Next Memory
 
Memories
088
 

On attending the Bank's palatial Head Office in Broad Street for my first day of work in November 1959, I was required to report to the Deputy General Manager (Mr F W Parsonage) in his large office on the first floor. The main purpose of the subsequent interview was to obtain my signature to a document after I had read it out loud. By signing this document I agreed not to disclose details of depositors' accounts; that my employment would be subject to a Fidelity Guarantee (that the Bank would pay for); and that I would need to inform the Bank if I wished to take out a Mortgage, or other large debt.

 

As a teenager just out of Grammar School, I had no idea what a Fidelity Guarantee or a Mortgage was - in fact, I had never come across the word 'Mortgage' before and Mr Parsonage had to correct my pronunciation. I think that a Fidelity Guarantee Proposal Form may have been sent out to me in advance of the interview, but there was no advance notice of the other ‘conditions of service’. At that date, and for some years to come, the Bank did not have a Personnel Department and the procedure to deal with recruits by the Deputy General Manager probably dated from the earliest days of the Bank and, as I was to discover over the next few years, the guiding principle was "we've always done it this way". All the Bank's senior officers at this time were approaching retirement age, having been with the BMB since 1919 to 1921.

 

As I was to later learn, the Bank’s policy relating to the ‘Declaration of Secrecy’ and ‘Security from Officers’ was dictated by the Bank’s Regulations that made them mandatory. The Regulations were printed in a small book that covered many aspects of our daily work. But the book was never referred to as something a new recruit should study and learn from – learning the daily tasks was entirely on-the-job training provided by a colleague. There were no formal training courses until classes for cashiers were introduced in about 1962 and induction courses for new recruits in the late 1960s.

 

The Regulation relating to Fidelity Guarantees was established at the Bank’s inception and was probably a consequence of the Corporation’s apprehension regarding the loss of cash through the actions of the staff. Fidelity Guarantees would protect the Bank financially against acts of fraud, theft or dishonesty by an employee and, some years later, monitoring mortgage commitments was seen as a way of preventing an employee over-committing themselves financially and making such dishonest actions tempting.

 

Immediately prior to the Bank being established in 1919, nineteen departments of Birmingham Corporation held 942 Fidelity Guarantee policies with numerous insurance companies - annual premiums amounted to £302, and guaranteed the Corporation against risks totalling £237,100, ranging from one risk of £10,000 to 385 risks of £50 each. In the ten years up to 1918, the Corporation had paid total premiums of £2,315 and made one claim for the sum of £6 - 9 - 11d. At this date, the Corporation decided to scale back its labyrinthine arrangement of insurance policies and cover individual risks of £250 or less in house.

 

However, not surprisingly given the nature of its business, the Bank decided that each member of staff (including the cleaners) should be covered by a Fidelity Guarantee. In 1923, for example, all 105 members of staff were covered to a total of £82,550 - ranging from a minimum of £100 insured up to £10,000 for the General Manager, J P Hilton. The 18 Branch Managers were each covered for the sum of £2,000, and these included the Manager of Duddeston branch: Harry Howard Crump.

 

Crump committed a series of defalcations in 1924 amounting to about £700, well within the £2,000 cover; his annual salary would have been approximately £400. The subsequent investigation did not reveal that Crump had excessive financial liabilities - he himself blamed the loss of a wallet and the illness of a daughter as the reason for initiating the thefts. The Bank's Auditors stated that the Bank's system for recording transactions was excellent but there was a weakness in the registration of the issue of passbooks - a weakness that Crump exploited by creating a store of passbooks that he could deal with as he thought fit to cover his thefts. Crump also took advantage of a depositor who could not write to create forged withdrawal receipts.

 

The Auditors further stated that they regarded the Bank staff "as a body of thoroughly honourable and trustworthy servants, carefully trained, and in practically every case quite competent to perform the duties entrusted to them, but unfortunately circumstances may of course arise which may cause them to be unmindful of their trust, notwithstanding their previous training and records". However, "judging from our experience, cases such as Crump must unfortunately now and again occur".

 

The Auditor's comments regarding circumstances arising may have influenced the Management's views concerning staff taking on mortgage commitments. Until the 1950s, a similar attitude applied to staff contemplating marriage at a young age.

