UK Internet bank Egg is to acquire online bank Zebank for EUR8 million (£5 million), and has set itself a target of winning one million customers in France within three years.
Egg has also announced distribution agreements with retailers Sephora and La Samaritaine, and an extension of its partnership with Microsoft to offer cards as well as funds through MSN France.
Paul Gratton, Egg chief executive, says the alliances provide "a powerful platform to develop a significant business in this attractive growth market."
The move into France will see Egg extend its online presence to the high street - opening its first in-store branch at La Samaritaine, the flagship Paris store of Bernard Arnault's LMVH luxury goods group.
Gratton says Egg will invest £50 million in brand and marketing spend and £15 million in development costs over the next three years to support the launch. The French business is planned to break through into profit by the end of 2004.
According to recent research from Forrester, 22% of France's Internet users bank online, which is expected to grow to 45% by 2005. In continental Europe, France has the second highest number of online bankers: 3.2 million.
Egg's Gratton says that Zebank possesses the necessary call centre technology, people and systems infrastructure for Egg to exploit the opportunities for growth in the French market.
Zebank currently has 70,000 customers, predominantly up-market Parisian males aged between 25 and 45, holding 120,000 accounts.
Egg intends to retain the existing Zebank senior management team, headed by Olivier de Montety, and 300 employees.