The bank from the banks of our own lovely Lee offers fresh hope
The Cork-based retail giant, Musgrave Group, which owns the SuperValu, Superquinn and Centra chain of shops and stores, is planning to set up a new Irish bank.
Starting with a clean balance sheet and no distressed mortgage holders to impair its books, the new bank would have a clear advantage over existing banks, all of which are troubled to a greater or lesser extent.
This would also reverse a trend that has seen the departure or retrenchment of a number of foreign banks here and the closure of branches by the main Irish banks.
Danske Bank is planning to exit the retail bank market, following on from the departures of ACC and Bank of Scotland (Ireland). Irish Nationwide and Anglo Irish Bank have imploded with EBS being absorbed into AIB. Close to one in four bank branches have closed or are earmarked for closure, leading AIB and Danske to do a deal with An Post to use its branch network for some customer services.
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This makes the Musgrave plan an exciting one as it bucks the trend and offers hope of a new financial institution that will have the capacity to actually lend money to small businesses and those wishing to buy their own homes.
Well-placed sources have told the Sunday Independent that Musgrave has been examining plans to utilise its near 680 SuperValu, Superquinn and Centra stores around the country as a ready-made network for a wide range of financial products, ranging from debit cards, loans, insurance and credit cards.
Sources close to the company described the plans as "in their infancy". The retailer is recruiting a number of key executives to "help shape the plans", according to a source.
Musgrave is considering launching its banking business in late summer 2014. The company has not yet decided whether it will be a joint venture with another financial services group or bank.
Supermarkets have moved into the banking sector before. In the UK, Sainsbury's set up a joint venture with Lloyds Bank in 1997. Sainsbury's bought out its partners last May. The supermarket offers customers a range of financial products including insurance, credit cards, pre-paid foreign exchange debit cards, savings and loans.
Tesco has also dipped its toe into financial services, with its Irish operations offering credit cards and insurance products underwritten by RSA. Tesco's UK operations provide a far wider range of banking services including mortgages, fixed-rate personal loans of up to €30,000 and savings accounts.
Retailing legend Feargal Quinn also tried to enter the Irish banking sector at the end of the Nineties when setting up Tusa, a joint venture between his Superquinn supermarket chain and Permanent TSB, but it only attracted 10,000 customers and was closed in 2001.