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If only…

Halifax&#39s new telenet bank Intelligent Finance began life as a glint in the eye of former Standard Life big-hitterJim Spowart.

Spowart, now IF chief executive, had a chance conversation with a colleague on how commercial banking customers were able to offset interest on accounts in debt with the balance from accounts in credit.

Just eight months later, the ambitious new entrant to the personal finance market is preparing to burst on to the scene with “offsetting” as one of its features.

The IF banking system will connect between a customer&#39s financial products to maximise the interest on their savings or minimise the interest on their borrowings.

What is key to the IF proposition is offering a raft of personal finance and banking services through as many distribution channels as possible.

Regardless of which channel a customer chooses, IF says there will be no financial penalties or differential pricing.

Borrowers will be able to sign up online, by telephone, WAP-enabled mobile telephone or even through their IFA.

IF says it will be the first bank in the UK to integrate all these channels to allow customers to bank at their convenience using any method.

The money management system includes current accounts, personal loans, credit cards and savings as well as mortgages.

A call centre staffed by up to 900 professionals to support both online and telephone customers is due to open 10 days before the interactive website goes live on an undisclosed date next month.

Head of sales Ian Jeffery says: “Some have said we have completed a two-year project in eight months. We do not have a blame culture and decisions are made very quickly. Jim is a firm believer that he hasn&#39t got a monopoly on good ideas. It is very open and very active.”

Spowart said in the earlier days of IF&#39s development: “I do not believe that anything like this has been attempted before in terms of scale, technology, product innovation or speedto market.

“Consumers expect so much more today. They want financial servicesthat provide easy access,a choice of delivery and competitive rates. They want banks to be customer-friendly. To date, no one has realised the potential that the combination of new distribution channels and new technology presents. We intend to lead the way.”

IFAs are earmarked to play a central role in this masterplan. The intermediary channel is pivotal to the new entrant&#39s ambition to take 20 per cent of the mortgage market. Jeffery says: “So many product providers say to IFAs: &#39Please buy our product.&#39 We intend to be different. IFAs need to find new markets and embrace new technology, we want to show them how.”

The new bank has set itself ambitious targets. It is planning to entice more than 500,000 new customers in the first 12 months and more than two million customers by the end of 2004.

IF says its business will run into profit from the third year and the target return on capital is 15 per cent after tax. The plan is to use£1.1bn of capital up to 2004.

Choice and transparency for customersare also central to the proposition. Jefferysays: “We want it very firmly to be what you see is what you get.”

The IF brand unveiled earlier this year employs a futuristic monolith with the letters IF engraved on the surface. The bank says the letters come from the heart of the Halifax name and the imagery draws on the monolith from the film 2001: A Space Odyssey, which represented a higher intelligence enabling mankind&#39s development and evolution.

IF is realistic about the likely relationship between its customer base and that of its parent. Jeffery says: “I think it is not deliberate but it is also inevitable that some Halifax customers will become IF customers. But with new entrants it is a case of a more mature player like Halifax losing certain customers to us or else it would be losing them to someone else.”


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