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CONTACT: Spring 1960 to Spring 1962 
 
Letters to the Editor
 
The first letter reproduced below was submitted to the Staff Magazine's Editor by J A (Jim) Smith who was Chairman of the Bank's Staff Association from 1956/57 to 1958/59. Following his resignation as Chairman, Mr Smith wrote a letter that generated further letters in subsequent magazines. The letters reflect the frustration felt by some members of the staff regarding the Bank's policies and procedures, and the attitude of senior management. At this date, the Bank's senior management were all long term employees with about 40 years' service, who were approaching retirement. After the Bank's incredible growth up to 1950, a period of stagnation coincided with a decreased demand for savings products, and an increasing interest in consumerism. The letters reflect the changing expectations of both staff and depositors to the services provided by a savings bank just fifteen years after the Second World War. The letters also give an insight into the complicated procedures followed by the Bank prior to the Second World War, some of which remained unchanged.
CONTACT: Spring 1960 - Letter from J A (Jim) Smith
 
I have just realised, that as a very ordinary member of the Staff Association, I now have to submit MSS to you for your approval whereas until now it has been easy to write an article and say "Please publish this". It is, therefore, with some fear and trepidation that I address this to you, Sir, in the hope that you may see fit to reproduce at least part.
 
I have, as you well know, been asking questions for some time which have not been answered, nevertheless, Sir, I think they should have been answered in some way or another; I feel that another query would not be out of place so with my tongue between my teeth I would draw your attention to Page 21 of the last issue of the Savings Banks Institute Journal where the writer says that his Bank is moving away from the principle of "It has always been done this way" and advancing towards "Let's seek a better way". Now, Sir, can you think of any other Savings Bank which might with advantage do the same?
 
Publicity has lately been in the news, but what have we to publicise? Surely, we ought to tie up that publicity which we already have on the back of Corporation and other accounts, the public does not know whether we do or do not accept these accounts on certain days, let's have it tightened up and tell them ALL that payment on Saturdays is OUT. Why also should we take instructions from any other Department as to the acceptance of Standing Instructions during two months of the year? Let's take them and let the other Department hold them up if it wants to. The teachers - repeat teachers - (Not the Education Department) refused to deal with School Savings in the old way just after the late war - when are we going to refuse to do something? (Maybe that question will be answered in the next twelve months).
 
Our Staff is getting older yet it is the old codgers who are expected to work the hardest --- they get the money (?) let them earn it is the clarion cry. Can you tell me where else the person who has given some 30-40 years of good honest service is so treated and, while we are on the subject, Mr Editor, I am sure that there is no other concern in this City - its motto is "Forward" remember - where its Staff, even after the aforementioned 30-40 years service, has no say in its holiday periods.
 
 
CONTACT: Summer 1960 - Letter from JACK
 

In the previous edition of "Contact" a letter addressed to you from Mr J A Smith was published. Whilst there are several points in his letter which will provoke discussion, I feel that his latter comments, particularly on holidays, make my blood pressure rise to the point where it can only be released by my writing to you and giving Mr Smith some answers to the queries he puts.

A Holiday Scheme, allowing for length of service, incidentally an EMINENTLY WORKABLE SCHEME, suited to the widespread nature of the Staff, was rejected at an Extraordinary Meeting (!). Neither discussion nor amendments were allowed as the motion before the meeting was not even entered in the minutes; the Staff Committee, who had been instructed by the Staff to work out this alternative scheme, were thus prevented from approaching the Management to discover whether it is possible to alter the lamentable system which shows respect for neither position nor service. The new scheme, the result of weeks of hard work by the special Sub-Committee set up to find a solution was thrown out ungraciously by those who demanded it. Why? Apparently because they prefer the devil they know to the devil they don't know (OR CAN'T UNDERSTAND), and this meeting was under the control of ---- guess who ---- Mr J A Smith!!! YOU WERE THERE!! YOU WERE CHAIRMAN!!

