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Banking in Scotland
Chapter X -The Staff


Such has been the rate of change in the activity and organisation of Scottish banks in the post-war years that the banker who retired before the war returning to a branch or head office would have great difficulty in recognising many of the jobs being done. In particular he would be surprised at the numbers of women working in the bank, for, pre-war, women were the exception rather than the rule. He would also notice changes in the pattern of recruitment, training, salaries, hours and holidays.

In the 18th century banking was a relatively simple business and bank staffs were commensurately small. The number of staff employed by one of the banking companies at their main office might be as low as four and branches might have only two or three. The head office of one of the big Edinburgh banks might employ twenty or thirty people. Typically a provincial bank might employ an agent (later called a manager), an accountant, a teller, one or two clerks and a porter. But even a very busy office like the Glasgow branch of the Royal Bank (the busiest office outside London) would only have seven or eight staff. The reason that staffs were so small was that the range of services was so limited compared with today.

The recruitment of experienced staff was always a problem for the banks. Such was the degree of expansion in the banking system especially with the coming of joint-stock banks in the 1830s that experienced staff were at a premium and were often enticed away to work for another bank in some other part of the British Isles or perhaps overseas. The recruitment of Scottish bankers to serve abroad continued at a high level for many years. The result of this was that promotion was often rapid. Even very young clerks with only a few years experience were very mobile and to counter this some of the banks introduced an indentured apprenticeship scheme which bound young clerks to their bank for four or five years. Another manifestation of this problem is that banks began to require notice of staff resignations. In some cases six months' notice was required.

In the branches agents were appointed from amongst the local business community. Often a lawyer was encouraged to take up a bank agency and this profession was followed in tandem with his legal practice and perhaps with an insurance agency. Branch agents were made responsible for recruiting and paying their own staff. Such was the expansion of branch networks in the 19th century, however, that suitable agents became increasingly difficult to recruit and so the banks began to appoint staff from their head office and sometimes other branches to be agents. These were really the first examples of staff transfers and mark a further step in the increasing professionalisation of banking for in this way a career and promotion structure began to open up in banking. The transfer from agents to branch managers was a slow one and was not completed until the middle of the 20th century.

The increasing proliferation of branches also resulted, in the name of good management, in the setting up of inspection departments and the appointment of a young man to this post often heralded an accelerated promotion to a branch managership or other appointment as, to some extent, it still does.

Training for work in a bank took place in the office. The emergence of training schools is a relatively modern development but these have been necessitated by the increasingly complex nature of the tasks now carried out by bankers. In the 18th century the range of services offered by a bank was so small and the extent of legal controls over these so limited that the clerk's work was not complex and could be learned fairly easily. The highly developed Scottish educational system ensured that an adequate supply of literate and numerate recruits was available to meet the requirements of the system.

The hours which staff were required to work varied greatly. Opening hours of the Glasgow banks in the 1750s were from 10 to 12 o'clock forenoon and from 3 to 5 o'clock afternoon except Saturdays when they opened from 9 to 11 o'clock in the mornings. There were, however, wide regional variations on this. In Dundee for example the banks also opened on a Saturday afternoon but in 1826 it was proposed that this should cease and that the banks should close at noon. When a customer complained the old opening hours were restored whereupon the bank clerks organised a petition amongst their other customers who supported them in their demand for early closing. This is probably the first example of collective action amongst Scottish bank clerks.

Following continental practice the banks began to close all day on Saturdays from 1968. Otherwise the practice in the 18th and 19th centuries was probably not very different from what it is today with staff remaining at work until a daily balance is achieved. Generally those who work in larger, busier branches work slightly longer hours than those who work in small branches.

The situation concerning holidays, however, is very different. In the reign of George III, 1760-1820, staff were allowed bank holidays only and there were ten of these in a year. There are occasional examples of senior staff being granted an annual holiday but this was exceptional. More often the concession was that managers were permitted to reside out of town, i.e., they rented a country house for a few weeks in the summer but were required to ride into town for business during the week. More junior staff were only allowed leave when they had some urgent personal business to attend to. The entitlement to a period of annual leave was a practice which developed gradually from the late 19th century.

As far as salaries were concerned the bargaining power of staff was fairly strong although collective pay bargaining was unheard of. The tremendous demand for trained staff ensured that if a clerk's request for a pay increase was refused then he could easily resign and seek employment elsewhere. Apprentices were seldom paid for their work but clerks and tellers were paid at least the equivalent of a skilled working man. Agents and accountants were much more handsomely rewarded and what is really noticeable during the Industrial Revolution is the sharp upward increment of money salaries.

