Eddie Mair: how bankers turned me purple

"My personal experience of banks was just fine until I tried to get my hands on my savings. That made me want to throw a pie in someone's face"

How’s your January? Long isn’t it? A combination of dank weather, almost constant darkness and a Christmas spending hangover leaves most of us wondering if an extra week has been surreptitiously added to the month. I’ve found myself particularly strapped for cash this year on account of the constant whip-rounds at work for leaving gifts for departing director-generals and acting director-generals.


So at the weekend I went online to carry out a small financial transaction to help me through my January embarrassment. Boy, was that a mistake. People say terrible things about bankers – cockneys in particular – but folk I know who work in the industry are as nice as pie, and when I meet bigwigs who run giant financial corporations they’re as nice as pi, and my personal experience of banks was just fine until I tried to get my hands on my savings. That made me want to throw a pie in someone’s face. Maybe quite a hot pie at that. Apple, perhaps, with cinnamon.

I started saving monthly with this online bank a few years ago, attracted by the fact its interest rates were marginally higher than the 0.000001 per cent my regular bank hilariously offered. Everything was done online, like clockwork. Marvellous. By the way, I quite fancy an apple pie now. Wish I’d never mentioned it.

Anyway, I pop online to transfer from my savings the very money that had just been transferred in. An error message appears on screen, alerting me to a regular security check – could I phone them? They’re always banging on about their super-helpful UK call centres, so I picked up the phone to savour the experience.

After negotiating a telephone tree so large it would have blocked all light in the telephone forest, a helpful man takes me through the security blurb, tries to re-enact my transaction and informs me that there is an error message on screen, alerting him to a regular security check. He puts me through to a helpful woman who takes me through security again and tells me I had an error message. I ask for her help in achieving the hitherto straightforward goal of transferring my money from their bank to my main bank.

Her sing-songy chirrup intones that that will be perfectly fine but can she just ask why I want the money. I’m a little taken aback, never having been asked to justify a transaction before. “Um, I just want to transfer it” is my lame reply. “Yes, but we need to ask the reason.” I begin to splutter. “Why? It’s my money. Do I need to have a good reason before you’ll give it to me? Is there a security problem?”

She assures me that there is no security problem but she really needs to know WHY I want the money. She asks me three or four times. She will not budge. I consider telling her the cash is needed to cure cancer, or to keep Keith Chegwin off the telly, but humour deserts me in the face of stubborn, insane officialdom.

I tell her that I have now been on the phone for 15 minutes and that if she asks me again for my reasons, I will close my account. She puts me on hold. I am purple by the time her voice re-appears and she sings that the bank has generously acquiesced and will transfer my money. I tell her to close my account.

Without missing a beat, she asks me for the reasons I want to close my account.


Eddie Mair co-presents iPM on Saturdays at 5:45am and hosts PM from Monday to Friday at 5:00pm – both on Radio 4