 

Crump's use of forged receipts may have been the reason for the Bank's policy that staff should not fill in withdrawal forms on behalf of a depositor, and then obtain their signature - a practice that staff found useful in certain circumstances. Some Branch Managers applied the rule rigorously; others applied common sense where appropriate. Amazingly, when Ian Galloway and myself attended a Vocational School in 1963 where all the other attendees were from Trustee Savings Banks, we found that it was standard TSB practice for staff to complete all withdrawal receipts and then obtain the depositor's signature.

 

The Auditors were correct in stating that there would be cases where the staff would be “unmindful of their trust”. But the cases were few and of a minor nature, usually involving teeming and lading ahead of pay day, or to feed a gambling habit. In these cases the Bank would be able to recover any loss from the employee’s superannuation contributions, rather than having to rely on the Fidelity Guarantee. Only one case similar to Crump’s occurred, with a Branch Manager being dismissed in the 1960s.

 

Losing cash through defalcations was just one of the Management's concerns in 1919 given that the Bank was a newly established institution with largely inexperienced staff working in temporary accommodation. Initially, a complicated system using Counter Clerks and Cashiers for a 'double check' system was designed to reduce the possibility of errors and give confidence to depositors to whom the experience of handing over cash to a bank (in exchange for an entry in a passbook) would also be for many a novel event.

 

In addition, of course, there was the danger of a bank raid. Most of the temporary units utilised as branches at the Bank's commencement were rented offices - no counter to separate staff from customers, probably just a table and a couple of chairs, plus a safe borrowed from Messrs Withers & Company. Conscious of the risk, Management issued Managers with a revolver and five rounds of ammunition! Training was provided by a staff member who had recently served in the First World War.

 

Shortly after the Bank commenced business, the City's Assistant Chief Constable made a review of branch security. Surprisingly, he did not veto the issue of revolvers but did suggest that the first chamber was left empty (to minimise accidents) or, preferably, blank ammunition should be used. He suggested police whistles be issued (still in use over 40 years later), and that a supply of pepper and a heavy ruler (2-feet long) be kept handy. In November 1960, the Manager of Billesley branch (John Edwards) used a heavy ruler to drive away two armed robbers. Earlier that year, Norman Barnsley had thrown an ink well at raiders at Duddeston branch.

 

Where the branch had attached residential accommodation, the Assistant Chief Constable recommended letting this to a police officer. In fact, where the Bank was able to obtain shop premises and convert them to a typical bank layout, it was very difficult to obtain vacant possession of adjoining residential accommodation due to the sitting tenant having the protection of the Rent Restriction Act. But, when the Bank later developed permanent branch premises, the policy was to include residential accommodation wherever possible. Ideally, these 'Bank Flats' were to be let to Bank staff, Corporation staff, or police officers.

 

In March 1934, the Bank's Management considered the question of mortgages effected by members of the staff with Building Societies and others. It was felt that the nature of the duties undertaken by the staff and the responsibilities involved in connection with the regular handling of monies, cheques, etc, called for compliance with certain requirements.

 

It was decided that officers entering into a mortgage should arrange for such mortgage to be with the Bank unless special circumstances prevented the Bank arranging the mortgage, and existing mortgages should be transferred to the Bank, except where the house was outside the Bank's area of operations.

 

Additionally, it was made a condition for all new appointments that officers were not to contract any debts of an unusual character nor incur any large capital commitment without obtaining the General Manager's consent. Existing staff were informed that they were expected to observe the same conditions.

 

House ownership just before the Second World War was approximately 30%. The Bank was charging a competitive 4½% on mortgage loans, but the advance was restricted to 80% of a conservative valuation and the repayment term was a maximum of 20 years - the average Bank loan in this period was approximately £400. The monthly repayment on such a loan amount was £3.  3s.  6d

 

In 1934, builders were combining with certain Building Societies to make the purchase of a house more attractive - this arrangement included the borrower only having to find a deposit of 10% of the purchase price, the purchase price including all charges, ie valuation, stamp duties and legal costs. The margin between 80% of the valuation and the amount of the advance was provided by or secured by the builder. The Bank's response was to seek a reliable builder with whom a similar scheme could be enjoined, and to also introduce endowment mortgages and equated mortgages.

 

Thus the decision to require staff to have their mortgage with the Bank may have been influenced by entry to the housing market being made easier and more attractive.

 

The alternative to purchasing a house was, of course, to rent - a popular alternative that did not require a large deposit to be accumulated. And, with the prospect of war becoming more likely as the 1930s progressed, the commitment involved in house purchase at such a time would have been a discouragement.

