Britain's First Municipal Savings Bank
Part One: The History of Birmingham Corporation Savings Bank
Birmingham Corporation
Savings Bank
Much has been written about the Birmingham Municipal Bank by people who know little of its aims, and misleading statements have, as a consequence, been made. The object of this book is to place on record an authentic account of the establishment of the Bank and its achievements. To the public generally, who are continually seeking information, the book should be useful, while it will be welcomed by many of our depositors, who have been looking forward to such a publication.

Birmingham, so often described as the Mecca of Municipal Reformers, added one more claim to that title when it decided to establish a Municipal Bank. It has been the pioneer of many municipal enterprises, but not since the days of progressive development, inaugurated by the late Joseph Chamberlain, has Birmingham launched an institution destined to have such far-reaching effects on the lives of its citizens, as the Municipal Bank.

It was appropriate that the Lord Mayor to bring this scheme to fruition should be the son of Birmingham's illustrious citizen and first Freeman, and that it should fall to Alderman Neville Chamberlain to conceive the idea of a Municipal Bank. The Lord Mayor's view, that such a Bank represented the wishes of the people, has been abundantly proved. Not in his wildest dreams could he have envisioned a bank so large, so successful, as we know it to be today.

Reading this book will remind one of the difficulties which were surmounted, and demonstrate to the reader that where there's a will there's a way to the Statute Book, even if the path be a troublesome one.

What explanation is there to offer for this phenomenally successful Bank: It lies in one word, viz., CONFIDENCE. Confidence of the citizens in the Bank as their own Bank; confidence that their savings are in safe keeping; and confidence in the government of the Bank by their own elected representatives. There have been contributory factors to its success, but CONFIDENCE is the Bank's greatest asset. If democracy is taken to mean government of the people, by the people, for the people, then the Municipal Bank can claim to be democratic, for it is governed by the Municipality, and run for the benefit of the citizens.

A Municipal Bank must be a bank of service - service to its depositors and service to the citizens as a whole. It must provide full opportunities to deposit money, and equal facilities to withdraw; it must make itself a convenience to the people, and not expect people to travel long distances to use it. Thus, it must set up branch banks in convenient centres or districts, and make it easy for the citizens to cultivate the habit of thrift. Its motto should be "Service-first, last, and all the time."

A Municipal Bank must give equality of service, and make the small depositor with his penny as welcome as the older depositor with his pound; there must be no distinction between the wearer of corduroy and the wearer of cloth. One reason why the Birmingham Municipal Bank is the safe custodian of 7,800,000 of the savings of its citizens, and why 225,760 citizens are "live" depositors, is because it gives equality of service, and has become the people's friend.

Another reason (and it is not without significance) is the awakening of the public to the fact that by husbanding their savings with their own Municipality they can help themselves and help their city at the same time. It is realised that in a Municipal Bank there are no dividends to pay to shareholders, and no directors to remunerate.

The success of the Birmingham experiment has, not unnaturally, aroused a desire in many other localities to follow the example, and to give their communities similar advantages. Up to the present, the Treasury has frowned upon proposals for the establishment of other Municipal Banks, which have from time to time appeared in private Bills promoted by other Corporations. But it is clear that an institution which has so plainly received the seal of popular approval in Birmingham, and which has so notably contributed to the encouragement of thrift cannot be confined to a single town. It is interesting, therefore, to note that a Departmental Committee has now been set up by the Treasury to enquire into the desirability of extending powers to other Municipalities, and the conditions which it might be necessary to lay down, should such powers be granted. The public will await with interest the report of the committee, but those of us who have taken part in the development of the Birmingham Bank, do not for one moment doubt that it has been only the pioneer in a movement which is destined to far-reaching extension and development.

So long as that development is on sound lines, the citizens of Birmingham will have cause to rejoice at being the proud owners of BRITAIN'S FIRST MUNICIPAL SAVINGS BANK.