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Wilbur Ross on Vernon Hill's new UK bank, and his own

London party attracts US investors in insurgent UK banks

UPDATE: More on Virgin in my print column in today's Inquirer.

Wilbur Ross, the veteran dealmaker whose buy-low, sell-high reorganization of the U.S. steel business made him a billionaire in the early 2000s, has gone into the US bank investment business, buying a piece of Vineland's Sun National Bank, among others, as we've noted recently.

Ross is in London tonight at a party thrown by former Commerce Bancorp chief Vernon Hill's new Metro Bank in advance of tomorrow's grand opening. I asked him if he's investing with Hill; says Ross:

"We have met and I think he has an interesting concept of UK banking, namely much more intense service than is provided by the existing banks.

"The question is whether his promotional flair and service concept will produce enough customers to offset the extra operational cost of providing the extra space and of being a subtenant in the space.

"He is not advising me. My friends, Richard LeFrak (of New York) and the Rueben (brothers), London, are investors in Metro. And since I happen to be in London, (Hill) invited me to the cocktail party celebrating tomorrow's opening of Metro Banks (at the) first branch, at the corner of Southampton and Holbourn."

Another bank, Richard Branson's Virgin, brought Ross to Britain: "We are in the UK market by owning about 25 percent of Virgin Money, the most rapidly growing business in the UK... To date our only investment in UK banking, Virgin Money,100 million pounds sterling, is in anticipation of putting in a lot more, (for example) if they acquire one of the bad banks that government is reprivatizing.

"Virgin is the fastest growing financial services business in the UK."