Wednesday, 11 May 2011

I may have mentioned it elsewhere on this blog but I will repeat it now for those who have just come in (there are always a few late-comers) and for those who might have read it before but have forgotten. I don't blame them for having forgotten, after all, it's hardly earth-shattering news. Indeed, if "news" concerns up-to-date happenings, this isn't news at all: it's ancient history.

(I've forgotten what I was... Oh, yes.)

I spent twenty-five years working for a High Street bank. I include the words "High Street" to make clear that I was not one of those City types dealing in derivatives and other things I don't understand and being paid millions. I was at the sharp end where we dealt with real people and real money. Not being one of those real whizz-kids, I never made it to full managerial status. The peak of my career was when I was appointed a Support Branch Manager. This meant that I was in charge of a small branch which was under the full managerial control of the manager of the bigger branch in town. I had previously been the number two at the branch when it was totally independent and with its own full Manager. On his retirement the branch was downgraded whereas I was upgraded - slightly.

It was about this time that the bank started on a programme of rationalisation. What this meant, of course, was that smaller branches were being closed. I, and several others, were convinced that "my" branch was on the list for closure and I was expected to oversee the running down of the business and the transfer of the bigger accounts to our parent branch. However, things happened that were outside the control of the powers that were. One of my staff took a phone call from a man who told her he was in charge of a new business in the area, a subsidiary of an international company, and he was looking to open a bank account for this new company. He asked if we could handle this. My young lady promptly replied in the affirmative and the result was that we opened what would become one of the biggest accounts the bank had in Sussex. My branch earned so much from this one account that we became the second most profitable branch per head of staff in the county and, indeed, one of the top ten in the country. The local bigwigs, I believe, decided not to close the branch in case that account was lost to another bank who still maintained nearby branches, a decision which, I also believe, they disliked having to make.

This was also a time when my own authority to lend money was being eroded. All managerial staff had authority to lend up to certain limits allocated individually. These limits were reviewed from time to time to ensure that the effects of inflation etc did not cause problems. My limit was increased but each time it seemed to be increased by less than I needed. Whereas at one time my limit was high enough lend one customer enough to cover a month's sales invoices, over time inflation outstripped the increase in my limit and I had to refer upwards at more inconvenience both to the customer and to me and my staff. At the lower end of lending, computerised credit scoring was gradually taking over and the result was that the area over which I had authority was narrowing year by year. I felt I was becoming just an intermediary with less and less responsibility. This did little for my ambition and, in any case, the branch closure programme meant that I had less and less chance of going further up the ladder. My frustration grew.

The bank I had joined after leaving school had changed. We were now being encouraged to sell a variety of insurance policies and had to accept targets for the volume of insurance business we wrote. I had not joined a bank to become an insurance salesman and I was concerned that, in order to meet targets, we were selling policies to people who either didn't really want them or didn't need them.

It all boiled away inside me and eventually something had to give. I knew that it wouldn't be the directors of the bank, so it had to be me. I resigned. Had I stuck it out another year or two, I am convinced the bank would have paid me to go as they did with so many others, but I jumped ship just a bit too soon.

And what has brought all this to mind? It's the news this week that Britain's banks have had to set aside millions (if not billions) of pounds to repay customers who were mis-sold insurance policies. I feel vindicated.


The Broad said...

I'll bet you do! In your day, bankers were respected -- now they've joined the list with lawyers and estate agents...

Uncle Skip, said...

Oh, the irony. Good story... getting paid not to play would've made it even better.