‘As of this moment your account is seven pounds and sixteen shillings overdrawn and I do not recall authorising such a deficiency’

ALTHOUGH it is 40 years ago I vividly recall a visit to Lloyds Bank in Westgate where I had been summoned to see the manager.

I was an inspector of police at the time, which in those days was regarded as a very responsible position, especially as there were only half a dozen of us in the Borough Force.

I waited outside an upstairs office with a degree of trepidation, because I knew I had overdrawn a small amount.

I presume there were overdraft facilities in the 60s, but I knew nothing of them. The manager’s secretary ushered me in to the great man’s room at the allotted time, where I was not offered a seat.

The manager, seated behind an imposing desk, was a man much older than me. He didn’t look up as I entered nor acknowledge my presence; he merely shuffled a few papers about his desk, increasing my discomfort as I stood before him like a recalcitrant child in front of a headmaster.

After what seemed like an age – but was probably only seconds – he picked up a document, read it over to himself, tutted and then spoke.

“And what are we going to do with you Mr Hellawell?” It was clear this was a rhetorical question which didn’t require an answer. I gave none.

I recognised he was using the tactics we used to unsettle prisoners; ask something of them which they would have great difficulty answering. There was a pregnant pause which I was determined not to breach.

“You are aware of the state of your account I presume?” He paused then continued. “As of this moment it is seven pounds and sixteen shillings overdrawN and I do not recall authorising such a deficiency.”

He dropped the document onto the desk and looked at me in anticipation.

I explained why the infringement had occurred and how it would be rectified by the end of the month. He accepted my solution without question, then invited me to sit down. He became very friendly offering me a cup of coffee. He then spoke as if he was my uncle expressing upon me the importance of keeping “my affairs” in order as I made my way in the world.

He offered further advice if I ever required it and we shook hands as I left.

A young person reading this article will probably wonder why I put up with such treatment from a bank as their experience with them will have been so much different.

It is highly unlikely they have ever seen or spoken to a bank official on a one to one basis as most of their dealings will have been done over the telephone or via the internet.

The personal nature of banking has been lost in the quest for speed and efficiency and I am not so sure this is a good thing.

Although I was furious at the way I was first treated by that man I quickly realised he stage-managed the meeting to teach me a lesson; and he succeeded. I have kept “my affairs” in order and continue to receive sound advice from Lloyds.

The value of a person to person relationship is that trust is established and responsibility taken, which is not the situation with arms length dealings.

Banks no longer regard the majority of their customers as human beings; they are merely a series of bytes in a computer’s memory.

I am not blaming the individual staff for this as they are, by and large, still caring individuals. I blame the conglomerates who own these institutions.

These people have one goal; making money. They have no compassion for those who fall on hard times and even if they had they never learn of it first- hand as they are cushioned from it by call centres and layers of bureaucracy.

That is why they will have little concern for the thousands of people who are at the moment facing difficulties with their mortgages. The irony is that the banks caused this problem by their greed and incompetence.

What is more shameful is this government’s unwillingness to help those poor people in difficulties, especially when it fell over itself to pump billions of our money into the Northern Rock. Labour is supposed to be the party which supports the working man and woman. I have seen very little evidence of this recently.