British Banks must ring-fence their ‘well dodgy bits’ and keep them entirely separate from their ‘nice smiley bits’, the Chancellor of the Exchequer has warned. Bank Branch staff have largely supported the idea.
‘I for one find it really difficult to combine the two roles,’ said Barclays teller Nigel Smyth. ‘One minute I’m out the back, facing down an armed South American drug dealer who we’re helping launder millions of dollars of narcotics earnings, and trying to placate him with a bank-approved prostitute. The next minute I’m out the front, opening a kiddie’s super-saver account for his mum, and trying to remember where we keep the branded lollipops.’
‘Then I’m out the back again, blackmailing a rival operator by threatening to reveal how he or she rigged the Libor market. Then I’m out the front, advising a customer about cocaine prices. I mean ISAs. You see how easy it is to slip up when both the naughty and nice functions of banking are housed in the same place.’
Mr Smyth is no stranger to disaster. ‘We do have a customer who complained about his wife being accidentally drowned in a waterboarding incident when she came in to pay off her mortgage. The Banking Ombusdman is dealing with that next week, though we have knocked a half percent off her interest rate as a goodwill gesture. Mistaken identity, and terrible tragedy – her sort code was out by just one digit.’
Geraldine Smythers, who works in Ludlow NatWest has similar concerns. ‘For example, in the banking hall, my job is to replenish the promotional literature trays and help people use the automated paying-in counter. But after lunch, in the bank’s underground backroom I’m a strategically-attired financial croupier with contacts in the high value private loan collection industry, and a City and Guilds in unarmed combat. I’m fully trained in discreet intelligence strategies. But I’m also trained to give careers talks to lower achieving sixth formers.’
‘Once I found myself employing inappropriate close-personal strategies associated to the ‘other side of things’ in the course of doing a mini-money health check on a small businessman from Wrexham. Luckily he took it in good part and accepted that he didn’t deserve a loan. But it was touch and go whether he’d discover the hidden recording device and concealed Walther PPK under my man-made fibre bank uniform. Those are the kind of unacceptable risks banks have to take these days. These reforms can’t come soon enough.’