Branson Banks On £2bn Virgin Money Float
Sir Richard Branson is poised to pull the trigger on a stock market listing of Virgin's banking arm that City insiders predict could value it at up to £2bn.
Sky News has learnt that directors of Virgin Money are in talks with advisers about announcing an intention to float as soon as early October, as they look to exploit strong current trading and investors' appetite to buy shares in the company.
A final decision about the timing of an initial public offering (IPO) will not be taken for several weeks and it remains a strong possibility that Virgin Money could opt to wait until next year, according to people close to the company.
If it does press the button on a listing this year, Virgin Money, which has more than four million customers, would become the third so-called challenger bank to sell shares on the London Stock Exchange this year.
OneSavings, which does not offer current accounts, listed during the spring, while TSB was spun out of Lloyds Banking Group as part of the bank's state aid settlement with Brussels triggered by its taxpayer bailout in 2008.
Aldermore, another new lender, is also planning a flotation this autumn and could announce its plans at around the same time as Virgin Money.
Sir Richard's plan to float his banking business has been well-flagged, although it was not expected to happen as soon as this year.
Sources said that Virgin Group, which owns just over 46.5% of Virgin Money, planned to retain a large a shareholding as possible after a flotation.
WL Ross, the investment vehicle of billionaire US financier Wilbur Ross, also wants to hold onto the vast majority of its 45% stake, meaning that the free float of Virgin Money shares after the sale of new equity is likely to be close to the minimum requirements under City rules.
Virgin Money has been performing strongly in recent months, according to insiders, with a new current account making strong progress in Scotland and Northern Ireland before its wider nationwide launch.
The product, branded Essential, is designed to build a substantial presence in the current account sector at a time when ministers are attempting to foment greater competition.
Last month, Virgin Money announced a deal to raise £160m in the debt markets in order to repay part of a financing package taken on when it acquired Northern Rock from the Government in 2011.
Jayne-Anne Gadhia, Virgin Money's chief executive, said in July that 200 new jobs would be created by the business this year.
"We have grown the business strongly, exceeding market growth in both our core mortgage and savings business, and returned to profitability," she said.
"We have achieved this whilst maintaining the strength and quality of our balance sheet."
The bank added that it had grown mortgage balances by over 40% to exceed £20bn, significantly ahead of market growth, while savings balances had increased by more than 30% to over £21bn.
Last year, Virgin Money made an underlying profit of £53.4m in 2013, compared to a £2.5m loss the year before.
Chaired by Sir David Clementi, the former Prudential chairman, Virgin Money is expected to add further board members ahead of a listing.
The bank declined to comment on Saturday on the potential timing of a flotation, which is being handled by Bank of America Merrill Lynch and Goldman Sachs.