BENNY Higgins is to step down as chief executive of Tesco Bank, just months after the lender fell victim to a cyber attack that affected thousands of customers.

The company said yesterday that Higgins will retire from Tesco in February 2018 after ten years as the lender’s boss.

Higgins joined Tesco Bank in 2008 after the supermarket giant bought out Royal Bank of Scotland’’s 50 per cent stake in what was a joint venture between the two firms.

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Higgins said: “I am very proud of what we have achieved together and it has been a privilege to work in Tesco Bank and across Tesco for what will have been ten years.”

However, his tenure has not been without controversy. Last year it was reported that he had billed Tesco Bank £18,000 in taxi expenses during an eight-month period.

The chief executive, who was paid £2.1 million last year, was ferried to the Royal Opera House, private members’ clubs and several plush London restaurants.

In November, Tesco Bank paid out an estimated £2.5m to 9,000 customers following a cyber attack.

The bank temporarily froze online transactions as part of emergency security measures, and was forced to block some customers’ cards after “suspicious activity” was detected in its fraud prevention system.

During his tenure, Higgins has overseen an increase in customer account numbers from 5.8 million to eight million, seen customer deposits rise from £5.2 billion to £8.5bn, and employee numbers jump from 200 to 4,000 in Edinburgh, Glasgow and Newcastle.

Tesco chief executive Dave Lewis, said: “Benny has steered Tesco Bank to the strong position it is in today.

“The strong growth in customers, deposits and lending is down to his leadership. It has been a pleasure having him on the leadership team, and we wish him all the best in his future endeavours.”

The search for his replacement will start immediately.

However, he dismissed the idea that his decision was linked to the cyber heist in November 2016.

Speaking about his departure, he said: “One of the tough choices that not everybody can make is choosing the time that is right for them and right for the business.

“I think ten years is, for me, a very obvious time to embark on something else, and is a good time for the business to bring in fresh leadership,” he added.

When asked who might lead the bank in the future, he said it was “very early days” and the decision would be made by the bank’s board.

He also batted away the prospect that his departure could lead Tesco to hoist a “for sale” sign over the lender.

However, he said he will look for another project, with the aim of taking up a “full-time position” once he leaves in eight month’s time.

Focussing on last year’s cyber attack, he commented: “We have taken every step which we think is appropriate to ensure defences against anything similar.

“Our business has actually shown, if anything, stronger growth since November,” he added.

“I don’t want that to sound in anyway complacent because we never are... but the business has attracted more customers, across more products, since then.”

Higgins joined Tesco Bank in 2008 when the supermarket giant bought out Royal Bank of Scotland’s 50 per cent stake in what was a joint venture between the two firms.

He has overseen a dramatic transformation of the business, including the development of a current account.