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.