It is difficult to avoid the advertisements and the advice on the money pages inviting you to change your bank account. For some 30 years, I have banked with the same bank. When we first met, it was a small bank, and I was a small customer. Our income and net worth have both grown over time, though the bank has made faster progress than I have. While I have maintained the same name, its is now unrecognisable. It grew and grew, then suddenly compressed itself into a small number of capital letters. I have kept the same wife, but the bank has married a large number of partners, some hundreds of years old and some from overseas.
I have no complaint about the overall service – they have suggested from time to time that we should revert to the traditional arrangement whereby I bank with them, rather than they bank with me; and it would be nice to pick up the phone and talk to a person from time to time rather than a recording telling me that my call is important.
But I have never earned a penny from the modest balance in my current account, and my attention has been drawn to more attractive alternatives. The advertisements imply that switching is easy – rather like cancelling the Times and ordering the Telegraph. And so, with a twinge of remorse, I applied for the best account that the cognoscenti who spend their time comparison shopping could find.
Opening a new bank account in 2004 in Britain is like arriving at Heathrow in flowing robes on the flight from Baghdad. You need to be able to persuade those guarding the entrance that you are who you are, and that your monthly income is not derived from selling cocaine on the street corners of Basingstoke or Andover. For those purporting to be Members of Parliament, there are no short cuts.
Birth certificate, marriage certificate, driving licence, tax code letter, council tax bill were all despatched. Three weeks later they were returned, and a week after that I got a further letter saying that the account was ready to be activated. Torrents of income and expenditure are about to be diverted from one riverbed to another.
As I went round the course, I realised that the bank with whom I was negotiating a new account was part of the same group with which I already banked.
Would it not have been simpler, I asked myself, if the bank had simple decided to pay interest on my existing account than oblige me to go round this obstacle course.