Next Memory

Memories of my Working Career


by John Marshall

I joined the staff of the Birmingham Municipal Bank on 4th September 1967.

When I was 16, and taking my GCE O levels, my father (the Reverend Ernest Marshall) was the minister at Olton Congregational Church in Solihull, and was a close friend of the organist, Stanley Guy.  Stanley Guy was at that time, the General Manager of the Municipal Bank, and suggested to my father that I might consider working for the Bank.  I duly completed an application, attended an interview with the Deputy General Manager, Bernard (Bunny) Hayward, and was offered a position as an office junior.

I still have my letter of appointment, with a starting salary of £335 pa plus £25 pa for the special conditions of service that distinguished the Bank from other Birmingham Corporation Departments.

After a one week induction course at Head Office in Broad St, I started work at Solihull Branch, 16 Poplar Road (opposite Lloyds Bank's branch, now the Solihull Branch of Lloyds TSB). The Manager was Neville Newcombe, although he had health problems, and for most of the following year, Phillip Baulcombe was in charge, being a Relief Manager.  Other staff were Doug Manners as first cashier, Anne Jones, Liz Whittle, and another junior Annette O’Neill.  At that time, we opened on Saturdays, but that ceased in 1969.  One of my tasks as junior was that, once the daily ‘posting’ of the ledgers with the previous day's transactions had been completed, I was dispatched with a shopping list, with top priority being to get cream cakes from the delicatessen – Elizabeth the Chef in Mell Square.

A year later, I was moved to Sparkbrook branch under the managership of Howard Powell, together with Paul Cartwright and Olive Copestick. Being a much quieter branch, I was able to learn the work much more thoroughly.  One of my vivid recollections of Howard was that he had a penchant for making complaints.  I remember him writing to complain about some chocolate bars.  The company (Mars I think) sent him a letter of apology and complimentary bars.  He sent them back, and they then sent him a boxful!

In 1969, I moved to Shirley Branch to work, where the Manager was John Cox.  John was very much a union man, and sometimes difficult to please.  In particular this applied to his cup of tea!   I had to make the brew just right, not too much milk for him, and his cup had to be the first poured before the tea was stirred in the pot and brewed – in other words, not too dark!  Woe betide me if it was too strong!  After about 6 months as a junior at Shirley, I was deemed ready to be a cashier, and two weeks' training and promotion followed.  During my time at Shirley, decimalisation took place, and as cashiers, we had ‘practice sessions’ with the new coins and transactions.  The conversion was a major task, as this was the days before any computerisation had started, but it all ran a lot more smoothly and quickly than had I feel been envisaged.  It was also the days of power cuts during the miners' strikes, but generally when power cuts came, the customers still got served.

I then spent a period as a ‘relief cashier’ mainly on the south side of the city working at many branches. I do recall that whilst on relief, I had a period of about 18 months without a single cash difference, which was something I was proud of especially when taking into account that I worked at up to 5 different branches in a single week.

One of the branches I regularly worked at was Sheldon where Norman Worwood was manager. This was before Ariel House was built, but shortly afterwards construction started and the ‘new branch’ was opened where Sheldon Branch now is; I moved there as a permanent member of staff.  I was thinking of making a career change at this time, applying for other jobs, and it is partly down to Norman’s confidence in me and my abilities, that changed my mind to staff with the Bank. I had enormous respect for Norman, who in due course became a much respected senior manager of the Bank.

During this period of time (1973/6), computerisation of the bank gradually started to take place.

I also spent a year as an inspector's assistant to Norman Slater, a lovely man, and as Foreign Exchange Clerk at Broad Street branch under Norman Goddard and Eric Bignell. In 1976, I was appointed as an Assistant Manager, starting at Solihull branch with Mike Bourke.  It was at this time, that the Bank started to offer its own Personal Loans, rather than applications though United Dominions Trust, but shortly after I started there, Mike went off on a secondment as the Bank's Marketing Manager.  So there I was, newly appointed with little experience of actually being the person in charge, AND lending money which was something we had never done before. Also, it was just after my marriage to my wife, Carol, so this period represented significant changes in my life.

