The Virgin Money Lounge

I sometimes wonder if Richard Branson is the UK’s very own Donald Trump, admittedly with a savvy, edgier, Baby Boomer vibe.

The red lacquered signage has splashed its way into almost every major industry.

It is an Empire. Of records, and books, and phones, and cable tv – including the long-awaited UK launch of TiVo.

There’s also trains and balloons and aeroplanes. Lordy, probably they’ll conquer space someday too.

Lesser known, perhaps, they’re also entrenched in banking and investments.

From credit cards to pensions, Virgin’s been in the money game for years.

And on New Year’s Day 2012, Virgin Money bought Northern Rock.

“Bankers have been discredited and they have run their businesses badly.  The public is disillusioned with their banks. We want to restore that trust and the Virgin brand can do that.” – Sir Richard Branson

It’s a good story too. Post-financial crisis, consumer confidence in banking and investments is low. Very low according to TradingEconomics.com

What a time to sweep into the market, brandishing the feel good messages of reassurance and a strongly backed (and British) brand identity.

In a campaign which is by turns ostentatious and savvy (arguably their trademark style), they’ve been systematically taken over key sponsorship and branding opportunities, previously bedecked in the logos of other banks. The London Marathon, Edinburgh’s famous Fringe on the Mound and the Fireworks Concert, and Newcastle United‘s football club have all been painted red.

It seems the new kid on the block has arrived, and with what fanfare.

Part of their people-centred approach includes a pilot scheme of Virgin Money Lounges.

Plush private clubs have opened in Edinburgh and Norwich (I hear Manchester and London are due to enter the scene shortly too).

They are accessible by membership card; free to any Virgin Money customer.

There is tea and coffee, iPads and large tellies, giant armchairs and even a grand piano.

There is custom wallpaper in the loos and custom carpet on the floor. In fact, even the dishes and etched glass windows bear the Virgin Money insignia. The place is branded to within an inch of its life.

The main wall (which you can hardly see in the photo above, I make a terrible spy) is like a family scrap-book of Virgin snapshots: Sir Richard with pop stars, Sir Richard on a Virgin Yacht. Half the books in the bookcase are his contributions to literature. I half wonder if this place is intended to be a shrine-cum-brainwashing exercise.

It is grandiose and slightly absurd, and yet utterly delightful.

There is something wonderful about a quiet space in the centre of town. One with squishy sofas and free WiFi,  full of friendly staff who offer me a drink and greet me by name when I swipe in.

It’s like my living room except that it’s a) cleaner b) bigger and c) full of free biscuits and soda (though not the ill-fated Virgin Cola, I checked).

Despite my misgivings, I find the Lounge rather charming. It has been my refuge from many a rainstorm, and the perfectly central location in which to rendez-vous with friends.

I haven’t yet tested if you can get access if you are customer who lives elsewhere in the country, but I daresay a few of Edinburgh’s summer visitors will give it a go. Honestly, if you can, why wouldn’t you?

This is the epitome of financial marketing for the simple-minded: hot chocolate and a go on the PS3 in the corner. Even if it’s not the day of the exclusive Harvey Nichols fashion show or Fringe preview night, there is much to entertain in this grown-up romper room.

I have very mixed feelings about my unexpected love affair with this place, however.

I must admit, if anyone else offered me a free cuppa every now and again in exchange for my life savings, I doubt I’d greet them with such alacrity.

Let’s hope my investment returns skyrocket like my compliamentary sugar high.

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