Marks & Spencer’s first bank branch opened its doors today, offering seven days a week banking facilities and a pager service meaning customers can carry on with their shopping instead of queuing.
The branch has a more relaxed, feminine appearance than traditional high street banks, with a fuchsia colour scheme, handbag hooks and fresh flowers in vases designed by Sir Terence Conran, who is also behind the bank’s debit cards.
The branch at its flagship Marble Arch store is the first of 50 planned to open by the end of 2013, with opening hours mirroring the shops they are sited in.
The Marble Arch store and its bank will regularly open until 11pm while the Olympics takes place. Its more usual hours are from 8am to 9pm from Monday to Saturday and from noon until 6pm on Sundays.
M&S said its banks will offer a pager service, meaning customers will not have to queue for an adviser to become available. Someone who wants an appointment will be given a pager and alerted as soon as a member of staff is free, so they can do their shopping or wait in the store’s cafe.
Any friends with the customer can also get a pager so they can browse while the customer completes their appointment.
The launch of a new player in the market comes as mainstream banks are battling to win back confidence in the wake of NatWest’s IT chaos and Barclays’ Libor-fixing scandal.
It also comes on the day it was revealed that Lloyds Banking Group has reached agreement to sell 632 branches to the Co-operative Group, tripling the size of the Co-op’s banking arm to nearly 1,000 branches to create a “real challenger bank”.
The Office of Fair Trading (OFT) stepped up the pressure on banks last week by launching a review into the personal current account market amid concerns over a lack of transparency and competition.
M&S’s first current account will charge fees of up to £240 a year in return for “transparent” terms and a range of in-store perks.
The company, which expects to create 500 UK jobs from the roll-out of the M&S Bank business, will offer mortgages at a later date.
The retailer already provides credit cards, loans and savings to more than three million customers under M&S Money, which is run as a joint venture with HSBC. M&S Money, along with its existing products, will be rebranded to M&S Bank later this year.
The chain hopes to build on its reputation among devoted followers as one of the high street’s most trusted brands.
Colin Kersley, chief executive of M&S Bank, said: “Our branches have been designed around the needs of our customers, offering them the style of banking they want, available at times that suit their busy lifestyles.”
People paying in cheques will receive a photocopy of their cheque as well as a receipt to give them “peace of mind” and the new branches will also include internet and telephone banking facilities.
M&S said its research found many of its customers are unsure how to use internet banking, so its staff will be available to help those who are unsure.
The existing M&S bureau de change will be integrated into the banks and it will be spruced up with an LCD screen showing M&S Bank TV.
HSBC, which has been hit by a money laundering scandal in the United States, has described the M&S venture as its most “significant innovation” in UK retail banking since it launched First Direct more than 22 years ago.
M&S Money is wholly owned by HSBC but runs on a 50/50 profit share with Marks & Spencer. Legally, the new bank is structured as a separate entity to HSBC, meaning it has its own registration with the Financial Services Compensation Scheme (FSCS), which compensates people if their bank goes under.
The move has been hailed as positive for mainstream consumers, and analysts have predicted M&S is likely to target its products at “vanilla” customers, who already have strong credit records.
Customers can pre-register for the new fee-charging M&S premium current account, which has an automatic £500 overdraft with the first £100 interest-free.
They will be alerted by text when they approach their overdraft limit and will not be charged for using M&S Bank debit cards in ATMs abroad.
For £20 a month, the premium current account with insurance will give customers more than £500-worth of annual benefits such as M&S vouchers, hot drinks vouchers for the M&S cafe, travel insurance, loyalty points on debit card purchases and 12 vouchers for 20% off M&S shopping in the first year if customers switch their account. Customers will also be given access to a savings account with a fixed rate of 6%.
The M&S premium account without insurance costs £15 a month and comes with similar banking and rewards and the potential to gain more than £300-worth of annual benefits.
By comparison, Halifax charges £10 a month for its ultimate reward account, which comes with travel insurance, AA breakdown cover and a fee-free planned overdraft for the first £300.
Kevin Mountford, head of banking at comparison website MoneySupermarket, said: “Fee-paying accounts are now very much part of the UK’s financial landscape but, as with any paid-for service, consumers need to consider if they will benefit from the add-ons.”
Marks will open 15 more branches by the end of the summer in Handforth, Cheshire; Bromley, Kent; Glasgow Argyle Street; Meadowhall, Sheffield; Pudsey, Leeds; Aberdeen; The Gyle, Edinburgh; Manchester; Culverhouse Cross, Cardiff; Cribbs Causeway, Bristol; Birmingham; Gemini, Warrington; Metro, Gateshead; Hedge End, Southampton and Bluewater, Kent.