Project Raincloud – Alan Cull – 27th July 2015.

Alan, now retired from the HSBC, for whom he worked for 35 years, (having star­ted with Midland Bank before they were taken over by HSBC), shared with us the period in his career when he was involved with the Midland Banks’ secret set­ting up of the first tele­phone Bank, ‘first direct’.

The pro­ject began in 1988, when Alan was called to the London HQ of Midland Bank to dis­cuss a new pos­i­tion, and sworn to secrecy, whether he took the job on offer or not. The pro­ject was to make the Banks Services more access­ible to every­one, by tele­phone, through­out the day and night, seven days a week, and through­out the year. Profit was not the main incent­ive, but more a case of moving with the times and embra­cing the new tech­no­lo­gical age and changes in soci­ety. The aim was for their cus­tom­ers ‚  like nurses, oil rig work­ers, shift work­ers etc. to have access to the Banking Services at any time of the day or night.

The plan for the new type of Bank had to be thought through, costed and approved by senior man­age­ment. After due con­sid­er­a­tion it was con­sidered to be a feas­ible pro­ject and was approved by senior man­age­ment with the pro­viso that it be launched within 12 months. Everyone on the pro­ject was sworn to secrecy, not to alert the com­pet­i­tion. This was ulti­mately amaz­ingly achieved, along with the dead­line, which was a reflec­tion on the loy­alty of the staff.

We were shown a film which was made for the bene­fit of those who would work on the pro­ject, to show how it all was imple­men­ted. From the cost­ing, the logist­ics of find­ing accom­mod­a­tion and staff, the train­ing, the name and logo, the advert­ising, to the launch­ing.

The name ‘first direct’ took weeks to be decided on, and prior to launch, adverts, which Alan played for us, appeared on Channel 4 and ITV at the same time, which were catchy and amus­ing, using the pink man (which was only shown in the South), (very wise) with optim­istic and com­par­at­ive pess­im­istic themes.

Leeds was chosen as the HQ for the Bank, because it is the centre of a large con­urba­tion of towns and cities in the North and a build­ing of 50000 sq.ft. on one floor could be provided for the tele­phone oper­at­ives. This was to encour­age team­work with all the depart­ments on the same floor, no ‘class’ dis­tinc­tion, no doors on any of the senior man­age­ments office cubicles and every­one eating in the same canteen. Hoards of new staff were recruited for round the clock shifts with a min­imum of 4 hour shifts and the Unions were allowed to address the staff, who voted not to have them to rep­res­ent them.

The launch in 1989 was suc­cess­ful with all pro­jec­ted tar­gets achieved.

The staff were briefed on tele­phone answer­ing pro­ced­ures which lead to some anom­alies, for example when a man who had the ‘wrong’ post­code was refused a loan until it was dis­covered he was an Irish Rugby International.

This bank is still in exist­ence with a good repu­ta­tion and oper­ates mainly inde­pend­ently of the HSBC.

Alan main­tains his con­nec­tion with his old employer by being involved with the pen­sion scheme for 16000 retired employ­ees, as well as being involved with the Boy Scouts. He said his fee from us would go to the erad­ic­a­tion of polio in the world.

The morn­ing was a reminder to us all on how things were 25 years ago with staff loy­alty and with bank jobs thought of as being for life, and how fast everything has developed since. No loy­alty, tele­phone call centres in for­eign coun­tries, not being able to talk to your local branch, everything mainly on the inter­net…… Where to, in the next 25 years…? The mind boggles.

A very inter­est­ing and enjoy­able morn­ing.