Britain's First Municipal Savings Bank
Part One: The History of Birmingham Corporation Savings Bank
Birmingham Corporation
Savings Bank

The stamping of insurance cards, to which practice the workers had become familiar, gave Councillor Hallas the idea of a coupon method of saving. He seized upon this familiarity in developing his scheme.

Coupons with gummed backs, approximating in size to a postage stamp, and representing the value of one shilling, were introduced. Supplies of these coupons were distributed to all the joint stock banks. The worker filled up the necessary form of authority for the payment of a certain value of coupons as part wages, and handed the form to his employer. The employer, when presenting his wages cheque at his bank, would state the value required in coupons. The worker would receive his coupons with cash, as wages, and would place the coupons on a coupon card which he could obtain from his employer.

The coupon card was provided with twenty spaces in which coupons were to be placed, and when full would represent the value of one pound. At this stage the worker would bring the coupon card to the Bank, have the amount entered in a pass book bearing his name, and thus be registered as a depositor. He would also receive a new coupon card for future use, on his next visit to the Bank he would bring his pass book and the second completed coupon card, and so the process would he repeated. The scheme was really very simple, so simple that Councillor Hallas was led to describe it as "just as easy as falling out of bed in a 'Zepp' raid." It sometimes happened that an incomplete coupon card was presented, because the money represented thereby was urgently required. These incomplete cards were accepted and dealt with in just the same way as completed cards.

In some cases employers found the bookkeeping in connection with the scheme too laborious, and commenced to sell the coupons to their workers instead of paying them as part wages. At one time these coupons could be purchased at thirty-six different places in the works of Messrs. Kynoch. This practice increased amongst employers, and ultimately led to branch Banks being set up in different works, to which reference is made in a subsequent chapter.

The Bank had not been long established before requests were made for coupons of a higher denomination than one shilling. Many workers felt they could save several shillings each week, and by introducing a larger denomination there would be less 'licking' of the gummed backs. These requests were met by coupons of a distinctive design of the value of five shillings, and subsequently by coupons of one pound, half-a-crown, and sixpence. To introduce the sixpenny coupon we had to go through the farce of amending the rules.

Testimony has been paid to the enthusiasm of employers and workers, but it must not be forgotten that a third party was necessary to make the scheme a success, this third party being the joint stock bank.

Coupons were distributed to employers with good grace. Only at the end of the day, perhaps, when a cashier was delayed in arriving at his balance owing to the waywardness of a coupon, would imprecations be levied against the system! In this respect the joint stock banks were not alone; we experienced the same trouble, and probably said as much. These "sticky" coupons would occasionally secrete themselves at the back of a drawer, or float off into a convenient waste-paper basket or other improper place, cause a loss of time, and "ruffle" a cashier. Still, it was taken as "part of the game."

Valuable help was rendered in these early days by Mr. Hickling, the manager of Lloyds Bank, New Street, and his principal assistant (Mr. Mellor), and also by Mr. Clough of the Yorkshire Penny Bank.

Whatever feeling against the Bank may have been exhibited elsewhere, there was no feeling against it so far as Birmingham bankers were concerned. An instance of this is disclosed in a letter from the late Mr. A. Ashton Smith, for many years the highly respected manager of the Midland Bank, New Street, who had been closely associated with the work of the Municipal Bank. On his retirement the following letter dated the 30th July, 1923, was received:
Dear Mr. Hilton,
    I am very pleased indeed to receive your most kindly expressed letter with regard to my retirement, and I am glad to know that, through my membership of the Birmingham Advisory Board of the Bank, my association will not be entirely severed.
    I am especially gratified for your generous reference to such assistance that I may have been able to give you in connection with the Bank, whose affairs you have so ably conducted, and I would take this opportunity of congratulating you on the success attained by the Municipal Bank, in the early stages of which, both in its formation and establishment, I was, together with my late chairman, Sir Edward Holden, much interested.
    Again thanking you for your good wishes.
         Believe me,
               Yours very sincerely,
                       A. ASHTON SMITH.
The joint stock banks materially contributed to the success of the temporary Bank, and helped to pave the way for the permanent institution of to-day.