Come, Come, Mr Smith -- I know that long service means advancing years, I know that advancing years lead to senile decay -- but, surely, you are not THAT old!!

As to the remark that the old codgers are expected to work the hardest, I can only suggest that if, as the Manager of a large-sized Branch you are unable to organise the work to suit your own requirements, the answer to that one should be not hard to find. After all to quote a colleague of yours "A Manager is paid for what he knows, NOT what he does".

Thank you, Mr Editor, from your regular contributor.

 

CONTACT: Summer 1960 - Letter from VOX ET PRAETEREA NIHIL (No name supplied)
 

It is clear that a very strong feeling exists at the present time that, as a Bank, we must endeavour to extend to our depositors some of the facilities enjoyed by customers of the Joint Stock Banks. Not only have cheque-book facilities been discussed but the acceptance of Hire Purchase instalments has also been mentioned.

 

Before embarking on these new ventures, however, it may be as well to ask whether we have either the quality or quantity of Staff to carry them out.

 

Experienced members of the Staff are leaving in ever increasing numbers and for painfully obvious reasons, replacements are not easily forthcoming. Again, the problem of the older members of the Staff - a little less able "to cope" than formerly - is one which will demand close attention in the immediate future.

 

The following figures are worthy of attention:

 

 

Deps. & W/drwls.

Corpn. Acts.

1935

14,012,334

855,423

1959

68,198,661

5,380,543

 

                                 Transactions.

 

1935

1,993,516

402,704

1959

3,243,205

1,592,967

 

In addition, in 1959, a further 140,194 transactions involving nearly 2 million pounds were dealt with for such items as E.D.A., Certificates, Bonds, School Meals etc which were non-existent in 1935.

 

To summarise, in nearly 25 years transactions have more than doubled and cash handled has increased five-fold, while it is true to say that the great increase in Salary Credits etc and general difference in the type of transactions has changed the picture completely from the comparative simplicity of pre-war days.

 

It would be interesting to learn by how many the counter staff has increased during this period.

 

Future years may well disclose the necessity for a marked reduction in the number of tasks we perform for other Corporation Departments, Nationalised Industries and the National Savings Movement before we expand cautiously into the field of Banking proper which we must assuredly  do if we are to offer a competitive service.

 

To many on the Staff the knowledge and qualifications obtained over the years seem of small use in dealing with thousands of Gas and Electricity Bills etc. They may be our "bread and butter" - but a more indigestible diet would be hard to imagine.

 

(The receipt of an anonymous letter is always distasteful. The above letter is published only because the position has not been previously clarified and because I did appeal for help in the last issue. In future no anonymous contributions will be published. I have no objection to the use of a pseudonym but your name MUST be supplied to me. IT WILL GO NO FURTHER. Incidentally, a mistake was made in the figures quoted in the above letter, the correct figures were obtained by one who shall remain anonymous BUT whose name I know!! - Ed.)

 

CONTACT: Summer 1960 - Letter from Jim the Penman

The older I get the more like Alice I become - not because I work in Wonderland, but because I find myself getting curioser and curioser. To you, Sir, my thanks; you are the first person who has given any answer to my former queries and what a concise answer it was - certainly if we had help most of our anxieties would go.

 

It is amazing how lackadaisical people are to-day. I have recently spent some time in other Departments of the Corporation and also in shops in the City both big and small; the time one is kept waiting - the lack of attention to detail - the air of "take it or leave it" - the attitude of "couldn't care less" leads me to state that our customers have "never had it so good" and what we do for nothing is quite a lot.

 

I wonder, Sir, if anyone has ever fully realised the work involved in dealing with, say, 100 M.E.B. Accounts under the free Standing Instruction Scheme - even at the end with this wonderful indication system, each item listed on the Advice Sheet requires 9 figures to identify it. Just ponder for a few minutes the links in the chain of actions necessary from the receipt of these accounts to posting them to the consumers - I'm sure you will be amazed.

