Banking in the 1970s

Location : Birmingham

So, you have worked in banking in Birmingham for about 35 years. What was it like to work in a bank in the early '70s?
When I first joined the bank in 1972, it was like the library. You weren't allowed to talk. And there was no laughing. When you were learning, if you made a mistake with a customer, they'd call the manager. It was really serious.
It was the old Municipal Bank, opposite the Hall of Memory. It was part of the council. You started as a cashier. You had to go on a training course and then into the branch.
I'd left school and had done some different jobs before I came to the bank. It just seemed like a different world, really. The manager was there in his office, ruling everything. The older women used to wear overalls so they didn't snag their clothes on the counter. We had to be smartly dressed. Girls weren't allowed to wear trousers.
But it was just a very different atmosphere from now.
It was a six week training course. You had to go into the head office on Broad Street. They had to test you, Maths tests and things like that. No computers, of course, in those days, so at the end of the day, you'd have to sit down and work out everybody's interest from charts. Then you'd write it all down of their individual cards and file them all away.
The building was very tall, big, huge beautiful counters. You'd put your book up at an angle. The counters were at an angle so you could work on them.
You didn't use calculators. You had your charts there, telling you all the different amounts for interest. Somebody would have to check it. Then it was filed away. So when somebody came in, you'd go and get their card. The card was A4 sized, all filed away in numerical order, with their name and address and account number, and their balance and their interest. Seems crazy, doesn't it!
Customers had books, little pass-books. They did have cheque books but we didn't deal with cheques, we didn't even clear our own cheques. We had to take them up to the Midland Bank, who used to be the clearing bank, every day at the end of the day. Somebody went up with all the cheques for somebody to clear them.

Was banking was done face to face?
The opening hours were nine o'clock til three o'clock, then this bizarre thing on a Thursday, we'd close at three, we'd have an hours tea-time break and then we'd open again at four till five.
I don't know why! Very strange! Once a year, at the end of the tax year, you had to go in and do all the accounts, because you had to stay till ten o'clock at night, because it had to be done on that day. But you were only allowed to stay if you were seventeen.

How did most people get to the bank, if the banking hours were that short?
It must have been very difficult for them, thinking back.

Were there lots of women with bank accounts then?
Men mainly did the banking. People did have joint accounts but there probably were more men that came in than women. Women would come in with their husbands. You'd not see young people at all.
Most working class people didn't use banks. They had tins for the money. One tin for bills, one tin for holidays. And you had to sort your own cash out. So you had to be reasonably good with money to sort yourself out.
We didn't do standing orders or direct debits at branches. We had no knowledge of them really. You'd send people to head office. They did mortgages and loans. When it came to wages, a lot of people transacted cash.

Were people formal? Did people show you were a lot of respect because you worked in a bank?
No. The manager had the respect, obviously, but you were just the cashier. You just, Make sure you do it right!

Was it nerve-wracking? Because you were young, weren't you?

Yes, I was very scared indeed if I made a mistake or something.

Did you ever have any heists?
Yeah, one instance. One man came up, it was the day before Christmas Eve, I think, and we were open on late night. He came up to this lad and said, I've got a gun. Give me all the money out your till. And he just froze. He just said, It was like everything had stopped. I didn't know what to do.
Obviously, you're told, Whatever you do, give them whatever they want. Don't put anybody's life in danger!
Obviously, we had 'bait money' in those days, that was noted, so you knew what numbers were on the notes you gave them. You kept that in each till, so you'd got the numbers of the notes you'd handed out. This guy obviously wasn't a seasoned robber. On the way out, he dropped half the money on the floor and fled over the road and we got the police. But the guy was really quite shaken with it.
Now we've got CCTV cameras, robberies don't happen as often. You get more small frauds. Stealing identity or cards and forging signatures.

When you started, were you planning how to get promoted?
Yes, because there were all sorts of different areas you could go into. I set up one of the service centres. That was really interesting. Just setting up a whole new thing and helping to organise it. That was really good. Just to get out of the branch network and do something else entirely. Then they closed down the centre I was in, moved it to Birmingham, so I went back to the branch again.
There used to be a lot of job opportunities. You could get up to manager's grade but nowadays, that's not so easy. The opportunity doesn't seem to be there. They bring people in from outside. For people who have been there a long time, there doesn't seem to be the opportunity for them.

When you started work, were you on your feet a lot?
Yes, you didn't sit down. You were forever going to get a card, putting it back. There was a much better atmosphere in those days. After you got over that period of quiet, once the attitude in banks changed, it was quite fun. You could have a joke.

How has the bank changed since then?
We've changed to sellers nowadays. Everything is sales-based. Targets, Pressures. Customer service is out the window. Their attitude is: if they want to come in and queue, they'll queue. We're dealing with sales here. You have minimal people on the counter to serve the customers in the branch, which is bad.

If you're not happy with the way the bank is going, does it make it hard to carry on working?
Yes, and I think a lot of staff do feel that way: this is not a job that I like anymore. It's too much hard sell for everybody and the pressure brought to bear is unbearable sometimes. They don't consider, really, the running of the bank. That is not considered in their perception of what you do. You have individual targets to achieve. Very stressful for everybody.

Are young people going into banks now as good at Maths as you would have been when you started?
They need numbers of people to serve the customers but their sellers are far more important to them. Maths knowledge is not necessary really. It's worked out for you. It tells you how much change to give. You don't really have to think about it.
As long as you're careful, you can't really go wrong on the counter.

Does the bank draw on your decades of expertise?
No. You've worked there such a long time, you feel you're there to help them disperse what you know and give a good service to them but that's not of interest to management. All they want is for you to sell something.

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