I've been with the Bank of Scotland (Shetland outpost) ever since moving to the Neck of the Bog (for the first time - in 1987) and the Byres Road branch (Glasgow) of the Royal Bank bounced a cheque I'd made payable to a Lerwick clothes shop.
In a small community like this, bounced cheques are embarrassing, and as it had happened simply because of bad communication, I decided to move all my monetary assets, or debts, rather, to the Lerwick bank my wife used.
All went well, really, for years. I went through all of the Bank of Scotland's technological advances with it, including HOBS (the Home and Office Banking System - hard to believe, but in the era of the Amstrad PCW8256 you needed to buy a separate miniature computer terminal just to do your banking remotely). We obtained mortgages and insurance from the Bank. Good relations were established and maintained with the Lerwick branch. And even nationally, I was asked to address a major Edinburgh Bank of Scotland Christmas dinner. Just before the Halifax merger.
Since then, the bank has slid inexorably towards what seems like a centralised, callous disregard for personal customers. You can no longer communicate directly with the branch (unless you have secret mobile numbers for the very nice people who still work there). Payments on Switch have been turned down for no good reason (once leaving me stranded in Kilmarnock; say no more); cash can go astray, pay-ins take far too long to clear, and still the charges for cheques and withdrawals are applied, brutally.
Yesterday, having lost my chequebook, I tried to have the remaining cheques stopped, find out whether anyone had been using it without my permission, and get an account balance. I was treated with what appeared to be aggrieved unhelpfulness, despite having access to a 'Private Banking' personal contact called Morag, who was not around, alas. So I ended up talking to an electronic answering system and then a series of women in what sounded like Morningside. 'You could be anyone' said one. "I can't give you any information'.
Gone are the days of phoning the branch and saying 'it's Tom, can you tell me how little I have in my account, please?' Now, I'm seriously investigating switching at least my current account to somebody who at least pretends to value the individual customer. If only it wasn't such a hassle...and if only the folk at the Lerwick branch, when we meet face to face, weren't so nice...
Morag has just been on the phone, very apologetic. I now have even more contact numbers. It remains to be seen whether or not tins of Quality Street will arrive at Christmas, though...