banking delivers its report on the industry on September 12.

National Australia Bank, owner of Clydesdale Bank, did not table a bid by the deadline, but is thought to be in talks with Lloyds.

Mr Cowdery netted £110 million from his first venture called Resolution, while a second enterprise under the same name has consolidated the businesses of Friends Provident, Axa UK's life arm and Bupa's life and protection unit.

It is thought he has bid for the branches through his Guernsey-based company rather than the listed Resolution vehicle.