On the topic of how useless incumbent banks really are, I’m reminded of the day back in Spring 2011 when I called Barclays Bank to try to open a business account for my now defunct startup.
The man who answered the phone fitted the pen-pusher stereotype perfectly; he was nasal in tone and, right from the get-go, had a know-it-all attitude.
He ran through a rudimentary list of ‘computer says no’-styled questions, one of which was my current occupation.
‘I’m a journalist,’ I said.
‘Oh, a journalist,’ he replied, condescendingly.
If we wanted to open an account, he went on to explain, we would need to have each shareholder visit a branch in-person. ‘That might be a problem,’ I protested, since all of our investors were based in the Czech Republic!
After the call ended, I went into my back garden where my co-founder Pete was enjoying the remnants of the day’s sunshine, and we chatted about the absurdity of what had just happened.
Post-financial crisis, not only were the major banks unwilling to lend small businesses money, but they seemed reluctant to take our money, too. These were the same banks that had brought the British economy to its knees, while the government hoped that Internet startups like ours would help it get back up again.
I glanced at my phone and saw I had a new voicemail: it was the man I had just spoken to from Barclays. Thinking he was leaving a message for one of his colleagues at the bank, he relayed the details of our call, before issuing the following warning:
‘Just be careful. Mr O’Hear says he’s a journalist’
I began laughing, before replaying the message several times to Pete, who also found it hilarious. If the banks had proven to be greedy and corrupt, we could now add incompetent and paranoid to the list. Or perhaps the pen-pusher was simply overextending himself.
No one from Barclays ever did call back.