by Chris Holland Business Reporter The soaring success of its new credit card venture has seen Bradford-based Provident Financial turn to Poland to expand the business further.

The company said Vanquis Bank’s performance in the first quarter of 2012 was substantially ahead of the same period last year while the group’s traditional home credit business had remained flat during the period.

In a bid to develop potential for the Vanquis Bank operation, Provident has reviewed EU markets with a critical mass of under-served, non-standard borrowers, with Poland emerging as the most attractive prospect.

Vanquis Bank has received approval from the UK and Polish regulators to extend its banking licence to issue credit cards in Poland and has launched a pilot credit card to test the market. The pilot is likely to run for a year and cost £3 million in 2012.

The move marks a return to Eastern Europe for Provident whose former overseas business now operates as a separate Leeds company International Personal Finance, which is chaired by former Bradford & Bingley chief executive Christopher Rodrigues.

The development was outlined to shareholders at Provident's annual general meeting where chairman John van Kuffeler said: “The group has started 2012 well.

“Credit quality in both businesses remains good and the home credit business has delivered a sound collections performance through the first four months of the year. Delinquency levels at Vanquis Bank remain at record lows and the business continues to generate strong growth and margins. The group is on track to deliver good quality growth for 2012.

“The group’s funding position is extremely robust, allowing the group to execute in full on its growth plans into 2015.”

Demand for home credit in the group's core doorstep lending business remained subdued in the first quarter, largely as a result of customers facing higher utility bills. Provident continued to focus on ‘good quality’ existing customers – those who pay their loans back. As a result, customer numbers were two per cent down on the 2011 first quarter and income remained flat. Overall, the home credit business traded at a similar level to last year In contrast, Vanquis Bank continued to generate growth and margins. The customer base grew by 29 per cent from 691,000 to 725,000 during the first quarter and receivables rose by 34 per cent.

In a trading statement Provident said: “Vanquis Bank continues to experience strong demand as the most active participant in the under-served non-standard credit card market.”

The firm is on course to deliver ‘good quality’ growth in 2012.