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Why Chester's MBNA is on Lloyds' Christmas list after 20 years of growth

The banking group has bought MBNA subject to regulatory and competition approval
The main MBNA building at Chester Business Park

Chester-based MBNA has been behind some of the world’s most recognisable credit card brands over the past two decades, from leading airlines to Premiership football clubs.

And with a £7bn loan book it’s little wonder the American-owned bank was on Lloyds Banking Group’s ‘must buy’ Christmas present list with a take-over deal due to be completed by the end of the first half of 2017.

The key marketing innovation MBNA brought to this country was affinity marketing.

Chester-based MBNA sold to Lloyds Banking Group for £1.9bn

An MBNA credit card

With its European headquarters at Chester Business Park, MBNA allowed the likes of Liverpool and Chelsea football clubs to offer their own branded credit cards to their fans managed by the bank here in Chester.

Professional bodies or trade unions could do the same for their memberships.

Universities could also tap their alumni, and charities, such as WWF, could sell cards to consumers. The various partners would be able to take a cut of the bank’s profit.

Sale of Chester-based MBNA to Lloyds is 'speculation', firm says

MBNA grew rapidly on the back of strong consumer spending growth.

The finance house had just 72 staff on day one in November 1993 compared with about 1,700 today and was taken over by Bank of America in 2005 – now Bank of America Merrill Lynch.

In the early days, journalists with a press enquiry had to ring Delaware, US, allowing for the time difference, to speak to one of any number of ‘vice-presidents’.

Tony Blair, when prime minister, arrives at MBNA bank in Chester during a whistle-stop tour of the North West

A statement dating back more than 20 years, reads: “A few months ago, MBNA International Bank Ltd chose Chester as its headquarters for the UK operation. Today we employ more than 70 people and expect to add another 50 over the next 12 months.”

It continued: “The entire UK customer satisfaction operation is being run from Chester, to ensure that MBNA International Bank Ltd also stays in close touch with its customers – so we can serve them better.

“We’re delighted to be located in Chester. Since establishing our UK headquarters in the town, it has far exceeded our expectations; both for the quality of the people we employ and the quality of life the area offers. Thank you for making us welcome.”

Chester MP will talk to MBNA about sale of credit card business

Warwick Davis on a visit to MBNA Bank on Chester Business Park to give a motivational speech to Bank of America staff(Image: Ian Cooper)

At its height MBNA employed more than 5,000 staff across Europe but the credit crunch took its toll on MBNA as it did across the whole financial services sector.

In the wake of the crisis, Bank of America Merrill Lynch said it would either sell or close MBNA’s UK operations but talk of a deal around 2011-12 came to nought.

It did, however, sell-off its ventures in Spain and Ireland, the only other European markets where it had significant operations, with both countries badly hit by the recession.

The late Sir Norman Wisdom larking about with then chief executive, General Charles Krulak, on a visit to MBNA in Chester

Virgin Money, which had run a 50-50 joint venture with MBNA, was reported as being close to sealing a deal to buy part of the business at that time and later bought £1bn credit card assets from MBNA. This was when it decided to launch its own credit card business in 2015 after taking over Northern Rock building society.

The rival finance house is now based in Gorse Stacks House, George Street, next to the block housing the NHS Fountains medical centre in the city centre.

Chester-based MBNA bank reported to be for sale

And MBNA has helped cement Chester’s status as a regional financial services capital employing thousands of local people.

The beginnings of Chester’s emergence as a regional financial services centre date back to Bank of Scotland’s 1958 acquisition of North West Securities (NWS), a small Chester finance house which is today owned by one Lloyds Banking Group.

But today the area is also graced with M&S Money, moneysupermarket.com, The Funding Corporation, RBS, Diners Club and Aktiv Kapital.

The atrium at MBNA bank in Chester

Despite the ravages of the recent down-turn, MBNA remains a very big employer in the city. And a walk around the Chester company is a surreal experience with a grand main entrance, logos emblazoned on the walls such as ‘Think of yourself as a customer’ and hotel-style luxury in the communal and public areas like the restaurants and cafes but less glamorous pods in the working environment.

MBNA has always played an active role in the local community sponsoring Chester FC and Chester RUFC teams, the marathon and the new theatre as well as helping to set up the weekly Parkrun at the Countess of Chester Country Park.

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