When I moved to London in the 60s, I brought a hefty stack of American Express traveller's cheques (yes, kids, we did that back when ships were made of oak and men were made of iron). Once I got my flat and furnishings and my bike I thought I should open a bank account where I could just deposit the rest of those traveller's cheques. It just made sense.
Off to the bank I went (Barclay's if I recall). Up to the counter where I presented my cheques and said I wanted to open an account. The clerk looked at me and said, "might I see your references?" I looked at the clerk in bewilderment and said something like, "no, no, no, you don't understand. I'm not looking for a loan. I just want to open an account so I can deposit these traveller's cheques and my pay when I start working." We began to dance. He kept demanding references. I kept asking why. He said, basically, "because, that's why." I asked him would he, if I endorsed those traveller's cheques, cash them without references. Of course. Then, if he was happy enough to take those cheques and hand me their face value in cash, why in hell wouldn't he let me leave that cash in an account right there in his damned bank? Of course, no references.
I had sort of assumed that British bankers would have managed to get their bowlered heads out of their pinstripe asses by now but apparently, no, I'm wrong again. This time it's the global giant, HSBC. Now the problem isn't getting money into your account. It's trying to get even modest sums out.
Stephen Cotton went to his local HSBC branch this month to withdraw £7,000 from his instant access savings account to pay back a loan from his mother.
A year before, he had withdrawn a larger sum in cash from HSBC without a problem.
But this time it was different, as he told Money Box: "When we presented them with the withdrawal slip, they declined to give us the money because we could not provide them with a satisfactory explanation for what the money was for. They wanted a letter from the person involved."
Mr Cotton says the staff refused to tell him how much he could have: "So I wrote out a few slips. I said, 'Can I have £5,000?' They said no. I said, 'Can I have £4,000?' They said no. And then I wrote one out for £3,000 and they said, 'OK, we'll give you that.' "
He wrote to complain to HSBC about the new rules and also that he had not been informed of any change.
The bank said it did not have to tell him. "As this was not a change to the Terms and Conditions of your bank account, we had no need to pre-notify customers of the change," HSBC wrote.
Next time, Steve, best you bring a note from Mum.
Douglas Carswell, the Conservative MP for Clacton, is alarmed by the new HSBC policy: "All these regulations which have been imposed on banks allow enormous interpretation. It basically infantilises the customer. In a sense your money becomes pocket money and the bank becomes your parent."
But Eric Leenders, head of retail at the British Bankers Association, said banks were sensible to ask questions of their customers: "I can understand it's frustrating for customers. But if you are making the occasional large cash withdrawal, the bank wants to make sure it's the right way to make the payment."