 

Renting a Bank flat was an attractive alternative with a monthly rental of about £3 for spacious accommodation above a branch recently built or refurbished. Rents at this level continued until the 1960s with the Bank's Management probably wishing to encourage staff to 'keep an eye on the premises below' instead of taking on a large mortgage.

 

When flats first became available to rent, the Bank did not often achieve its objective of letting to police officers and Corporation employees, and there was often difficulty with arrears. An exception was when the tenant was commercial rather than residential - dentists (for example) seemed to find the location of branches, and the flat's extensive space, as an attractive position to set up a practice.

 

Tenants also included a solicitor, resulting in a Bank flat being described in a biography of V S Naipaul. In The World Is What It Is, Patrick French describes how the award-winning author, V S Naipaul, met his first wife, Patricia Hale, at Oxford University in 1952. The book describes how Patricia lived with her parents and sister in a decrepit two-bedroom flat above a municipal bank in Kingstanding, a drab suburb of the city of Birmingham. Her father worked in a local firm of solicitors as a managing clerk.

 

Ignoring the fact that most of Europe was drab just a few years after the end of the Second World War, this description of the accommodation above Kingstanding branch indulges in a piece of inverse snobbery in an attempt to authenticate a claim that Patricia Hale had come from a poor background. In fact, the accommodation above Kingstanding branch was let to a firm of solicitors who used it both as an office and residence. In 1952, the branch was less than fifteen years old. As the accommodation above the branch was let on the basis of the tenant being responsible for internal repairs, if it was decrepit it was entirely due to the Hale family.

 

After the Second World War, Bank flats became very popular with the staff due to a combination of their low rentals and the Management's insistence on staff who wished to buy a house having their mortgage with the Bank - with a lending policy that restricted a maximum loan to 80% of a conservative valuation, a deposit of approximately 25% of the house purchase price was necessary.

 

After our marriage in 1964, Jeanette and I found the option of renting a Bank flat a good opportunity to get financially established and to save a deposit. For almost four years we lived in one of the two flats above Alum Rock branch. This was one of the few flats that were built after the Second World War due to the fact that the branch had been severely damaged by the Luftwaffe's bombing raids on Birmingham. The rebuild of the branch cost approximately £6,500, but the Government restricted its payment under the War Damages Act to £5,000 - this may have resulted in poor, cost-cutting insulation between the branch and the flat, as we seemed to enjoy the benefit of the branch's heating system giving us low fuel costs. Our bills in 1966 amounted to £14 for gas and £16 for electricity; in addition the rates bill was £47. But, we were probably one of the first tenants to suffer from a revised Bank policy of increased rents - we paid about £12 per month - although the previous tenant had paid about £5.

 

The flat (6 Belchers Lane) was accessed by way of an external concrete stairway, the top of which was overlooked by the kitchen. Besides the kitchen, off a very large hall were a lounge, two bedrooms (though we used one as a dining room), a bathroom, and a huge, dark cupboard. Although the flat was compact compared with others we visited socially (Wells Green, Great Barr, Selly Park, Moseley, Rotton Park) all the rooms were of a good size. We did not have a television, but the lounge overlooked the Pelham Arms pub whose customers occasionally provided us with entertainment at closing time by indulging in fights, etc. In those days, pubs had strictly limited opening hours and there was always one customer who arrived at the 6pm opening time, emerging a few minutes later smacking his lips. The bedroom was at the corner of the premises and thus over the door to the branch at 2 Belchers Lane. It was difficult to have a lie-in on a Sunday morning when the Salvation Army brass band struck up immediately below our window.

 

We didn't have a telephone either, but few people did in the 1960s. However, there was a telephone kiosk situated conveniently just outside the gate to Belchers Lane - the gate providing access to both flats. The other flat (4 Belchers Lane) was occupied by Ian and Shirley Galloway and their young son, Andrew. Their front door overlooked a small lawn that was a facility provided for both flats - Shirley did a good job of mowing the grass. The lawn area was hardly private however; passengers on the upper level of double-decker buses had a good view into the 'garden' when the bus stopped outside the gate.

