City & Corporate: FD to handle Virgin Money

Branson brand hires help for plans to take on the high street.

Virgin Money has handed its retained UK financial PR account to FD as it steps up plans to take on the UK's big-four high street banks.

The brand, which recently acquired a UK banking licence, is looking to become a full service retail bank and has brought in FD on a retained basis to support the expansion plans.

As PRWeek went to press, Virgin Group's financial services business was expected to formally express an interest in buying 320 branches of state-owned RBS for about £2bn.

The Government also has plans to divest branches from Lloyds Banking Group and Northern Rock, with Virgin Money thought to be among the most likely bidders.

Scott Mowbray, head of media and external affairs at Virgin Money, said: 'We have plans to grow the business organically, but there are potential acquisition opportunities for us in terms of government assets it is looking to divest. The appointment of FD gives our small in-house team valuable corporate and financial support in relation to those possible acquisitions and growth plans.'

The account is being handled by FD managing director John Waples and associate vice-president Laura Pope. The agency was appointed without a pitch process and is understood to be largely influenced by Waples' recent move from The Sunday Times, where he was business editor.

FD has had to hit the ground running as it helped manage the news of US billionaire Wilbur Ross' agreement to buy 21 per cent of Virgin Money for £100m over the weekend. Reports suggest that Ross has pledged a further £500m to help it bid for RBS' high-street branch network this week.

Virgin Group's financial services business recently acquired Church House Trust, a small private bank, providing it with a platform to offer retail services such as current accounts and mortgages.

The high street is likely to become a more crowded place for retail banks in the coming months. Tesco Bank and Metro Bank, which has handed a launch brief to Lansons Communications, will become fullservice retails banks.

Virgin Money retains Citigate Dewe Rogerson for consumer personal finance PR work, which remains unaffected. It used M: Communications on a project basis when it was bidding for Northern Rock in 2008 during the process that eventually saw it nationalised.

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