Banks - love them or hate them – they are part of all our lives. As a homeworker, a good working relationship with a bank manager is an essential of business.
You need flexibility so that, when the promised cheque fails to arrive, there is some understanding and not merely a curt letter with a “fine” for exceeding your overdraft limit.
And equally when things are going well, you need some sound advice on handling your money – where to go for the best interest, how to make the most of moving money around in your accounts. However, the days of being able to walk into the bank and know the staff, let alone the manager are almost gone.
People are handled by an account manager who will probably need to know your account number and name before having any chance of recognising you. Customer service is down to numbers instead of faces and it is rare indeed to find a bank where flexibility is all part of the service. Instead of letting small businesses get on with the business of finding business, most banks want quarterly analyses of the figures, constant explanations of what is going on and prompt payments.
Instead of trust by a manager who knows you and your business, there is constant suspicion that you are about to default on any loan and demands for guarantees against any loan.
We all understand that banks have had their fingers burnt in the past by bad debtors, and doubtless that will continue to happen. But an element of trust would not go amiss – although of course that is something that can only happen between people who actually know each other, rather than an account manager based regionally.
The issue of bank centralisation has come to the fore recently, leading to the widespread closure of branches throughout the country. Apart from the loss of local jobs, the closures have forced some wholesale changes for hundreds of rural communities. It has probably also had a disproportionate affect on homeworkers, many of whom choose to live in the country as part of a lifestyle that includes their way of working.
Gone are the friendly neighbourhood bank managers and staff who have known some families all their lives. Gone is the five-minute trip to get some cash or pay in a cheque. Gone is the two-minute chat with the manager to fend off some unwanted charges.
Instead we are being asked to travel miles out of our way, waste valuable time that could otherwise be spent earning the money that our new regional managers are pushing so hard for.
Do the banks not realise that the hour spent travelling to a bank is an hour away from the desk and possible work? They say the changes are in response to customer demand, but did they actually ask? Or did they rely on marketing men making assumptions about the lifestyle of people they have little in common with?
It is no good applying city rules to the countryside – last year more than 400,000 country people marched through London because the government was doing just that.
The banks argue, and with some justification, that more of us are using the internet to do our banking and so need a branch less and less. But have you tried using the internet as a self-employed person?
An egg credit card for example, requires a regular monthly payment by direct debit – fine if you are salaried and can rely on the timing of your income – not so convenient if your client has just missed the post with your cheque.
And the interent is slow – transfers between accounts of Lloyds Banks are concluded at the end of the business day and do not show on the account for a further two days. If you call in at a branch the transaction is instant.
Internet banking also excludes the vast majority of the UK's population. The banks may argue that such selection is justified – after all can we blame them for only wanting the business of forward-thinking, well-off people?
But the majority of people in the UK have yet to link up to the internet. Even digital television links are in their infancy and are dependent on people throwing away their existing sets, which work perfectly well.