 

Although we didn't have a television, telephone, or a music system, we did have a fridge (which only about 15% of households had at that time), a radio and, more importantly a car. This was parked on the forecourt on the Pelham Road side of the branch until we were able to rent a lock-up garage in the nearby Cotterills Lane. Head Office was always quite good at placing staff at a branch fairly convenient to where they lived. Jeanette initially worked at Ward End branch (where Wilf Thomas was the Manager), a short walk from the flat via Sladefield Road. After about six weeks at the recently opened new (replacement) Duddeston branch with John Ager, I was moved to Small Heath branch, replacing Stan Gregory as the first cashier - Geoff Edwards was the Manager, with whom I shared a common interest for photography. The car became very useful when Jeanette was moved to Wells Green branch - an arrangement was made to meet with Derek Horner (who also worked at Wells Green) in the Yardley area; Jeanette was transported to work on Derek's scooter, Derek's sister, Lynda, came with me to Small Heath branch.

 

In 1967, we found a semi-detached house in Halesowen that we wished to purchase. Except that there was no house to see - just a recently cleared field and a site plan. At this date, the demand for houses far exceeded the supply and it was essential to put down a holding deposit as soon as a development was released. The price of the house was £3,950 and we wanted to borrow £3,000, but unfortunately it seemed that no-one had ever borrowed such a huge sum before. By then I was working in Head Office Banking Hall which was an advantage in pressing our claim that we believed we could afford the repayments. The alternative was that we applied to a Building Society for a mortgage, which the Bank would have found unacceptable.

 

As I was leaving Head Office one afternoon, I was cornered by the General Manager (Stanley Guy) who surprised me by implying that the Bank was not keen on giving an employee the responsibility of holding branch keys when they lived so far out of Birmingham - even though the Bank had a branch in Halesowen! However, I think he was confusing me with David Jackson who was proposing to buy a house in Kidderminster.

 

The Bank's House Purchase interest rate in 1967 was 6%, and during the 1960s a number of younger staff left the Bank to work at Building Societies - the attraction being a staff subsidised interest rate on mortgages. Some of the Bank's staff were able to utilise their contact with these former colleagues to obtain a mortgage when their in-house application was above the Bank's limit; but obtaining a loan from a Building Society needed considerable persistence in securing the General Manager's permission.

 

 As a department of Birmingham Corporation, Bank employees did not enjoy work related benefits. But this was all to change when the Bank transferred its status to become a Trustee Savings Bank in 1976.

 

The staff of the various regional based TSBs enjoyed a variety of perks including such major ones as subsidised mortgages and a non-contributory pension scheme. As the TSBs amalgamated into larger units, the scope of these benefits widened as they lost the supervision of the National Debt Office and created a common set of benefits by adopting the most generous versions. The staff of the Birmingham Municipal Trustee Savings Bank were soon enjoying not only subsidised mortgages (at 2½%) and a non-contributory pension scheme (having previously paid 4½% of salary) but Christmas bonuses; subsidised personal loans; preferential rates on savings and insurance products; foreign currency at the buying rate (not the selling rate); health insurance (for Branch Managers and above); company cars for senior staff; and eventually profit sharing bonuses.

 

After three years based in Banking Hall, I transferred to the Accounts Department in 1970, thus moving from the Ground Floor to the First Floor of Head Office, but remaining in Broad Street until the Administration moved out to Sheldon in 1984. During that period, Jeanette and I purchased a detached house which required a mortgage larger than the Bank's maximum limit. In the prevailing more enlightened times there was no opposition to getting the loan from a Building Society, aided by the fact that the Bank was now a TSB and other TSBs at that date did not have a mortgage facility and therefore it was standard practice for staff to borrow from a Building Society.

 

In 1978 I took over as the Bank's Chief Accountant from Jack Hollist when he retired at age 65. Such retirements were celebrated by a dinner held at a restaurant in Harborne by The Milestones Club, the membership of which consisted of the existing and retired senior officers of the Bank. On attending this dinner I met some ex-colleagues who had retired as senior officers many years previously - one of whom, who had retired in 1970, was astounded to hear that I was taking on a mortgage with payments of the huge sum of £100 per month!

 

The following year saw the Birmingham Municipal TSB amalgamate with the TSB of the Midlands to create the TSB of Birmingham and the Midlands. My appointment as Assistant General Manager - Finance meant that one of my responsibilities was the Advances Department - so it was just as well that Fred Parsonage had taught me how to pronounce "Mortgages" twenty years earlier!

 

 
Home
The World Is What It Is
 
Reflections on the Bank's attitude to
Employee Fraud, Theft and Dishonesty;
Fidelity Guarantees; Bank Flats;
Staff Mortgages; and other matters
 
by David Parkes
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