There was no retiral age for bank staff and many employees can be traced working well into old age or until they died in harness. Many staff retired only when they became too old or too unfit to work. In these cases the board of directors would consider the relative merits of the case and might award some pension but there was no automatic right to this consideration.

The trend towards the modern situation in staff recruitment, training and remuneration was gradual but viewed in total it represents a major contribution to the general development of banking.

A continuing theme of this development has been the growth of professionalism and the need to increase standards of competence as the business became more complex. A major step in this direction was the setting up of the Institute of Bankers in Scotland in 1875. This was the first of its kind in the world although the idea of an association for professional people was not new as various institutes of accountants had been set up in the 1850s. The Institute of Bankers in Scotland was, however, a national and not a local body as the institutes of accountants had been. Within a short space of time a system of formal education and examination had been established and very quickly success in the examinations came to be acknowledged as a pre-requisite for promotion at work and the young man who did very well in the examinations could expect to be noticed by his superiors.

From time to time since its formation the syllabus had been revised and updated to reflect the changing nature of banking and the increasing complexity of the business. New entrants to banking with good entrance qualifications can now take the diploma of the Institute by sitting eight examinations in practical and theoretical aspects of banking. They may then progress to a further diet of three examinations which, if successful, qualifies them as Associates of the Institute. The Institute was awarded a Royal Charter in 1975—its centenary year.

A further example of the increasing professionalisation of banking has been the increase since 1945 in the range of formal training, as opposed to on-the-job experience, offered by the banks themselves. All banks now have staff training centres, some organised on a regional basis, where staff at all levels are given training for their daily work. In a sense these training schools complement the more formal role of the Institute in that they run courses on the more technical and administrative aspects of banking which may vary from bank to bank and could, therefore, not be encompassed in courses run by the Institute. The banks also send staff to management schools in Britain and abroad.

As with so many other aspects of economic and social life dramatic changes were made and experienced in the inter-war years. The inflation of the First World War had resulted in salaries falling behind prices. When employers showed no signs of rectifying this deficiency many employees turned their minds to collective pay bargaining and accordingly the Scottish Bankers' Association was set up in 1919. The banks responded with salary increases. Thereafter the Association was never strong as the traditions of banking had left many employees with an aversion to collective bargaining but employers listened to what the Association said and often acted upon what they heard. Some banks set up their own staff associations.

The policy of the S.B.A. was recognition, a unified and uniform salary scale, pensions as of right at 60 and compulsory retirement at 65, widows' and orphans' funds and the ending of non-professional agents. Many of these points were conceded over the next twenty years but whether as a result of pressure from the S.B.A. or as part of a more enlightened employment policy is not clear. In addition regular holiday periods and sickness pay were enjoyed.

Perhaps the most dramatic changes in staffing came in the post-1945 years. Certainly the most notable development was the increasing proportion of females in total employment. This reflected a more general trend in society towards a greater proportion of women in the labour market. By 1955 out of a total employment of just over 11,000 some 30 per cent were women. By 1972 total employment had expanded to 17,500 and just less than half were women. Today women constitute slightly more than half of the banking labour market.

Collective bargaining by staff has made some strides forward in the post-war years. The National Union of Bank Employees was formed in 1946 as a result of the merger of the Scottish Bankers' Association and the Bank Officers Guild in England. A further amalgamation followed in 1979 when N.U.B.E. merged with other organisations to form the Banking, Insurance and Finance Union. The banks, however, continued to recognise their own staff associations until they merged with N.U.B.E. or A.S.T.M.S. Negotiations for the banks are conducted by the Federation of Scottish Bank Employers.

On the pay front banks generally have non-contributory pension schemes the scale of benefits in which are usually much better than schemes in other industries. They also have low personal loans and assisted house purchase schemes from which members of staff can borrow usually up to four times their annual salary at rates of interest which are very much lower than building society rates. So if remuneration in banking do not always look so attractive as those in other employments it is because due regard has not been given to these non-pay items.

Comparisons of relative standards over long periods of time are fraught with statistical hazards but a quick glance at the conditions of employment, training and remuneration of the 18th century bank officer compared with the 20th century reveal a world of difference—a world of improvement.


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