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Virgin: Taking on the high street banks

From Juliet Mann, CNN
updated 1:07 PM EDT, Thu July 26, 2012
  • The Virgin Group consists of more than 200 companies in over 30 countries
  • Virgin Money bank opened its first branded high street branch in Guildford July 2012
  • Richard Branson says he wants companies to invest "to get us all out of the mess we are all in"

(CNN) -- As Virgin begins to tackle high street banking, its boss Richard Branson says the company must remain "bold" despite the recession.

Virgin opened its first branded Virgin Money store in Guildford this month. It is a rebranded Northern Rock store, following Virgin's acquisition of the nationalized British lender in January.

The push into a new market comes as other business leaders may be scaling back in response to the financial crisis. But according to Branson, now is a time to strive for more.

Virgin is "very fortunate," Branson told CNN. "We've built a brand over 45 years, since I was 15 years old, the public respect it, like it, we have actually ridden through many recessions over the years and seem to have come out stronger for it."

Virgin's belief, said Branson, is to be "bold and be brave in times when things are tough."

The 62 year old tycoon, who started out selling records via mail order in 1970, has overseen the company's growth into a conglomerate consisting of more than two hundred companies in over thirty countries.

See also: Virgin spaceship to blast off in 2013

By venturing into the banking world, Virgin is becoming part of an industry that has fallen out of favor with both the public and politicians. But Branson is not worried.

"There is no point in going into an industry unless you are going to transform it. We won't get greedy -- like one or two banks have done in the past -- and damage the Virgin brand, we will make sure every product we offer is a proper transparent product with great value for money," he said.

Business blog: Branson's busy bathroom break

Branson is pushing for government loans to budding businesses, as a booster for the flagging economy.

"It is important that the banks are stabilized and important that governments encourage banks to lend to small businesses," he said. "We have suggested to governments that instead of student loans they should do entrepreneurial loans for those who want to start up businesses."

And he wants Virgin to lead by example. "Now is the time [that companies like Virgin] should be investing in order to get us all out of the mess we are all in. If we all wait for the other person to invest we will stay in this mess."

CNN's Stina Backer contributed to this report

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