After enduring relative poverty of a teenager, funding any outlay from paper routes and summer jobs and the absolute poverty of being a student, some forty years ago I finally had a salary fit to open a current account with the RBS here in North Berwick. The bank manager’s name was Griffiths and he lived next door to the branch. When you had a chat with him, it was hard to pay attention because the gorgeous panorama from his office’s bay window, taking in lush putting greens, the blue sweep of the Firth, the sleeping-lion bulk of Craigleith and Fife dancing along the horizon beguiled you.
We never talked much business but he liked to know his customers and I reciprocated the compliment by keeping my balance so that he never needed to read me the riot act. When I went abroad I saw much less of him, but got to know my “customer adviser” at my bank in Munich equally well. Twenty years after I left Germany, I needed some help with fund transfers to a German friend. Not only did he recognise me but he facilitated the transfer, despite Teutonic formalities being bent a little.
In California, I found a small bank in Palo Alto that had similar wisdom about customer service, so they got all my business (by then over six figures annually) because the tellers knew my name and even the bank president and I swapped yarns about the open top sports cars we drove (his an Alfa Spider; mine an MGB).
Those of you who have much to do with your bank probably already know just where this blog is going. In the twenty years since my return in 1993, not only has the branch where my account is still lodged lost Mr Griffiths but his three successors (until there are now no successors) and five business managers (until there are now no business managers). Only two tellers even recognise me as a customer now.
When I was running a database consultancy in the nineties and noughties, this didn’t matter much. Such a business has low capital investment, steady if unspectacular turnover and business advice was ably handled by my accountant. The loss of personal service was regretful but had no ill effect on the business; it could be dismissed as simply a sign of the times and the changing nature of local High Streets.
Because of the time commitment required after I became ELC Leader six years ago, my database business suffered badly; clients were passed to other consultants or drifted away to the point that, when my party passed into opposition last year and I had time to attend to business again, there wasn’t much left to attend to. So I spent the summer bouncing around as a guide on the Seabird Centre boats thinking about what I could do as a new business challenge in my life, wrote up a plan and am now trying to start it up.
As this business needs more capital investment than consulting—the business plan calls for £20,000 to get going—going to the bank that ‘knew’ me for a new business account, a credit card, a card charging system and a business loan seemed logical. Approaching my branch on January 24th, they apologised; they had no business manager any more so suggested I talk to Haddington branch, which still did. Once I ran him to earth, he was most courteous explaining that he didn’t deal with startups—that was now done centrally at “RBS Business Connect” in Edinburgh.
After leaving my contact details there twice, I was phoned back by the manager who said, if I sent in my plan and some details, it would be allocated to one of his staff, who would contact me. An admin assistant contacted me, offering me a telephone appointment five days away. During that 45-minute conversation I explained about myself, my history and my plan in detail. She said she would send me the requisite forms to fill. When they arrived, there were two covering letters which contradicted one another (apparently one for a new account and the other for a credit card), twelve pages of forms, page 5 of which was duplicated and the business name misspelled throughout. There were no covering instructions, nor any mention of a loan.
Filled in as best I could, I sent them and got on with other startup business, including checking my credit rating. This, when I paid my money to receive it, showed that I had dropped from ‘good’ to ‘fair’ since last summer. When enquiring why, I was told that RBS had recently checked it and that action damages the rating. It should not damage the rating if it is done for business purposes but RBS had apparently insisted this was for a personal credit rating.
My female ‘account manager’ came back to me four days after I had sent the forms in. Apparently they went to the ‘wrong address’. The address I had sent them to was on both letters but I ‘should have used the address on the e-mail’. Anyway, because so many corrections of the business name were required, we had to process a new set and these would be put in the post to me ‘immediately’ (Thursday 14th). I was told no account number, credit card or anything like a loan application could be issued until duly completed forms were on file.
Today (Saturday) I received a fat A4 envelope from RBS. Tearing it open, I find three booklets on Business Banking (Charges, Terms & Rates), all of which I have since I have been a business customer since 1993, and a ‘Key Facts’ leaflet and an unsigned complement slip that said “required for new account” but no instructions about what, if any, action was required of me. And of corrected forms to sign, there was no clue.
Now I realise, as a card-carrying, paid up member of the Old Farts, I hanker for a lost era of humanity when bank branches knew their customers and did business with them accordingly. I accept that time has gone. But when their supposedly professional key central business team now handling that operation perform like semi-literates on the morning after a bender, I get angry at paying good money for crap service. And as one of 60m reluctant shareholders recovering from cowboy abuse of a once-great institution, not only do I see little humility after greedy speculation putting Las Vegas to shame but they expect me to thole millions in bonus going to high-heid-yins while their rank amateur minions hack off the very people from whom those millions were fleeced.
They want my business? They can earn it by acting like they live in the same country and play for the same team. And, as for demanding whatever rate-above-inflation they were wanting for their loan on their glib, eternal assumption that I have no choice, they can just feck off.