Tesco Bank: Grocer enters current account market

 

Tesco has hit out at the “ridiculously poor value” offered by rivals as it today enters the current account market as it attempts to breed loyalty among its customer base.

The embattled grocer’s banking arm said it will shun the "smoke and mirrors" offered by rivals including charges and introductory offers.

Its account offers 3 per cent interest on balances but will charge a £5 fee unless holders pay in £750 a month.

It will target the six million existing customers who already use its savings, insurance and loans - which include mortgages - but has its parent supermarket's 16 million Clubcard holders also in its sights.

Chief executive Benny Higgins said it would bring a "fiercely competitive" customer focus from the retail sector which did not exist in banking.

He declined to spell out a target for the number of current account holders or market share it wants to achieve.

But it is thought if it achieved the success of Tesco's credit card business it would match banking giant HSBC - which together with its First Direct brand has just over nine million UK current account customers, representing a 13 per cent market share.

Tesco Bank said its share of the credit card market has grown to represent one in eight credit card transactions in the UK, with about £1 billion spent each month.

If its current account numbers were to match HSBC, it would be rubbing shoulders with the big four that dominate personal current accounts, which also include Royal Bank of Scotland, Barclays and Lloyds Banking Group.

A key rival will be TSB, which is being spun off from Lloyds and is also styling itself as a challenger bank - with the aim to grow its current account market share from 4.2 per cent to 6 per cent over the next four to five years.

Higgins said: "It is a market dominated by smoke and mirrors and we have tried to be as transparent as possible. The vast majority of current accounts are languishing with ridiculously poor value.

"There is still very little switching taking place in the UK and it's because people think that all the banks are the same."

The much-trailed current account has been launched with an online focus and offers the prospect of a major personal banking player operating with a minimal branch presence.

Deposits will be able to be made at more than 300 Tesco stores in the same way as they currently are by savers, but the new accounts can only be opened online, though with the option of telephone support.

Debit card spending on the current accounts will offer Clubcard points, both at Tesco and elsewhere. Another feature will aim to help customers to avoid charges with text and email alerts to avoid going into the red.

Tesco chief executive Philip Clarke said: "Customers have told us that in banking they want us to deliver in the same way we do for millions of customers across the UK every day."

The bank said the current account had been given five-star ratings by consumer finance websites Defaqto and Moneyfacts.

It has offices in Edinburgh, Glasgow and Newcastle. The current account launch is expected to create 600 jobs over two years.

Tesco launched its bank as a joint venture with RBS in 1997 but took full control of the business in 2008. Since then, employee numbers have grown from 200 to 4,000.

Higgins has previously said that it would take four to five years for the current account business to become profitable.

Last week, Tesco group reported a 3.7 per cent fall in like-for-like sales, with Clarke admitting it was the worst performance in 40 years.

PA

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