Sir Richard Branson has vowed to improve British banking for customers during his visit to the first newly re-branded branch of Virgin Money.

The tycoon's firm took over nationalised Northern Rock in a £747m deal and he toasted staff and customers in the lender's Newcastle heartland, at its Northumberland Street branch.

The re-branding of Northern Rock's 75 branches across the country is expected to take nine months.

Branson says: "The Virgin Group has always gone into markets where there's been an opportunity to make things better for customers.

"We've been doing it for 40 years, with some real milestone moments along the way, from our first steps in the record industry to launching Virgin Atlantic.

"Now we want to do the same for banking.

"It's not something we take lightly. There's a lot of hard work ahead. But we have the people, the products and the plans in place."

Virgin Money has already started its crusade, with the bank last week launching a set of savings accounts that are among the best buys.

Jayne-Anne Gadhia, chief executive officer at Virgin Money says: "I am delighted to mark the acquisition of Northern Rock and the beginning of our quest to make banking better with all the fantastic people we have working for the combined business."

Branson will spend two days meeting staff starting with a tour of branches in the North East as well as meeting staff in the operational headquarters in Newcastle before moving on to the Virgin Money offices in Edinburgh, Norwich and London.

Virgin Money aims to challenge the banking industry's "big five" and has claimed its range of saving deals will be "simple, fair and transparent".

Northern Rock was nationalised and split into 'good' and 'bad' banks after the disastrous 2007 credit crisis which saw queues of savers line up to withdraw their cash.