During 1978, I was asked to be the Bank's representative for a national TSB Branch Establishments study and implementation team, after an in depth time and motion study by PA Management Consultants across the country. The study also revealed wide varieties of practices and procedures across the various regional TSB banks. Mary Chapman also joined the team. Shortly after this start, the (by then) Birmingham Municipal TSB merged with TSB of the Midlands (the Walsall, Wolverhampton and Coventry TSBs) where we did customer arrival pattern studies, and work planning, centred around the need to correctly man the tills, with the mandate that over every half hour period, each till should have an average queue length of ONE.  Impossible?? I think NOT, it is easy when you know how to plan properly.  We think any establishment such as banks, shops etc., are busy when we see lots of people queuing. However, busyness should be measured not by the queues, but by the number of transactions processed.  I witnessed horrendous queues in some of the big branches.  When we went back and implemented a counter plan, and there was little queuing, they said they were not very busy that day.  So I would ask them to count up the transactions processed.  In the case I am thinking of in particular (not a Birmingham branch) they had processed 30% more transactions than on the day we witnessed some customers waiting 40 minutes to be served!

Following this two-year secondment, I then went to Ward End branch (the old one on Washwood Heath Road) under Ian Galloway, and here I put into practice, much of what I had learnt in the project such as work scheduling.  At that time, branches were open all day on Thursdays until 7pm with no closing mid-afternoon.  It was a requirement to balance all the tills mid-afternoon, yet as the branch only had 4 till positions, it was impossible for me to schedule adequate customer service at the peak time of 4.30pm to 6.30pm, balance all the tills, and give the staff a short tea break.  I knew that elsewhere in the country, they had stopped balancing tills daily let alone additional mid-afternoons on late evening openings, so with Ian’s agreement, we abandoned afternoon balancing, but started balancing at 6pm, so that after 6.30 we had two tills left to balance, when the customer arrivals were much lower.  In practice, by 7pm we only had one till left to balance, and so we managed to still get away promptly by about 7.15pm. In practice, a lot of so called ‘non balancing’ was actually due to mistakes with the logs of the ‘utility bills and Credit Transfers’, which were often rectified when these were balanced mid-afternoon, meaning that the counter staff didn’t need to find them as they had been corrected by back office staff.

This worked well until the Operations Department heard that we were not balancing in accordance with official procedures, and insisted we reinstate mid-afternoon balances.  Then the previous tea breaks and queuing problems once again ensued.  At that time, the Assistant Manager role at Ward End was an ABM2 grade, but from my previous secondment, I was a grade ABM4 and so 2 grades over scale, as no suitable ABM4 vacancies existed, and I went there until a suitable vacancy arose.

In January 1982, I moved to West Bromwich branch (an ABM4 position) of the former Walsall TSB. This was a large, busy branch, and the work there was very demanding.

I spent 4 years at West Bromwich branch, which did a lot of lending and mortgage applications. I prided myself on my lending, but most of the loans which required Out of Order returns were authorised not by me, but by the manager. Sadly in 1985, I discovered that the manager there was embezzling funds through fictitious personal loans.  I reported this immediately to the Bank's inspectors, and following suspension, dismissal and court appearance, he was sentenced to 2 years' imprisonment.   Not only did this cause staff distress (some had worked under him for up to 10 years) but also there were other significant workload problems, as by that time, West Bromwich was also open from 9:30am to 4 pm on Saturdays. By now, TSB had been split into four 'national' banks with TSB England & Wales formed by the amalgamation of 11 of the regional TSBs, and a new manager was appointed from the Stoke-on-Trent area. 