 

To pass on to another topic, I note from the last issue of "Contact" that one member retiring from the Staff is to purchase a picture to remind her of happy years spent with the Bank. In the "Glory Hole" at my Branch there are pictures of the Old Hams Hall Power Station, an old type Key Sign (how about this to decorate the Porch?) and other etceteras -- If you are thinking of retiring these items are going cheap -- Any Offers?

 

I learn, without the use of spy planes, that officers with more than twenty years' service in a major Department of the Corporation are no longer required to "sign on" the Attendance Sheet in their Department. Is it yet "time" in our Department?

 

CONTACT: Summer 1960 - Editorial Comment

ANSWERS TO CORRESPONDENTS.

 

Q.       Should we cut out payment of Corporation accounts on Saturday mornings? Should we reduce tasks for Corporation Departments?

A.       To quote from "Britain's First Municipal Bank" by the late J P Hilton, C.B.E.: "A Municipal Bank must be a Bank of service - service to its depositors and service to the citizens as whole - it must make itself a convenience to the people. Its motto should be 'Service - First, Last and All The Time'."

 

Q.        Why should we take instructions from another Corporation Department as to the acceptance of Standing Instructions during two months of the year?

A.       In 1921 a proposal was made by the Water Department, (who were fully capable of collecting their own accounts) that the Bank  should be allowed to assist in the collection of these accounts, thus serving the two-fold purpose of releasing officers from the Water Department Staff to take over duties in the Bank, and of persuading the citizens to use the Bank in order that they may be tempted to become depositors. The Bank accepted this suggestion most gratefully. Should we now object to the comparatively simple operation of holding Standing Orders for two months in the year?

 

Q.        When are we going to refuse to do something?

A.        When the citizens of Birmingham no longer require us to do it.

 

Q.        What have we to publicise?

A.       The tremendous success of the Bank to the extent that the Staff are now overworked and business continues to increase. Publicity is given by every member of the Staff who deal with the public by the manner in which the service is performed. Compared to services  given elsewhere WE can say "our customers never had it so good".

 

Q.        Should officers with more than 20 years' service be exempted from signing the Attendance Sheet?

A.        The signing of the Attendance Sheet serves the obvious purpose of recording the whereabouts of the Staff at any time; but it is also a useful record which can prove when you were NOT at a particular Branch at a particular time!

 

This leaves the question of "moving into the field of Banking proper".

 

Are we to assume that our future lies in cheque-books, short and long term loans, discounts, overdrafts, stocks and shares, Bills of Exchange, issue of Traveller's cheques, passports, foreign exchange, negotiations with the Inland Revenue Department, Banker's Orders, acting as Trustees, acting as Executors, and what about our personal loan scheme. If this is to be our "bread and butter" we shall soon be able to tell the difference because the Joint Stock Banks will quickly cut off our supplies. We are not here to duplicate a service that already exists but to provide a Municipal service.

 

_____________________________

The important question is:-

 

WHAT SORT OF BANK DO YOU WANT TO BE?

If a commercial Bank on the lines outlined above, we shall be committing commercial suicide.

 

If a Municipal Bank then we are committed to giving a service to our depositors AND TO THE CITIZENS OF BIRMINGHAM AS A WHOLE. This means the mixture as before under the present inadequate regulations and fighting to get the benefits that are officially conferred on every other Savings Bank.

 

The alternative must be a form of Trustee Savings Bank - guaranteed by the Corporation with a Committee of Management of elected representatives of the citizens to act as Trustees. We should then be committed to perform all our present duties (including the stamping of rates), but we should incorporate those extra duties that the Trustee Savings Banks perform for their depositors --- or shall we talk of sealing-wax and cabbages and kings???????

 

Meanwhile let us not think of cutting down our tasks, of closing the door to business, let us rather open the front door to more business AND THE BACK DOOR TO MORE STAFF.

 

A final quotation from "Britain's First Municipal Bank" - the last words in the book - "The great thing to be determined is whether what is proposed will be for the good of the community or not; if it is then no opposition should be permitted to frustrate that benefit being conferred".

 

 

 

                                                                                                  Continued ....

 

 

 

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