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Cockroaches, bank managers and painful appointments

The cockroach running along the skirting board was the first sign this wasn’t going to be a great meeting.

Becky and I both spotted it at the same time, sharing concerned glances as the bank manager continued with his script.

After a few minutes, as it continued its back and forth journey, we relaxed into a pattern of taking it in turns to monitor its progress. After a year of marriage, our repulsive insect monitoring telepathic skills were strong.

We had made an appointment with my bank to add Becky to my current account, converting it to a joint account.

What should have been a simple click of a button online instead required a face-to-face meeting with a bank manager.

After being escorted into a small office last decorated in the 1950’s – with the exception of a bizarre work of ‘art’ on the wall, consisting of various London landmarks transposed onto a countryside scene – we braced ourselves for the process ahead.

I’ve been in this situation before, with another bank when I needed to make some changes to my mortgage following divorce. That mandatory face-to-face meeting became a two hour thrill ride explaining why I didn’t need to disclose to the spotty graduate the entire details of my financial life, all so she could sell me life assurance products.

Wanting to avoid the same sales pitch heavy meeting on this occasion, and conscious that I had a conference call to attend at the office in less than an hour, I pulled out the big guns; I presented my business card.

When meeting with a ‘financial planning manager’ at a bank, my business card should act as a natural sales pitch deterrent. Don’t mess with this Chartered Financial Planner and Chartered Wealth Manager. Look at my regulatory status. Don’t. Factfind. Me.

74 minutes of tedium ensued.

One highlight was being made to watch a five minute video explaining how the FSCS works. Despite my pleading that we skipped it, and explaining I had recently paid £26,000 towards funding the particular compensation scheme, we were met with the expected “It’s more than my job’s worth.”

We got there in the end, with frequent interruptions for our friendly bank representative to leave the room and make calls to head office to check on process.

Within the next 5-10 days, my wife will be added to my bank account and we can tick that particular task off our post-wedding to-do list.

I try not to engage with my bank unless absolutely essential. A rare meeting at their insistence is a good reminder though of why traditional High Street banks are destined for extinction.

I read Bye Bye Banks? by James Haycock and Shane Richmond earlier this year. It explains why and how retail banks are being displaced, diminished and disintermediated by FinTech startups. One quote from that book which stuck was, “If the rate of change on the outside exceeds the rate of change on the inside, the end is near.”

Despite assurances of cultural change to address habitual misselling practices, and forced regulatory change in some instances, the banks are failing to change on the inside and will soon be replaced by something new, built from the ground up.

Our ‘cockroach spotting, process heavy’ bank meeting also goes some way towards explaining why the big banks keep getting spanked for regulatory failures and flogging unsuitable products. Put bluntly, they have no business selling financial products to members of the public.

I won’t be a customer of my bank for much longer. Within the next year or two, there will be genuine choice in the banking market which will make entirely redundant the need for 74 minute thinly disguised sales pitch meetings. I would be amazed if one or two of the three Big Four bank branches in our village have not closed down by then too.

What I can’t comprehend is why the big banks can’t recognise these issues and manage to drag themselves out of the 1950’s, poorly decorated meeting rooms and all.

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