Two vacancies for Branch Managers were advertised early in 1986, being Caldmore in Walsall, (a branch I knew) and Four Oaks.  I decided to apply for both of them, but instead of being interviewed for them I was approached and asked if I would go to Lozells Branch as the branch manager. A recent inspection had revealed considerable shortcomings in the branch's administration, but in particular with the lending and Out of Order reports.  As West Bromwich had a lot of lending on its books, I was of course, very experienced in lending and related procedures, particular with the out of order procedures.

I had only been at Lozells for about 6 weeks, and just starting to get to grips with the enormity of my task there, when I was confidentially informed by my District Manager that there were plans to close the branch.  This was the year of the flotation of TSB, and the closure was to be postponed until after the flotation that October.

I cannot remember the exact date Lozells closed, but it was shortly after the flotation, so I think it was probably in 1989.

The accounts at Lozells were to be transferred to Handsworth branch. However, most of the regular local customers lived in and around Lozells, and Hamstead Road. In those days, we gave customers sufficient notice to be able to transfer to other local branches if they preferred. Most of them went shopping locally at Perry Barr - a short direct bus ride away, or into the city, again a direct bus ride. Surprisingly more chose to transfer to Temple Row in the city centre, followed by Perry Barr. From the Lozells area, Handsworth was closer, but not easy to get to without a car, and parking in the Handsworth area had always been difficult near to the branch.

My recollection is that the branch had balances of about £2.3m, and although the Midland Bank opposite and Lloyds Bank down the road did try to woo some customers, we retained nearly all of them.

Melvin Griggs was the District Manager at that time. Four weeks before the branch closed, it was raided. Three men threw a large paving slab through the side window narrowly missing one of my female staff at about 6:30 on the late evening opening, and then climbed through and raided the tills. Because of the locality, we operated a low till limit, and although they tried to grab what they could, their haul was only about £1,500, so that went down in my/our favour. I was interviewed for the local news the following day, standing in the banking hall for the TV crew.

The Bank's management then made a decision to close the branch at 4pm for the remaining Thursdays, and that it was to be with almost immediate effect; every branch within a 4-mile radius of the city centre would now close at 6pm rather than 7pm.  Thus heralded the end of the 7pm close because within 12 months, all former BMB branches closed at 6pm rather than 7pm.  (It should be noted that the Walsall, Wolverhampton and Coventry branches had a Friday late evening until 6pm, and not a Thursday.  This was also the most common practice in TSBs throughout England and Wales).

Just after the branch closed, Handsworth discovered an anomaly on one of the suspense NPAs, (Non Personal Accounts) which after investigation it turned out that one of my cashiers had been 'fiddling' the customer exception charges levied, which went back more than 5 years or so.

I then went to Witton branch, another promotion, where I was manager for almost 4 years before finishing, with Ian Rippin as assistant manager.

In 1988, as part of local regeneration, the branch had replacement roofing tiles.  The branch had 4 tills, an ‘enquiry hatch’, a small office at the front, together with a manager's interview office at the back of the branch.  Dealing with queries and enquiries was difficult, because of the lack of suitable privacy at enquires. I understood that the branch was not scheduled for a refit for 2-3 years, and so it was agreed that the small office at the front of the branch, and the enquiries hatch, could be refitted to provide two proper ‘sit down’ enquiry positions, which were completed in the early part of 1990.  These proved to be a significant improvement. 

There was a considerable management structure reorganisation in the Bank nationally during November 1989, when District Managers were replaced by a considerably smaller number of Area Managers. Branch managerial changes started to take place, and we realised that our former historical job security was unlikely to continue.  During the 9 months following the Area restructure, I met my new Area Manager twice, once in the early stages as he made a flying visit to all branches, and the second unannounced when, in effect, I was informed that I was overscale now for the branch and to ‘consider carefully my future’, and how I would generate sufficient additional profit to cover my additional salary.

I decided I had little choice but to accept voluntary redundancy, leaving on 20th August 1990.

Ironically, shortly after I left the Bank, it was announced that Witton branch was to be closed, which duly took place in about November 1990.  I felt it ironic that the Bank had authorised the alterations – quite an achievement at that time, yet the closure plans must have already been under consideration.

