Standard Life staff shun pounds 50,000 bonuses to join Halifax Net bank

STAFF AT Standard Life Bank are shunning loyalty bonuses of up to pounds 50,000 being offered in an attempt prevent them been poached by Halifax's new Internet-based bank being set up near Edinburgh.

Dozens of staff have quit since Standard Life, the mutually-owned Scottish insurance arm, made the offer in an effort to stop key staff being poached by Jim Spowart, the founder of Standard Life's own successful banking operation, who left to set up a similar direct banking operation for Halifax. The new pounds 750m venture - code named - is due to start operating next April.

Mr Spowart, 48, who led Standard Life Bank from nothing to a pounds 3bn company in two years and captured 17 per cent of the UK mortgage market since January, said all but two staff who have joined the firm had applied rather than been approached. Applications started from the day his resignation was announced last month, he said. "I took 74 phone calls at home that night, and the phone hasn't stopped ringing since. We have had more than 1,400 applications for the 600 jobs that will eventually be created."

Mr Spowart said he would like to think it was because of him that people wanted to work for the company, but believed it was because it offered the opportunity to be in at the start of something new and innovative. He declined to detail plans for new products, although he expects that the Internet part of the new company will account for 30 per cent of its business in the first year, rising rapidly as more and more people come online and become familiar with the technology.

He said applications had been received from people working across the financial services sector in Edinburgh. Within a few days of his resignation, a "dream team" of 11 senior staff had given notice at their current firms, followed over the next few weeks by more staff at all levels.

In a bid to stop the losses, Standard Life Bank this month offered bonuses of up to a year's wages - capped at pounds 50,000 - if staff stayed for 18 months, but another nine have since left. The offer has upset staff elsewhere in the organisation who see it as a serious breach of the mutual ethos.

Other financial institutions have also been affected, with Scottish Widows writing to their staff telling them that "the grass was not necessarily greener on the other side".

Neil Ross, who replaced Mr Spowart as chief executive of Standard Life Bank, said he expected more staff would be tempted to the new venture because salaries on offer were as much as 30 per cent higher than industry norms in the city. "I am rocking on my heels at the money that seems to being offered to some people."