Media interest in The Co-operative Group has never been greater after the society scored a deal to acquire 632 Lloyds TSB branches last month.

Assuming it gets the nod from the FSA (not that one, the other one) the deal will propel what boss Peter Marks described as the society’s “tiny” banking business into the big time.

Half-year results out today revealed The Co-op Bank had a tough time of it the past six months. Taking into account the cash set aside to cover PPI provisions, revenues were down 1.1%. And operating profits slumped 67.9% to £36.9m as bad debt charges rose from £46.1m to £91.9m.

But Marks was his usual optimistic self at this morning’s press conference, insisting the bank was set for greater things.

“The customer reaction to this has been phenomenal,” he said. “I’ve received numerous emails and letters from customers saying that it’s great news. We’ve also seen a significant increase in people switching accounts to us. They see us as a safe pair of hands.”

It’s also good news for the society’s broad portfolio of businesses, he added. The Co-op is currently in the middle of ‘Project Unity’, bringing together all its business - unbelievably, for the very first time.

“This will give us a real opportunity to look at our customers across all our businesses through our membership scheme,” he said. “They’ll be cross-purchase incentives and it will be a great opportunity to get people to buy into bank, travel, food and so on, to find out what we’re all about.”

With more bank branches on the high street, the deal would also raise awareness of the society in general, and not just as a food operator, he added.

In fact, all the banking talk went some way to diverting attention away from yet more lacklustre trading by the society’s food business, which The Co-op blamed on bad weather and selling off 90 unwanted Somerfield sites this time last year.

Then again, that’s probably not the sort of cross-divisional co-operation they had in mind at the mutual’s Manchester HQ.