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Banking - on holiday
 
by Gelbie
On holiday we are supposed to be 'getting away from it all' and 'all', I presume, includes one's bank and banking generally.

But, of course, it can't be done, holidays and money are inextricably bound together, - very much so if one goes abroad.

One's thoughts go on and on - have we struck the proper balance between travellers' cheques and currency, how are the exchange rates moving?

More important still, have we brought enough? Shall we have to cut out Auntie's present, wish we hadn't had to buy that new mac for junior, suppose the car breaks down, that hand-bag was a bit extravagant really - there's no handy TSB for that 20 inter-bank withdrawal!

In fact, especially in small French towns, there doesn't seem at first sight to be a bank of any kind.

Once in a town of about 5,000 inhabitants, I needed to cash some travellers' cheques and so I naturally made for the main square where all the shops were, but found no banks. I was directed away to the side streets and followed a route which seemed to be heading for the green fields. But at last, I found the bank, tucked away round a corner, an unpretentious shop-like place, no neon sign, no advertisements, no window display, in fact nothing to attract the public.

Still, let's be fair, there seemed to be no competition, certainly not from building societies at any rate.

In Germany, of course, the situation can be quite different - every village of 200 inhabitants seems able to support a savings bank branch with 1,800 accounts - all on-line!

Well, most of us are dedicated folk and such is our attachment to our calling that the banker on holiday inevitably finds himself looking at bank buildings, comparing sites and advertising techniques, reading leaflets and noting different counter methods - in fact, concerning himself (albeit in rather a detached manner) with those things which are his daily diet at home.

I suppose that one does not deliberately seek knowledge whilst on holiday, but merely observes and later finds that a lesson has been learned. One such lesson (do I state the obvious?) is that whatever differences may seem to exist, banks, and the people in them are very much the same wherever they may be.

On holiday in France a few years ago, I was booking in at a small country hotel and asked the concierge if he required a separate 'fiche' (registration form) for each member of the party or whether one for myself only would suffice. He exploded 'As little paper as possible, M'sieu, France is built of paper'. So I filled in my form, full name, age, address, place of birth, profession etc, etc, and handed it over. 'Ah', said he 'You work in a bank, you know all about paper, use plenty of it, eh?'

I had to agree - how many noble giants of the forest have been cut down to satisfy my needs?

However, in my later years, I've tried to atone, streamlined a few procedures, cut out unnecessary returns and so on. Sad to think that the coming of the computer seems likely to nullify my efforts.

But to return to our muttons - I was then invited to meet the wife of the local bank manager.

He beckoned to a lady standing nearby, who explained that she was the wife of the former manager. 'He retired three months ago, m'sieu; the best thing he ever did in his life, - all those figures, overtime, forms and the junior clerks - nearly drove him crazy. Now, at what age do people retire in England?' I replied that I could go at 60 or could stay on longer. 'Don't delay' she urged, 'Go as soon as you can', and then, sensing that I seemed unconvinced asked 'Are you a branch manager?' 'No', I said, I'm an inspector'. Her manner changed - was this her husband speaking? 'Pooh, that's different, you can keep on doing that for years'.

During that evening, I thought of after-dinner conversation in her home, 'Old Dupont came today, hardly lifted a finger-'.

But of course, hasn't this been said about Smith, Jones or Robinson in Southampton, Leeds or Glasgow?
 
(This article by Gelbie appeared in the Journal of the Savings Banks Institute: Volume 14, Number 8, March 1974. Gelbie was the nom de plume of Godfrey Boden)