My subsequent career began in October 1990, when I joined Colonial Mutual (an Australian Mutual life assurance company) as a ‘Financial Associate’ (in other words, “life, pensions and investments sales”) with very little effective training.  However, the following February, the local Manager arranged for me to attend a one-week course at their training centre in Slough on Business Assurance – in other words, the application of life assurance products for business needs, and thus spawned my new career.

I very quickly realised that most business people were very suspicious of anyone trying to ‘sell' them anything, but also from my banking background, I also realised that each and every business had a bank manager!  So I felt I was probably in the right career, but the wrong place. I felt drawn to explore working as a financial adviser or consultant for another bank, one of the main four banks.

In September 1991, I joined Lloyds Bank’s subsidiary ‘Black Horse Financial Services’ (initially, gradually being integrated into the main Bank’s employment)  and so spent nearly 20 years working for Lloyds Bank, and subsequently Lloyds TSB Group.  Most of my time was spent as a Financial Adviser in business or commercial banking based around Birmingham City Centre from the Colmore Row Business Centre or the Great Hampton Street Business Centre, seeing customers in Sparkhill/south of the city, the city centre/Edgbaston, and the north of the city area including Cape Hill, Smethwick and Handsworth.  In 2003, I moved to work from the Solihull Business Centre based at the former Lloyds branch in Shirley, but covering Kings Heath and Kings Norton.  This also meant that following the amalgamation of Lloyds Bank with TSB, that on occasions, I visited some of the former BMB branches – although working in the business centre, most business centres were based in former Lloyds Bank branches.

From about 1994 until about 2002, I was particularly successful, and twice won awards which resulted in short trips to ‘conventions’ at European destinations (Barcelona and Nice).

In 2003 my (late) wife and I bought a house near Lincoln, and we had two homes for about 3 years with the intention of eventually moving from our own home in Solihull.

At the beginning of 2006, an opportunity arose in the Bank’s Lincolnshire area for me to transfer there as a commercial sector adviser, and I moved to work from the Lincolnshire Business Centre, mainly from the Boston, Skegness, Sleaford and Grantham branches.

Following an extended period of compassionate/sick leave between mid-2007 and into 2008, I returned to work, but not long after I completed the ‘return to work’ study and relicensing  requirements, my Regional Manager Mike Fallows called me to say that the Bank would like to second me to a special project team in commercial financial services.  (Mike had been my immediate Line Manager for 5 years when I was based in Birmingham City Centre).  I did this for about 6 months, before then being allocated as a ‘remote worker’ to Commercial Verification of LTSB financial services.  This is a ‘specialist role’ as it meant checking the submission paperwork and advice of the Bank’s more experienced commercial financial advisers, specialising in business protection.  The primary area I verified was Partnership and Director Share Purchase Protection, large commercial liability protection, and key man cover, to ensure not only was the advice compliant, but that applications were correctly set up and more importantly that the correct trust documentation had been completed.  This was where my field experience came in as invaluable.  During this time, I gained excellent feedback from the advisers and their managers who I came into contact with, of which I am particularly proud.

As long as I had an enabled laptop, and branch or internet connection, I could fulfil this role from any location, and for the following 2 years I worked from home. During this time, further significant changes took place with the amalgamation of HBoS where we became part of a much larger team of (former HBoS verifiers) based in Leeds.  I felt this was a fitting end to my career in banking and commercial services of almost 44 years.

In 2009, I sold the (new) house on the outskirts of Lincoln, and I bought a bungalow in Nettleham, a lovely village dating back to Roman times, about 5 miles north of Lincoln. My bungalow backs onto fields and from my kitchen window I can look across the fields and see Lincoln Cathedral in the distance.  Both my daughters are married and live in the village. At the time of writing, I have been retired for nearly a year, and I do not miss the daily commute into Birmingham City Centre one bit!


March 2012