Premium Credit has its sights set on an expansion into Europe after it was bought by US credit card giant MBNA.

The deal, thought to be worth £180m, gives total ownership of the premium finance operation to MBNA Europe.

MBNA Europe chief executive Charles Krulak said there was "tremendous growth potential" in the premium finance sector.

He said: "We see the opportunity to strengthen the role here in the UK, but also to look to Europe as an opportunity.

"We are in Europe already and we know Premium Credit has some good thoughts about European expansion."

MBNA was looking at entering the US premium finance market and saw Premium Credit as a "good strategic fit", he said.

Premium Credit chairman Graham Puttergill said the company had become too big to remain independent.

"We didn't want to get sold into some great big bank with all the conflicts of interest that would have for our customer base," he said.

"The point about MBNA is that it does credit cards - and boy, do they do them well."

MBNA's scale would help Premium Credit's plans for a "myriad of small things" to improve service standards, as well as providing more clout in negotiations with major European insurers.

The company had been considering a move into Europe for some time, he said.

Krulak, who served for 35 years in the US Marine Corps, including two tours of duty in Vietnam, said there were no plans to change Premium Credit's leadership, staff numbers or its location in Epsom.

He said: "Whether you are in the military or in business, what counts is the people. And the more experienced your leaders are, the better off you are going to be. We would be foolish to make any changes within the leadership. We are absolutely thrilled with who we've got there."