Lloyds is being forced to flog these branches by regulators in order to comply with state aid rules - in fact, the Independent Commission on Banking believes it should be forced to sell off hundreds more in an effort to boost competition in the sector. With the Government mad keen to encourage new entrants to the sector, Virgin Money (which has a well-established financial services business, but no high street presence) would fit the bill nicely - although admittedly that wasn't enough to persuade the Treasury to sell Branson Northern Rock at a fire-sale price before it was taken into state ownership.
According to the FT, Branson would be perfectly happy just to get his hands on those 600 branches, since he thinks this would be more than enough to take on the big banks and win. He's also trying to present this as the easiest solution for all concerned, telling the Pink 'Un that Virgin can make this happen 'quickly and smoothly' – while the (somewhat vague) talk of £3bn in financing also sounds like it's come straight from the horse's beard. And he's not soft: the report also suggests that he's sniffing around Northern Rock again too - the implication being that if Lloyds doesn't play its cards right, he might go elsewhere.
There are few people in business with Branson's flair for self-promotion. And it's true that Virgin is a brand that consumers trust - which would be a huge asset in a market where almost none of the incumbents can say the same. Equally, Branson has had success before in taking on an industry with established players and lots of vested interests before - Virgin Atlantic being the prime example (of course he's had lots of failures too, but we'll let that slide for the time being). So it'll be interesting to see whether his charm offensive pays off this time. If nothing else, he’s persistent.