Old money: The Commonwealth Bank of Australia opened in 1911, and was established by the Federal Government for working-class Australia home loans. Photo: SUPPLIED

From the desk of Roland Rocchiccioli – 25 July

July 25, 2021 BY

The actor, the late Robert Morley, said of banks, “They should be in backstreets with brothels!”

If that offends any member of the banking fraternity, then, so be it! My week of fiscal encounters has done little, if anything, to rouse me to their defence.

Work and projected earnings notwithstanding, I am, according to the banking industry, too old, and I earn too little, for them to be interested, or willing, to help resolve a temporary financial hiatus.

It was, by implication, made clear, the bank manager had no interest in bothering with the likes of me, “He is very busy at the moment!”

My displeasure was further exacerbated by the tone of the telephone conversation. Not once during our brief exchange was I addressed by name, nor did the banker confirm my identity. The questionable and inappropriate opening gambit did little to endear,  “Hello. This is whomever from the bank. How’s it going?”

I paused. I prefer a more formal style of salutation.

I knew, intuitively, this conversation was not headed for a happy ending; and I was correct. However, it did cause me to ruminate on bank managers I have known, but not forgotten.

It was so different in the distant past. Banking was a respected, lifetime career. Young men joined from school and stayed, working their way to the top. For many, it would be their only job. Without quibble, young men were transferred all over the state. They were, along with the state school headmaster, the postmaster, the policeman, and the doctor, important members of the community.

At the end of 47-years of loyal service, they retired, aged 65. They were farewelled with a gold watch as their reward.

The manager of a large city branch was revered by his staff. His private secretary, who took shorthand and typed at least 80 words a minute on a manual Underwood typewriter, was located outside his office. She was, of course, a spinster (married women had no place in the bank), and a force in her own right.

For any valued client travelling on an extended overseas tour, the manager arranged the whole itinerary and lodged letters of credit in banks along the way.

Banks were divided into savings and trading areas and opened from 10am until 4pm, and until 5pm on Friday. The manager knew every one of his customers. He alone made the decision about any form of business or personal loan. The only perk for the staff was an interest-free housing loan, allowed after having served a stipulated period. Salaries were set and staff received no financial incentives. Greed and bottom-line profits were a thing of the future.

In Leonora, my father banked with The National Bank of Australasia – it was only one. The manager and his wife lived on the premises which were attached to the front offices.

In South Melbourne, one bank manager was an alcoholic and given to late night abusive phone calls. It became necessary to report him to head office who investigated and retired him with a pension. His replacement was prone to waspishness. Bereft of every social skill, he was most unfortunate in every aspect of his appearance and personality. It is little wonder the State Bank of Victoria did not survive.

A bank manger gave me a small loan on the basis of my honesty. When asked how I planned to repay the amount, I quipped, “I have no idea!”

We have seen the demise of many banks. Sadly, regional services are closing and customers are being left without a service. I doubt we will see a return to the golden days of banking. People are being replaced by machines and customers pressured to use online services. Telephones are permanently connected to an answering service.

The Government established the Commonwealth Bank (1911) for working-class Australian home loans.

Things ain’t what they used to be!

Roland can be heard with Brett Macdonald each Monday at 10.45 Radio 3BA and contacted via [email protected].

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