My bank is closing in November. This would not, for most people, be an occasion for gloom, banks not being objects of affection in the way, say, libraries are, but it has depressed me more than I like to admit. The Allied Irish Bank in Berkeley Square has been one of the centres of gravity of my life in London since I was small, and my parents and I trooped off to Mayfair to get our money for our holiday before proceeding to the grandeur of Devonshire House where my uncle, who worked there, brought us to the office canteen for lunch.
It must be said that, given my pathological inability to manage my finances, an awful lot of my visits to my branch have been occasions of purest embarrassment: bids to arrange overdrafts, explanations for overrunning those overdrafts, attempts to have bank charges waived, withdrawals of risibly small amounts, transfers from my mother’s account to my own or to HMRC, or latterly, transfers to my mother’s account to pay for her care – indeed, for one period, I could only withdraw money in person from my bank because I was more than usually in disgrace.
And, with the odd exception, the staff have been very decent over the years. Notwithstanding the obvious reality that most of their clients were prosperous businesspeople, paying in wads of cash, or withdrawing sums it was frankly imprudent to carry on their persons, the staff were invariably civil and often kindly towards a client with byzantine transactions involving very little money. Christ described money as “that tainted thing” (Luke 16) but it must be said that those who dealt with it at my branch were very good about it – one lady called Tracey comes to mind especially.
I got to know them, a little, over time. You’d have a chat while your account details were called up, you’d discuss the weather or the rate of sterling; the beastly money transactions would be humanised by the understanding on the other side of the counter; you’d wish each other happy Christmas at that time of year: it was a running relationship with a business but also with a succession of individuals who had the power to cheer you up.
From November, that’ll be gone, like so many other physical businesses. It costs an awful lot of money to maintain a branch in Mayfair, and this one, as a headquarters, was swanky, with, for a time, some rather attractive frescos to enliven the business of finance. Business rates in central London are, it would seem, designed to drive normal businesses out of Westminster, to be replaced by those catering for oligarchs, global financiers and money launderers.
But more than that, the reason for the branch closing is that fewer and fewer people are using it. “They’re all using internet banking,” observed the nice girl who tried to make sure that I’d be able to manage once the office transferred to other premises in Berkeley Square without any customer contact whatever; indeed, it looks like they won’t even have a receptionist. And indeed, the last time I dropped in, there was no queue at all.
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