The notion of Tesco and Safeway as supermarkets that champion the small saver has been called into question this week, as the retailers admit that the deals offered in personal banking are not quite as competitive as they were three years ago, and the new account packages toted by the chains are designed to target bigger investors.

Currently, the interest rates earned on the relatively small balances of shoppers have fallen to 2% lower than those offered by Internet accounts, although the retailers deny that the defection of many consumers to the Internet banks has caused the depression and poor rates.

New moves have been made to beef up the financial packages offered by the supermarkets, and soon, Safeway will be the first food chain to set up a postal account at the checkout, with what it describes as a “market beating” interest rate.

Following suit, November will see the launch of Tesco’s base-rate tracker account. In a move towards the normal preserve of building societies, the new account guarantees to pay an interest rate equal to the prevailing base rate, currently 6%, until 2002, and is unashamedly aimed at consumers with a minimum of £50,000 to invest.

Tesco’s financial innovation has broken its stalemate with Sainsbury, which until now has offered near identical account packages, but it seems likely that Sainsbury will answer its rival by augmenting its own financial service offering. This is especially probable now that Sir Peter Davies, who was previously at the helm of the Prudential, is Sainsbury’s CEO.

With new financial offers in the retail arena, it seems likely that a savings-offers war will commence between the UK’s major supermarket chains. Whether the war will be over the average consumer or the big investor remains to be seen.

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