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Abbey National Bank

Founded in 1944 (through the merger of two existing companies), the Abbey National was a building society, and its stock-in trade was mortgages. In 1989 the company converted to a plc.; and in the following decade the conversion to a complete banking entity was completed, including in 1996 a merger with the National and Provincial. The Abbey National bank is now Britain's sixth largest (and the world's 30th) bank, with over 28,000 staff.
The Abbey National bank has made innovations not only in technology (being one of the first to adopt digital TV and WAP distribution channels) but also through retail partners like Costa and Safeway, sharpening up the branch experience- you're as likely to get a coffee as a loan from newer Abbey branches.

The bank is taking a new direction in 2003- it has announced the disposal of its First National Bank subsidiary (sold to GE), and aims simply to be the UK's largest provider of personal financial services.

Other big names within the Abbey National bank group are Scottish Mutual (life assurance) and the Cater Allen private banking operation.

Incidentally, the Abbey National bank head office is at 221 Baker Street in London, the home of legendary if fictional detective Sherlock Holmes; and the bank employs a secretary specifically to answer mail sent to the great detective.