We can't let banks refuse to open accounts for rural businesses, argues Alasdair Mitchell
Not even my friends (yes, I have one – maybe two) could say I am a fashionable person. Yet when it comes to banks, I am right up in the forefront of popular sentiment. I loathe banks. I really do. The latest things to spark my bank-rage are reports that some banks — notably Lloyds — are showing an arbitrary and unreasonable attitude towards gunshops or shooting grounds. Some banks, I am told, are refusing to open or maintain accounts for shooting businesses on the spurious basis that these outlets are involved in “dealing in firearms”. Ridiculous. I wonder how many of those giant charity cheques for sums raised by clay shoots have advertised Lloyds?
The bitter irony is that in this very column I once reported how the then Lloyds TSB was being forced to sell off 631 branches because of EU rules, and these were in the process of being snapped up by the Co-operative Bank. The problem I highlighted is that the Co-op Bank is avowedly opposed to what it terms “bloodsports” to the point of refusing facilities to a ferret welfare society. Fortunately, that deal unravelled as the Co-op Bank’s hideous financial position was revealed (along with the depraved behaviour of its former chairman). If you are a Lloyds account holder, you may have heaved a sigh of relief — but now I hear reports of Lloyds itself discriminating against shooting sports. Is there no end to bankers behaving badly?
To be clear, I am not blaming the hard-working ordinary people who work in the banking sector. And I have a terrible confession: whisper it softly, but many years ago, when I was but a callow youth, I myself worked in a bank. It was a giant investment bank, the very worst sort according to today’s thinking. And I was employed in the worst bit — bond trading. But that was when I was young and didn’t know any better. I have repented.
Managers or mindless drones?
No, the problem with the banks is not the workers, but the corporate suits who cannot tell the difference between a rural gunshop, serving its local community, and an international arms dealer flogging assault rifles to dodgy Third World regimes. Nowadays, local branch managers do little more than obey head office edicts. They don’t know their customers. These “managers” are mere appendages of the computers on their desks. They plug themselves in to the computer each morning, and do whatever it commands, without exercising an ounce of reason.
And in my own personal experience, Lloyds is just about the worst of a very bad lot. A couple of years ago, when arriving in South Africa for a hunting trip, I found myself stranded at Johannesburg Airport without any money. This was because, despite my having told Lloyds where I would be on the relevant date, the bank stopped my card when I tried to withdraw cash from an ATM. When I rang my branch, they couldn’t help, making me wonder what exactly a Lloyds branch does that an ATM cannot.
What makes it more annoying is that Lloyds often rings me at home in the evening, trying to find an opportunity to sell me things I neither need nor want. The next time they call, I am going to say: “Before I speak to you any further, I need to ask you some security questions.” I can’t wait.
In truth, the customer service I have had from Lloyds over recent years has been shockingly poor. The only reason I haven’t ditched them is that it sounds as though all banks are just about as bad as each other. However, not all banks are prejudiced against law-abiding gun owners. If Lloyds is going to withdraw from an aspect of rural life, then I am going to withdraw from Lloyds — after first visiting my local branch manager to tell him exactly why.