Richard Branson wants your money (but not to buy hair product)

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Remember last year when Richard Branson tried to take over the failing British bank Northern Rock? That wasn’t a non sequitur. The famously daredevilish head of Virgin Group is really into financial services right now. We had a chance to talk about it while he was in town to announce his latest adventure: attempting to break the record for sailing across the Atlantic. For those of you attending cocktail parties tonight, the current record stands at 6 days, 17 hours, 52 minutes and 39 seconds.

The Virgin Group has been in financial services for well over a decade, selling things like credit cards, mortgages, insurance, savings accounts and personal pensions in the U.K., Australia and South Africa. Last fall, Virgin Money came to the U.S. by scooping up the peer-to-peer loan outfit CircleLending. This summer, Virgin Money USA rolled out a new student loan product (just as traditional sources of funding were drying up) and bought a mortgage-processing firm that came with a network of 400 brokers. As Virgin Money CEO Asheesh Advani explained it to me, the original peer-to-peer lending operation was a great way to get a foothold in the U.S.

Here’s what Branson had to say:

Also, for the record, Richard Branson is a big believer in sunblock.

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Life lesson from the billionaire sailor. Write it down.

UPDATE: John Gapper over at the FT manages to work in a reference to Sarah Palin in his coverage of today’s sail event. He does not, however, mention Richard Branson’s hair.

Barbara!

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