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  • Ian Ritchie : Scottish Business Insider

Why I'm 'un-friending' my 'Friend for Life'

OH DEAR. I find I have to 'un-friend' my 'Friend for Life'.

It does seem quaint that any bank these days could get away with such a slogan, and indeed they no longer use it, but for the over 40 years that I’ve banked with the Bank of Scotland we were mostly quite happy to accept the Bank as our 'Friend for Life'; as embroidered on the shirts worn by the staff. This was the small, quite boring, local bank which took our deposits, paid us some interest, and loaned money to local businesses. The bank was run by decent folks like Sir Jack Shaw and Sir Peter Burt.

Indeed almost all of the dozens of businesses that I have been involved with over the years also happily banked with the Bank of Scotland.

I should have detected the rot when I popped into a branch a couple of years ago to open a business banking account. The last time I had done this was over a decade ago and I popped into the beautiful huge banking hall in the Bank's headquarters building at the top of the mound. It was a good experience - a banker sat down with me and stepped me through what kind of accounts I needed and set them up there and then.

This time though it was quite different. The banking hall in the HQ no longer exists - it is now an empty sterile white room. Banking is now performed a few yards away in a modern ‘retail’ operation on George IV Bridge. I went in and asked about opening a business banking account: "Och, we don’t do that now" said the assistant, "there's a leaflet somewhere", and set off to get me the appropriate brochure on how to do this online or by phone. After failing to achieve this online, and getting the run-around on the phone, I finally gave in and opened the accounts with another bank.

Last month I got a letter from the Bank saying that my savings account was no longer going to pay me 2% interest but would now offer 0.1%. Since it's clearly worth looking at their leaflets, I found one which offers an interest bearing current account, paying 3% interest on balances between £3k and £5k. This looks good, but apparently is not available to me because I am 'personally banked'. I never asked to be personally banked, but I must admit I liked the sound of it - clearly the bank would pay particular attention to my needs. No such luck - the enhanced account isn’t available to the personally banked - in order to get upgraded to the new interest bearing current account, I agreed to be downgraded to 'pleb' status. Actually I didn’t. I've had enough. I'm off. Clearly the needs of customers no longer count.

One last personal detail; just after the war a boy was born in the next village to mine. Whereas I went from my council house in my mining village to the local high school and on to Heriot-Watt to study computing, he went to Edinburgh Academy, Glenalmond, and Kings College, Cambridge, and from there on to greater things, including becoming ennobled and then becoming Chairman of HBOS during the reigns of James Crosby and Andy Hornby.

So it’s really only by an accident of geography that I didn't get the chance, as Lord Stevenson did, to supervise the total destruction of Scotland's 310 year old Bank, formerly known as our ‘Friend for Life’.

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