Sir Richard Branson and his company have been allowed to buy a small bank and may make a bid to buy Northern Rock. “Virgin Money has made its long-awaited bow in the retail banking market, yesterday agreeing to buy Church House Trust in a deal worth nearly £50m. The agreement gives Sir Richard Branson’s group a banking licence for the first time, and provides a platform for Virgin to bid for Northern Rock when the state-owned bank is eventually sold. The move comes two years after Sir Richard offered to buy Rock after the Government was forced to take over the running of the beleaguered mortgage lender, only to see it nationalised instead. The Church House Trust deal is less ambitious: the Yeovil-based private bank has just 3,000 customers, with whom it deals on the phone, or by visiting clients’ homes. The bank made profits of just £450,000 in 2008. Virgin Money, which already offers savings, credit cards and insurance policies online, will rebrand the bank.”
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