Supermarkets bank on money

TESCO stole a march on its rivals Sainsbury's and Safeway this week when it launched its first in-store personal finance centre complete with videolink.

The centre, situated in Tesco's Baldock store in Hertfordshire, allows shoppers to withdraw cash. And customers of Tesco Personal Finance - run with the Royal Bank of Scotland - will be able to deposit cheques or cash as well as obtain mini-statements.

Information on products and services including Clubcard Plus, Tesco Visa and Tesco Savings can be obtained by touchscreen video links to the supermarket's financial call-centre in Edinburgh. Tesco Loans, expected to be launched by the end of November, will also be available via the hi-tech screens.

But despite Tesco's foray into the financial services sector, it still lags behind its rival Sainsbury's, which already offers personal loans and mortgages and has scooped more than pounds 900 million of savers' investments since Sainsbury's Bank was launched in February.

Both Tesco and Sainsbury's have chosen to run 24-hour telephone- banking operations for customer convenience and to cut overheads. According to new research released this week by management consultancy Bossard Consultants, this is welcomed by many customers.

Although 35 per cent of respondents stated that the quality of service which accompanies telephone banking was not comparable to the level of service offered by the traditional banks, almost half of those surveyed said they would do all their banking at a supermarket wherever possible. More than 80 per cent said they would bank at supermarkets because it would save time and 43 per cent said that it would avoid traffic problems.

Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) this week announced that it will allow its customers to use cashpoints at every bank and building society in the UK free of charge. All other countries with cash machine networks operate under an agreement known as "universal reciprocity" - the ability to use any cash machine. But RBS is the first to offer this facility in the UK, providing customers with the opportunity to have easy access to their cash at no charge.

"Now, when anyone sees a cash machine in a shopping centre, petrol station or supermarket, they will know that they can have access to their cash," Harry Hay, head of RBS cashline network development, said.